The other day, I was going into a library and as I approached the door, a young man with a clipboard approached me, asking if my voter registration was up to date. As I assured him it was, my ears perked up when the other gentleman with a clipboard asked an African-American woman the same question I had been asked, and she snapped, “Yeah. Naw. I don’t vote!” And at that, she stormed into the library. I followed her and she grumbled to a child who was with her, who may have been her grandchild, “how dare them ask me if my registration is up to date! They don’t question me! If I want to vote, I’ll vote.”
I didn’t know if that meant she had a voter registration card and was just miffed that someone asked her if her information was up to date, or if she really planned not to vote. I don’t have the answer to my own question, but this I do know: it does something to me when I hear black people say they are going to vote.
Last year, I visited Selma. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As I walked, I remembered reading what happened on that bridge, how black and white people were beaten back by white police officers who beat them, injuring many, including Congressman John Lewis, who was a young man at the time.
As we walked across that bridge, I remembered thinking how chaotic and scary that day or that project had to have been. The bridge is not large; it is not long and it is not wide, and yet, thousands of people, tired of having to take literacy tests given, many times, by people who could not read themselves. I thought about how those people kept hitting against the Evil called white supremacy, being beaten, imprisoned, having their houses burned down by white people, many of who were law enforcement officers…I thought about how people stayed the course and risked their lives and much more, just to get black people the right to vote.
And yet, some people say they will not vote.
I have heard young people say voting doesn’t matter, or, more specifically, that their vote does not matter. I have heard other people blame God, or give God credit, for their not voting. One woman, when I was registering people before the 2008 election, said God told her not to vote, that the only One she had to answer to, was God. No, she said, she would not be voting.
Her statement confused me and bothered me, just as this woman the other day at the library confused and bothered me, and, frankly, made me angry.
I remember growing up, when we kids would do something wrong that made us look like the selfish kids we were, my mother saying, “I’ve done (and she could list the things she had worked and sacrificed for) for you …and this is the thanks I get?
Those words gripped me as I grappled with this woman’s reaction to the question about being up to date with her voter registration information, and her declaration that, “no,” she would not be voting.
How can anyone of African American descent say that?
For many, there is disappointment that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee. They are disappointed because they feel her message was supported by the media, though they feel that her message and candidacy was supported at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Others are angry at her because she supported policies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, that were responsible for many black people being in prison today for either petty crimes, or crimes they did not commit.
To be honest, I am not wild about Hillary being in the White House, either. I don’t think she is any worse than any other candidate, but I am just not inspired by her campaign promises and rhetoric.
But though I am unimpressed by what she is saying, I cannot choose to skip this election and my by absence, give more votes to Donald Trump. Trump and the Republicans represent the racism, overt racism, that our ancestors fought to be rid of. Trump is a bully,and a narcissistic racist who is appealing to the guy wrenching fear and anger of a group of people who want him to “make America great again.” I don’t think we as black people understand fully about how being present in the political arena and exercising our right to vote is about the best way to make sure white supremacy is held at bay.
I am hoping black people who are planning not to vote will rethink their plans. Black people don’t win by withholding, or rejecting their privilege to vote. We have got to be present, in the middle of the cocktail party, so to speak, to make our voices heard and to not let the poison of white supremacy spread across these United States like a toppled jar of non-washable ink. Our ancestors, I keep thinking, must be weeping in their divine sleep, screaming screams that cannot be heard, saying, “No!”
We have come too far, but the powers that be are working to undo those changes, slowly, persistently, and financially. If we don’t vote, we contribute to Trump’s victory. But listen up: We needed the right to vote. Even if you hate Hillary Clinton, there is or will be more chances to perhaps get people in high places so that the gains we’ve made will not be completely eroded by a group of people who “want their country back.” I don’t know what all that means, but it feels like something that will be designed to break our backs. They are gearing up for the victory of a man who thinks of no one but himself; if we let him in, we suffer; the gains we’ve made will be done away with.
And our ancestors will weep again.
A candid observation..