Don’t Let White Backlash Win

After the Civil War, when Americans of African descent had been freed from slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks enjoyed a season of being treated as genuine American citizens, with greater rights than they had had before. Some blacks had fought for their freedom in the War Between the States and had earned, they felt, the right to demand and to experience full American citizenship.  During Reconstruction, nearly 2000 black people were elected to public office on local, state and federal levels. They organized and became activists and advocates for the rights and black people. From 1867-1877, a period known as Radical Reconstruction, the Congress actually granted black people the right to vote. (http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-leaders-during-reconstruction)

But Southern whites resented the gains made by black people; they yearned for the return of the reign of white supremacy, and they began undoing every gain made by blacks during Reconstruction. Using violence and their political power, Jim Crow was put into place, designed to put black people “back in their place.” Beginning in 1869, Southern states, beginning with Tennessee, began putting into place all-white “redeemer” governments, sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy. (http://www.understandingrace.org/history/gov/civilwar_recon_jimcrow.html)

American-flag-America

The efforts of the Southern states were successful. Blacks lost their right to vote. Public facilities were segregated. They became victims of racist voter suppression tactics; they were denied equal education, access to tools which would help them achieve economic parity with white people, and in effect were relegated again to second-class citizenship.

It is happening again. White backlash began with a fury, it seems, after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States  – not once, but twice. Many but not all white people have been furious since he first got into office; some met the day of Obama’s first inauguration to strategize how to make him a “one term president.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/robert-draper-anti-obama-campaign_n_1452899.html) The emergence of the Tea Party was part and parcel of the disgust many Americans felt that Obama was the most powerful man in the world, and adherents gained hundreds of thousands of like-minded thinkers. That his Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed only added fuel to the already blazing fire of resentment.

And now, the “angry white base” who support Donald Trump and his promise to “make America great again” are on the final stretch of the race to the White House. It doesn’t matter to them what Trump says or does, how moral or immoral some of his business dealings have reportedly been, whether or not he reads the Bible or goes to church -or lies about whether or not he reads the Bible and goes to church. It doesn’t matter if he used undocumented girls to work as models for him, or that, for all of his talk about how other countries are robbing America,  he uses labor in other countries to make his products.  They do not care. They just want a white man (not a woman!) in the White House.

Studying Reconstruction and the virulence of the white backlash of that period is sobering and scary; what is even more scary is that we as a nation do not seem to want to remember that it was after Reconstruction that black people received some of their most heinous treatment, most of which was sanctioned by government. White supremacy does not want company; it resents that some of its space and place in American politics was trespassed and has been violated by a black man for the past 8 years, but it is bound and determined to “get its place” again. That’s what “make America great again” means, in essence. White supremacists want things to be like they were before, when black people (and brown people) answered to them, when women knew their place, where men married women and that was it, and where America’s immigration policy protected the majority status of white people. White supremacists are not pleased, in fact, they are probably mortified, that predictions indicate that by 2043, America will no longer be majority white. It is a thought they cannot bear.

So, frightened, poor and unemployed/underemployed  white Americans, grateful that Donald Trump has heard their cries, will flock to the polls on Election Day, but don’t be deceived. Many affluent white people, equally as disgusted and frightened about the diminishing numbers of white people in America, will vote for Trump, too. They want their power back. They support the building of The Wall. They support keeping immigrants out of America (unless they come from Europe), they support whatever they need to support in order to “make America white again.”

I hope we don’t let them. I hope scores of people, black, brown and white, have a love for the progress that has been made in this country in spite of our inherent and nascent racism and sexism. I hope as many  Americans who cherish the progress that has been made for so many people, non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual –  go to the polls and vote. I hope we, “the American people,” don’t let white backlash win again. We have come too far.

Going backwards is just not an option.

A candid observation …

When Black People Don’t Vote

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..