black america: exercise political freedom every day

November 6, 2018

I do not vote because of my ancestors who fought for the freedom for me to choose to participate or not participate in the election. I vote because I’m pragmatic. I was taught by Black feminists like Angela Davis and bell hooks who centered a Black feminist leftist politics in their work and were also clear about still engaging in the daily things one can engage in to reduce the violence for some produced by domination culture. This does not always mean voting or not voting, but it can.

Intellectually and politically, I am often in limbo. I know no matter who I reduce harm for, I am in fact more than likely increasing the harm for another person on this Earth because of the greedy, imperialist force that is America. President Barack Obama deported more immigrants and released more drones than the current administration, but he also made healthcare obtainable for me when I was uninsured and legalized marriage for all consenting adults.

This struggle is why the “vote now!” rhetoric that has consumed most of the public dialogue about 2018’s midterm elections leaves me feeling uneasy. If one feels compelled to reach out and have conversation with people about voting and the goodness it will bring, I can see why it does feel noble. This does not mean it is noble.

The narrative about voting being this autonomous, political action that can fix this country is a lie. America, and this Earth that we inhabit due to climate change, are doomed — literally. Some of the consequences can be reduced or put-off, but many are imminent. These facts don’t influence my choice to vote or not to vote, but they do shape my relationship with this government and the dialogue I choose to initiate around this government. This realism is often confused for cynicism, but it is not. You can not transform realities that you refuse to see, and only changing the reality for my country or my state is not enough for my political self. I will vote, but I want the dialogue to begin to be about Black folks globally, and not just Black Americans and our concerns even if they have integrity. There needs to be a resistance and conversation around community that transcends borders, not just enhancing the lives of those one side of the borders.

A large majority of the Black neo-liberal public figures like Oprah Winfrey and Barack Obama recall chattel slavery and even police brutality to guilt people — consistently Black — to vote in their political interests. The truth is, statistically, Trayvon Martin would not vote if he was alive and that is okay. The truth is, many enslaved Africans if alive today may not have voted either. And could we blame them? I, too, might not be motivated to vote if I knew that even six years after my death by the hands of a white supremacist, I would not know justice. I would not vote if the country I built and that exploited me would still — centuries later — not able to clearly name the moral bankruptcy of violent white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As someone that respects and honors history and critical thinking, the idea that these ancestors that can’t speak for themselves would somehow prioritize Black folks’ voting habits if they were alive is a Black neo-liberal fiction designed to control political habits through guilt and propaganda, instead of political and intellectual engagement with leaders, policies, and communities.

Oprah Winfrey spoke for nearly one hour in her endorsement for Stacy Abrams and an overwhelming amount of the speech was about Abrams’ personality, Oprah’s celebrity, and fictionalized ancestors that will be prouder of you if you do vote. Abram’s political position is available and was spoken about during this rally, but it says something about what was prioritized in that rally when I’m able to recall Oprah’s power of celebrity and her desire for us to vote for her prefered democratic candidate more than a solid map of how we are going to reduce harm for marginalized Georgians and Americans. This speaks to the messaging and hierarchy in that messaging.

No matter who is elected, globally, marginalized folks will suffer at the hands of American leadership even if I found relief in some of their policies. This is the reality of imperialism. If you see yourself as a global citizen, there is no champion after elections because a neighbor — a co-habitant of this world — is always suffering. But the non-vote feels too irresponsible when you know too many people rationing healthcare and bygoing chemotherapy treatment or losing their right to claim their identity. This is the political conundrum that I can hardly answer for myself and couldn’t dare answer for another person.

What is true is that our political power and our desire for change as Black Americans can not end on November 6th no matter the outcome and we can’t believe that another opportunity is not available for us to control our political and global destinies until the presidential elections in 2020. The hope, if we still believe in such a thing, is that as we connect our local suffering to global suffering, and in that practice we begin to notice that our power can not be confined in one day or limited by our nation’s borders. Every day is not election day, but every day is an opportunity to practice freedom and justice.


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