Now that the election cycle is over-I can breathe a little again. No, not in terms of agitating for change, I am going to continue to do that via my studies, the causes I support, my writing, etc. But I can breathe a little in regards to the blatantly manipulative tactics directed at people of color to try and get them to vote. These tactics spread numerous falsehoods 1) voting is the holy grail of social justice action 2) the Civil Rights movement boils down to voting and voting only 3) that people of color who do not or cannot vote for whatever reason are in some way responsible for their own oppression.
Lie #1. Voting is the holy grail of social justice.
On social media this photo has been making the rounds.
Apparently this billboard is being turned into a series of posters and being sold in order to support the Trayvon foundation. Supporting the Trayvon Martin foundation is a worthy goal, but the premise behind the picture is disturbing.
The issue in my mind isn’t whether Trayvon Martin would vote or not, rather the issue is that he is dead. He died in an era where black people had been voting for decades and where the nation had recently inaugurated its first black president. Yet he still ended up with bullets piercing his skin and his blood staining the ground.
Voting didn’t prevent his death.
And to be frank, the use of his death in an attempt to manipulate people into voting-fails to account for the fact that black people in general have taken their “civic duty” to vote seriously and yet they still end up bleeding to death at the hands of racist civilians and police officers.
Voting can bring about some measure of change-but not justice. How many people-especially “democrats” have been elected promising to bring “change and hope” to the oppressed and marginalized and yet they often endorse policies and actions that continue to lead to the disenfranchisement and slaughter of black and brown people?
Democrats might try to blame their Republican peers for stonewalling and preventing progress, but Democrats, including President Obama set forth enough oppressive policies on their own-toward immigrants, toward natives, toward black people, toward civilians in Yemen that blaming the Republicans as the sole cause of their inability to fight against injustice negates the fact that many of these Democrats only view marginalized people as voters not as human beings.
This poster, as well meaning as it may have been, neglects to take into account the fact that voting has not protected black and brown people from languishing in prison for inane drug laws that disproportionately impact them, while their white counterparts enjoy slaps on the wrist for the very same crime. Voting has not stopped the deaths of black and brown people at the hands of racist assholes and trigger-happy police officers.
Voting may be important, but it is not the holy grail that will end injustice. Again and again, Democrats have demonstrated their cowardice and disregard for black and brown lives after getting the votes of black and brown people. Make no mistake about it-even if Trayvon Martin had lived long enough to vote- such actions would have been useless in saving his life. He still would have ended up murdered by the cowardly George Zimmerman
Lie #2. The goals of the Civil Rights Movement can be boiled down to gaining the right to vote.
In an attempt to guilt people into voting, in particular people of color, the Civil Rights Movement and its various goals have been reduced to the notion that, “our ancestors died to give us the right to vote.” This again connects with the above view that voting is some type of holy grail and that our ancestors, recognizing this were willing to be brutally beaten, raped, and lynched for this right.
Except this disregard the historical record as well as creates a caricature of the very real struggles that those in the Civil Rights Movement faced. They were arguing for the dismantling of Jim Crow, for the right to exist and not be slaughtered, to be treated as human, for housing, for equitable education, and yes, they viewed voting one method in achieving social justice and equity.
Voting-which had been denied them-was another step in ensuring they received parity with white people and a way of challenging a racist system that claimed black people did not get to have a say in the running of their government. Yet, many Civil Rights Activist did not focus only or predominantly on voting.
Those in the Civil Rights Movement didn’t die so that people of color can vote in the “nicer” oppressor, they died so that we could exist without being slaughtered by state agents or racists vigilantes.
They were beaten and murdered so that their children and grandchildren wouldn’t have to experience the same level of volatile for merely existing that they had to undergo. They were willing to try multiple methods to achieve equality. Voting was never the only method, nor the most important one.
Lie #3. People of color who do not vote are responsible for their own oppression.
The dark undercurrent behind the notion that voting is a holy grail and the Civil Rights Movement was only about gaining the right to vote is the notion that if black and brown people do not vote, they deserve the oppression that is bestowed on them by those in political power.
Ok, a single mother, working multiple jobs decides that she doesn’t have time to vote, or that the process is too complicated, or that hell, she just does not want to vote, doe she deserve to have chronic health problems and not be able to afford to visit a doctor?
Yes, it her fault she didn’t vote for a candidate that would give lip service to providing universal health care. It is her fault that the healthcare system is incredibly inadequate and that in the US it is ridiculously expensive and inadequate. But because she didn’t vote, she deserves to die a lonely and painful death.
Or another single mother deserves to have her son shot in the back multiple times by police officers, because she didn’t vote, although the issue of police officers killing unarmed people of color has been on-going since the inception of the police force, yet only recently has it come to the sustained attention of politicians. If only she had voted in that election 10 years ago, her son would still be alive today.
I don’t care if a person decides they don’t want to vote because they don’t feel like waiting in line for hours, THEY DON’T DESERVE TO BE MARGINALIZED AND OPPRESSED. THEY DON’T DESERVE TO STRUGGLE TO PUT FOOD ON THE TABLE OR TO HAVE THEIR CHILD SLAUGHTERED BEFORE THEIR EYES BY POLICE.
They aren’t responsible for such tragedies. This may sound surprising, but people who vote are still subject to massive amounts of injustice, brutality and death.
I’m not arguing against voting. I believe it is one necessary tool in the struggle for justice. But it is only one tool.
The woman you blast for not voting? Well, she may be organizing projects at the community level that take care of the poor black child that politicians seem to care about only once every few years.
That young man you blast for not voting? Well maybe he is working multiple low wage jobs and trying to avoid the unwanted attention of the police, who look at him as nothing more than a thug. Maybe voting for the slightly least racist candidate is not on his radar.
We need to examine the ways we “encourage” ie try to emotionally manipulate people to vote. We need to examine what we are really advocating for when we try to shame people-especially people of color into voting.
We also need to recognize that blaming people of color for oppression and attempting to manipulate them into voting is a way to shift blame to the most marginalized and avoid holding into accountable those with power. I am specifically talking about white people, especially middle class white people who consider themselves to be “liberal” or “progressive.”
I was amazed to see how many of my white progressive peers on social media post again and again about the importance of voting, yet these very same people, many of whom are pastors, are afraid to confront their own congregation members and their racist attitudes. They use the notion of “loving” their congregation members to hide behind their cowardice, yet suddenly when it comes to guilt tripping people of color into voting, they grow a backbone.