Dear white progressives: Stop telling black people how to vote

The left has always used black voters without truly prioritizing black issues — we're done coming through for you

Published July 21, 2015 11:00PM (EDT)

  (AP/Susan Walsh/Jason DeCrow/Photo montage by Salon)
(AP/Susan Walsh/Jason DeCrow/Photo montage by Salon)

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

We are now in the midst of the 2016 presidential election, which means both parties are pandering to their bases as well as to unlikely voters who may be swayed to their respective sides. Although it’s early, this election cycle has already been dominated by questions of which candidate will garner “the black vote,” as if black people are monolithic. Given that thousands of black people are currently leading a social justice movement across the nation that the media has dubbed the “Black Lives Matter Movement,” the black electorate appears to be at the forefront of politicians’ minds.

There is a history of black communities voting Democrat — that is, when we are actually allowed to vote, as we were historically targeted for explicitly racist disenfranchisement in the 20th century and felon disenfranchisement in the 21st century. During the 19th century, the Democratic Party was well known for instituting anti-black policies in the South such as Jim Crow, poll taxes and literacy tests. Since then, the Democratic Party has shifted its image to racial indifference, while the Republican Party picked up its racially hostile characteristics.

Today black communities continue to be betrayed by both sides of the aisle in this toxic political system, which prioritizes exuberant campaign spending over protecting human rights. Both Ferguson and Baltimore saw uprisings in the face of police terror in the last year. And each city watched Democratic city and state politicians lead violent militarized occupation in response to protests, including the National Guard, tear gas, rubber bullets and riot police. The fact is that neither political party is “for black people,” but white liberal and moderate voters continually impose upon black communities the candidates they feel are most sympathetic to black experiences.

A bizarre phenomenon has developed out of this — Bernie Sanders supporters lurking in the dark trolling shadows of Twitter to condescendingly tell black people what’s best for us inside a system designed to crush us.  One person even went to so far as to call Sanders “one of the first Black Lives Matter Activists.” Others juxtapose his image with captions of Martin Luther King Jr. quotes, and thrust such egregious depictions at black Twitter users. Sanders supporters list his involvement with the civil rights movement as though they have now come to collect on his debt — black people must repay Sanders for his service by voting him into office.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton supporters practice the “it’s time we’ve had a woman president” method with black women, as if Hillary’s supposed feminism has ever been intersectional or inclusive between supporting her husband Bill Clinton’s mass incarceration policies and spewing the blasphemous “All Lives Matter” phrase in Ferguson, Missouri.

White supporters of both candidates appear to share one common fear: losing the black vote. Above all, these supporters seem to be most concerned about black voters not supporting whoever ends up the Democratic nominee, thus ceding the White House to a Republican candidate. Bernie's and Hillary’s rabid bases shake in their boots at the idea that black people could vote Republican, or for a third party — or simply not vote at all. “Do you really want the clown car in the White House?” they warn of the Republican candidates, as if they are unable to view life outside of the liberal-vs.-conservative political dichotomy. Black people don’t have such a privilege — we have been fighting simply to be treated as humans for centuries.

This entire culture of white people feeling as though they know what’s best for blacks is rooted in paternalism. It is pervasive throughout history and founded in slave-master ideologies, it ignores the autonomy of black people and continuously disrespects our intelligence. When blacks were organizing around the 15th Amendment, some white peers believed black people weren't educated enough for enfranchisement and feared they would potentially offset liberal power. The truth is that the left has always used black communities to fuel their political power, without ever truly prioritizing black issues. The right remains blatantly racist, but while the left has chosen not to ascribe to outright racial hostility, it still continues to practice racial indifference while stepping on the backs of blacks to protect its privilege and political influence.

White liberals generally do not want to be racist, although not many truly understand systemic racism, but they fear how they will protect their white and class privilege in the event that the blatantly racist political party takes power. How will they sustain policies that benefit the white middle class without the black voting base? Will they need to shift their racial attitudes to align with the repugnant right in an attempt to infiltrate the Republican Party? Either way, they are surely not concerned with the opinions or experiences of black people, as they chastise and attempt to bully us into supporting their candidates. Black people are lambasted for daring to vocalize our disillusionment with the political system — and it doesn't take long for the white liberal who once posed as an ally to employ the “black people don’t vote” negative stereotype to back us into the corner of choosing to either refute the trope or investing time into invalidating it.

The reality is that no part of this political system truly benefits black liberation when our institutions are built on anti-blackness. The entire political system perpetuates systems of oppression and therefore each candidate and party cannot escape complicity in reinforcing the oppression of blacks. We are a people who were kidnapped, then stripped of our culture and humanity, and are now forced to make choices in circumstances we did not choose for ourselves. Having the “lesser of two evils” argument about the political party system shoved down my throat by white moderates is infuriating and irrelevant, because quite frankly, I don’t like evil — and neither candidate will free my people.

After experiencing systemic betrayal and erasure from politicians who fall at every point on the political spectrum, Black communities vary in response, from scouring for viable candidates to refusing to vote for anyone they don’t truly support. And there those of us who are so disillusioned with the toxicity of our political system that the entire entity will need to be dismantled before it has any semblance of a political process in which we choose to participate. However, it is most certainly not our white counterparts’ place to police any of these choices black people make to reaffirm our autonomy in a society that denies its very existence.

By Janessa Robinson

Janessa Robinson is a Chicago native who earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication with a minor in Philosophy from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Her work has appeared on, Huffington Post, Scenarios USA, and Ravishly(dot)com. She is a Black feminist, social justice activist and currently resides in Washington, DC. Follow her @curlyheadRED

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