The Red or the Blue Pill? When Black Voters Refuse to Get High on Political Promises

For some black voters, the power of the vote has become diluted.

President Barack Obama walks down the West Wing Colonnade alongside former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 2010.  
President Barack Obama walks down the West Wing Colonnade alongside former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during a statement in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 16, 2010.   SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

In the midst of the two-party, seemingly now two-candidate, political brawl this country finds itself engaged in, there are young black voters who are saying no to politics as usual, no to a Democratic Party that has morphed into a moderate Republican Party, and no to a Republican Party that believes in big government only when it encompasses corporate welfare, bloated military and tax loopholes for the wealthy—while jumping the shark into a dark abyss of blatant racism, misogyny, xenophobia and an aversion to scientific facts.

As Leah Wright Rigueur writes in the New York Times, these “are young people who shun two-party politics altogether, critical of a flawed system that all too often marginalizes black voices and needs.”

“Around election time every year, African Americans are constantly told that those who do not vote are disparaging the legacy of the civil rights movement and those who died in the struggle for the ballot,” says Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor of African-American studies at Princeton University and author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation. “It is a simplistic formulation that reduces that historic movement to a struggle to choose between this politician or that politician, when that movement was about so much more.”

She’s absolutely right. Our ancestors did not die simply for the right to vote. They were slain fighting for the right to autonomy; they were beaten because they fought against inequities and inequality. Voting was merely the conduit through which they thought success would be attained. It was supposed to provide access—access to the life, freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness that textbooks and fairy tales tell us about. Yet here we are, being told that to vote on principle, to vote for whom we believe in, is endangering the United States of America, and our liberal friends call that progress with a straight face.

For many people of color in this country, particularly black people, the past is always prologue. Still, we are asked to forgive and forget that policies implemented by President Ronald Reagan were expanded by President Bill Clinton, and that policies implemented by President George W. Bush were expanded by President Barack Obama. We are expected to forget, as W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1956, “that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no ‘two evils’ exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say. There is no third party.”

We are told that refusing to buy into a system that has “For Sale” signs on our children’s backs is dangerous and that we owe it to the future of the democracy to push our principles to the side for the greater good.

We are expected to hide beneath our beds, cowering in the dark, afraid of the Republican bogeyman known as Donald Trump, when our time would be just as well spent searching for an honest politician with a lantern in the sunlight.

We are told to walk along the smooth road of “negative peace,” the preferred route for many white moderates who have never been victims of perpetual, systemic violence. The type of person who, according to Martin Luther King Jr. (pdf), says, “‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’”

This is why, according to Taylor, centering politicians in black liberation has never been effective.

“In many elections, people are faced with choosing between two elected officials who are often full of campaign promises and short on postelection action,” Taylor said. “It gets tiring, and people begin to feel like their vote does not matter. … That’s not a prescription not to vote, but it is to say that we need to tap into the larger legacy of the civil rights movement—which is that it is the struggle itself that makes the difference in black people’s lives.