“Hey Sweetie,” Miss Mable said, as she welcomed me onto her porch. “Would you like some tea?” Mable Jenkins was known in this sleepy, sticky, southern, black community for two things—her sweet tea and her preternatural tendency to vote for moderate Democrats in highly contested primaries—so of course, I accepted.
“The kids call me Miss Mable” she continued, as she filled my mason jar with a beverage I highly suspect was chocolate Kool-Aid, “but my friends call me WOBN.”
“WOBN?” I followed.
“Of course, Sweetie. Short for Wise Old Black Negro.”
For the next hour, we sat on her porch and talked about the things Wise Old Black Negroes talk about: crawdads, ginger ale, diabetes, and Medgar Evers. (“We were prom dates. Back when the colored prom was in a Woolworth’s basement.”) Every ten minutes or so, a different little black negro neighborhood girl would walk up to the porch, hug her, and then Mable would spend the next seven minutes braiding the girl’s hair. (“I used to braid Malcolm’s goatee” Mable explained, as I wondered if he even had enough beard hair for that to be possible.)
I made the trip to South Carolina to find a Wise Old Black Negro to provide context for why so many Wise Old Black Negros are voting for Joe Biden in the Democratic primaries. All the pieces I’ve read and watched about Wise Old Black Negro voting patterns helped, but I wanted—I needed—to meet a Wise Old Black Negro myself, to verify if they’re truly as old and wise and black and negro as they’re considered to be. Could I have just asked some elders in my own family? Maybe, but I think it’s weird to base any systemic conclusions on what some Wise Old Black Negro who happens to be related to me happened to do.
Before I could segue into Biden, Bernie Sanders, and voting, Miss Mable got very still. Her eyes blank, her cheeks flush, her mouth agape. I thought she was having a stroke, so I rushed to her side. She immediately perked up. “Oh, I’m sorry Sweetie. Them Spirits were whisperin’ to me.”
“Yes, Sweetie. Them Spirits. They visit every four years. Sometimes they tells me who to vote fo. Sometimes they just want some of my corn. That’s why I keeps this bucket right here.”
Miss Mable gestured to a bucket next to her feet. I took off the lid, and it was filled with freshly steamed corn. “Rosa Parks used to call me Lil’ Corn Bucket. Everyone thought it was cause I used to run them numbers, but I always just carry a bucket of corn in case Them Spirits come a visitin’.”
While eating a delicious bowl of Miss Mable’s Porch Bucket Spirit Corn, I asked her to share her thoughts about this primary. She had many.
“Bernie seems like a good man. A good, solid Jewish man, with hair like the moon and a voice like potato soup. But Mable knows white people like I knows the back of my teeth, Sweetie. And I knows none of them bleachies would vote for free doctors ‘cause that’d mean we’d get ‘em too. I just feel like Biden knows his whites better than Bernie do. And I hate that motherfucker.”
Although confused by Miss Mable’s analogy—How can you know the back of your own teeth?—her point made sense. Sanders, in the eyes of Spirit-Seeing, Corn-Carrying Negros like Miss Mable, couldn’t win. He just wasn’t the reasonable, practical, and pragmatist choice—which is what The Spirits told her.
I left Miss Mable’s porch that day equipped with a better understanding of the Wise Old Black Negro vote, and seven pounds heavier from all the Kool-Aid and corn I consumed. And the next time you want to write people like Mable Jenkins off for being a low-information, fear-based voter, well, where’s your corn bucket?