“To not vote for Hillary is to vote for Trump” is a refrain that liberals have championed this election season. It often rears its ugly head when leftists or black radicals denounce the two-party system, raising significant concerns about Hillary Clinton’s neoliberal tactics alongside Donald Trump’s rabid racism. It also appears when folks deeply question what “democracy” is when our votes aid in the advancement of black and brown social, economic and physical death. It’s also palpable when freedom fighters chop at the rotten tree that bears the branches of both the Democratic and Republican parties.
But a vote for Hillary Clinton is not a vote against Trump. Indeed, a vote for Clinton is a vote for white supremacy, and a vote for Trump is also a vote for white supremacy. The question becomes how folks want white supremacy to be packaged.
As Kirsten West Savali has argued at The Root, “If the Democratic Party is ever to fully shake its Dixiecratic origins, it must first reckon with the truth that the promise of a white savior has never been, and will never be, enough to shake the dust of racism, paternalism and complacency that clings to its mantle.”
Scaring folks into voting for Clinton because they do not want Trump sanitizes a long-standing history of black folks who dared to stand tall against what was, in order to imagine what could become. As Eddie Glaude notes, “Imagination constitutes the most important battleground in this election.” Some of us are imagining a world without whiteness, others are imagining a system with more than two party options, and far many others are plotting ways off neo-plantations to freedom.
Trump, both the individual and the ideologue, has haunted the American political landscape since this country's inception. The genocide and bloodshed of native and indigenous peoples, the enslavement of African people, and the codification of racialized, gendered and classed law and order undergird Trump's sacrilegious fervor.
As this generation's Trump speaks “Make America Great Again,” he harks back to America's earliest sins—rape, genocide and indentured servitude—and resurrects his white supremacist forefathers from the dead. Thomas Jefferson comes alive again, and Sally Hemings is sexually terrorized without end, her violation ignored as Trump/Jefferson escape accountability for rape. Nixon’s deployment of the Southern strategy is re-engaged as the poor white underclass seeks to gain the full benefits of whiteness.
Trump is not new; we have seen him before. And we should ruminate on why Trump keeps reappearing. And why politicians like Clinton can kiki with Trump, then act brand-new come election season.
But, to be clear, Trump and Clinton are two faces of the same coin. One is lesser evil, and the other is greater evil, or at least that’s what we’ve been told. Yet, evil is still evil. And amid rampant anti-black racial animus, settling for the lesser evil will not stop bullets, put an end to mass incarceration, end poverty, abolish prisons, and bring back to life the countless black and brown people taken by state-sanctioned violence.
Black folks are in need of saving, and Clinton will be no savior. A black man in the White House could not save us, and a white woman will fare no better. In fact, elite white women reap the benefits of white patriarchy by stepping on the backs of black and brown women, as Imani Perry has argued.
Archives, political education and the will to imagine outside this current system still matter. Even when neoliberal structures, political theater and black elders and elites—who have the option to shun those who are young, disillusioned and disenfranchised—fetishize voting while swiping the civil rights card. The market value placed on votes, evident in the exchange and barter of democracy, only furthers white supremacy. As so many black young, queer, trans and poor folks are trying their/our best not to get shot on their/our way to the polls, who will stand for us?
“We all we got” is a protest anthem. We can no longer depend on structures that do not love us, on politicians whose interests are colored by Wall Street and on thought leaders who love cameras more than they do black people.
Millennials who divest from this two-party system are knowledgeable of the countless black folks before us who contested American oligarchy and dared to stand tall against “faux democratic option” guised as options—plural.
In 1927, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, teacher, journalist and suffrage clubwoman, wrote The Negro Woman and the Ballot, in which she posed the question, “What has the Negro woman done with the ballot since she has had it?” She continued later on in the essay, “Cheap political office and little political preferment had dazzled their eyes so that they could not see the great issues affecting the race. They had been fooled by specious lies, fair promises and large-sounding works. Election promises had inflated their chests, so that they could not see the post-election failures at their feet.”
Those postelection failures would last nearly 40 years later, as W.E.B. Du Bois penned, “Why I Why Won’t Vote,” in which he wrote, “In 1956, I shall not go to the polls. I have not registered. I believe 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.”
And we can’t forget Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” in 1964.
We know what we’re imagining, so before folks try to throw us away because we're unsure about voting and/or if we're voting Democrat, please be mindful of the messages you're sending. Lesser evil is still evil, and I don't believe that our ancestors fought for the right to vote only for us to be forced to participate and pledge our allegiance against our principles. Trump is scary, but trust—Clinton is, too. There is a black left that sees Trump and Clinton in tandem. One speaks proudly the hate we contest, and the other smiles in our faces and stabs us in our backs.
But the hurt has the same effect, and though President Barack Obama dismissed booing as an ineffective show of emotion, booing may be all some have to soothe the pain.