First, you try to get free.
Margaret Garner tried to get free.
On January 28, 1856, Margaret, her husband, their four children and 11 of their fellow enslaved freedom-seekers stole their master’s horse, sleigh and gun and absconded from their Boone County, Ky. plantation owner, Archibald K. Gaines. The family crossed the frozen Ohio River and split up. The other escapees eventually made it to freedom via the Underground Railroad while the Garners hid out at their uncle Joe Kite’s house.
When fugitive slave catchers discovered the family’s location, they surrounded Uncle Kite’s house; 22-year-old Margaret knew they were done for. Described as a mulatto who was always “cross tempered,” Margaret was probably the product of a slavemaster raping her mother. Historians say at least two of her own children had been conceived from the same rampant slavemaster’s sexual assault. Knowing the horrors that would undoubtedly befall her daughters, rather than see them suffer the same fate, Margaret grabbed a butcher knife and slit her 2-year-old daughter’s throat.
To sacrifice the fruit borne of one’s own womb is a decision that only oppressed people can know. When contemplating the choice between the proverbial lesser of two evils, there can be no solace; only desperation-fueled practicality informed by an anguish with which we have become all-too-familiar.
We are always forced to choose, to lay our children on an altar in a desperate plea for future freedom. We gave them to the policemen’s batons and terrorist bombs in Birmingham. We subjected them to unfiltered hate in Louisiana and Little Rock.
And just when you thought it was over, you’re forced to choose between an unabashed white supremacist and a billionaire fugitive slave catcher who submitted a sealed bid for the presidency of the United States.
First, you try to get free.
When all else fails, you vote for Michael Bloomberg.
On Monday, audio surfaced from a 2015 Bloomberg speech at the Aspen Institute (which is partially funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies). In the clip, dug up by podcaster Benjamin Dixon, the former New York City mayor defends his stop-and-frisk program that disproportionately targets and criminalizes black and Latinx boys, according to sociologists, criminologists, data and statistics.
“Ninety-five percent of murders—murderers and murder victims fit one M.O. You can just take a description, Xerox it, and pass it out to all the cops,” Bloomberg explains. “They are male, minorities, 16-25. That’s true in New York, that’s true in virtually every city. And that’s where the real crime is. You’ve got to get the guns out of the hands of people that are getting killed.”
You want to spend the money; put a lot of cops on the street. Put the cops where the crime is, which means, in minority neighborhoods.
So one of the unintended consequences is people say, ‘Oh my God, you are arresting kids for marijuana that are all minorities.’ Yes, that’s true. Why? Because we put all the cops in minority neighborhoods. Yes, that’s true.
Why do we do it? Because that’s where all the crime is. And the way you get the guns out of the kids’ hands is to throw them up against the wall and frisk them... And then they start... ‘Oh I don’t want to get caught.’ So they don’t bring the gun. They still have a gun, but they leave it at home.
(Just in case you think the quote is out of context, you can listen to the entire speech here.
There is only one problem with this racist theory:
According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, black people don’t use drugs at higher rates, they are just arrested at three times the rates of white people. And a 2018 study by the National Institutes of Health found that markets that are “more likely to have black sellers than [w]hite sellers” are surveilled more. Additionally, the study found that there is a “strong association between the share of [w]hite residents in a neighborhood and a black person’s likelihood of a drug arrest.”
But Bloomberg didn’t stop there. In another recent clip, he doubled down on his disproven theory by explaining why he believes whites cops “disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little.”
Michael Bloomberg is lying.
The data repeatedly shows that white people are more likely than black people to be in possession of drugs, weapons or other contraband when stopped by cops. And it’s not just in New York; it’s a nationwide phenomenon.
I’m not here to convince everyone that stop-and-frisk is racist. Black voters already know it, which is why many people are wondering why recent polls show that Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy is surging among black voters. Monday’s Quinnipiac poll shows Bloomberg with 22 percent support among black voters, second only to Joe Biden (29 percent). Even before this poll was released, The Root’s Politics Editor Jason Johnson and a number of other black pundits repeatedly warned that Bloomberg would become the second choice of black voters if Biden’s campaign began to falter. (To be clear, no one is saying that Biden has faltered until they let black people vote in the South Carolina primary on Feb. 29.)
But why would black voters gravitate to Bloomberg? Isn’t he guilty of the same things that reportedly prevented Kamala Harris from gaining widespread black support? If Pete Buttigieg is polling at the same percentage of black voters as “someone else,” shouldn’t Bloomberg be at negative-zero support?
This is the problem.
Michael Bloomberg is a white quadrillionaire with infinitely deep pockets and a record of getting shit done. Even if the “shit” he got done came at the expense of our sons and daughters, defeating Donald Trump is the most important factor in a lot of people’s decisions on who they will vote for. Michael Bloomberg’s rise isn’t a condemnation of the other candidates as much as it is an example that black people know white people better than anything else in the universe.
One of the biggest factors in a large number of black people’s primary voting criterion is who they think white people will vote for when the curtain closes behind them in the voting booth. We know Bernie has better policy plans. We know Elizabeth Warren is a better communicator. We have seen Buttigieg’s Douglass plan.
But we also know white people.
Donald Trump is proof of what they will do.
For many black people, the prospect of an unchecked, second-term white supremacist outweighs the choice between Medicare for All and a public option. It’s heavier than student loan forgiveness or foreign policy. It’s bigger than all of the economic proposals and tax plans combined. It’s not even that people don’t think the other Democratic candidates can defeat Donald Trump. We just don’t know if they can defeat the overwhelming self-interests of white people.
No, Michael Bloomberg isn’t a great candidate, but when it comes to someone who can beat Trump, in many ways, he is the same kind of white man. And, while fighting fire with fire seems like a stupid idea, people are sometimes willing to do anything when their house is on fire. Maybe his campaign slogan should be: “I mean...It’s worth a shot.”
He might only be the lesser of two evils but, for a lot of people—especially black people—Donald Trump might be the greatest evil imaginable. Given that Bloomberg actually supported a system of institutional racism, I think it’s insane that any black person would vote for him. But I also know that white supremacy can make me crazy. Oppression, above all things, is a devourer of logic and a manufacturer of desperation.
Ask the black people of New York City, almost half of whom voted for Bloomberg, who ran as a Republican in 2005. Ask the 23 percent of black voters who gave him a narrow victory for a third term after quite literally sacrificing their sons and daughters to stop and frisk. Ask the black people who assumed that white women would never vote for a misogynist—especially one who was running against a white woman.
If the comparison to Margaret Garner seems overwrought, you should ask one of the parents who sacrificed their sons and daughters to Bloomberg’s overseers. Ask the members of the Exonerated Five if they could vote for Bloomberg. Ask the parents of Sean Bell. Or Ousmane Zongo. Or Remarley Graham. Or me.
I know I am too weak to make my son a ghost for a collective lesser evil. As a father and a black man who has been stopped and frisked, I do not think I could cast a vote for Michael Bloomberg. I know what he thinks of our unnoosed necks.
In her book, Beloved (based on Margaret Garner), Toni Morrison wrote:
And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, grace it, stroke it and hold it up. and all your inside parts that they’d just as soon slop for hogs, you got to love them. The dark, dark liver—love it, love it and the beat and beating heart, love that too. More than eyes or feet. More than lungs that have yet to draw free air. More than your life-holding womb and your life-giving private parts, hear me now, love your heart. For this is the prize.
Then again, it is easy for me to say this. I understand that Trump is the reason why some people are considering Michael Bloomberg. And if Bloomberg is the Democratic nominee, he definitely deserves a vote more than Trump.
But first, we should at least try to get free.
Updated: 2/12/2019, 3:50 p.m. ET: This story was updated to note that the audio of Michael Bloomberg’s Aspen Institute speech first aired on the Benjamin Dixon show.