Today is the election, and like millions of other African Americans, I’m headed to the polls to cast my vote. I can’t really say who I’m voting for, but let’s just say that I’m voting for a woman, and her party symbol is a jackass donkey.
But wait; you say you’re not gonna vote? Why? Because you’re so-called woke, and you can’t be bothered to vote for the “lesser of two evils,” who you think doesn’t care about black people? Or you’ve declared a British-style Brexit, or a “Demexit,” from the Democratic Party because you think it takes advantage of you and other black folks? Or maybe you’re still caping for Bernie Sanders. OK, I heard you out. But lemme give you one message for that mentality:
Yeah, you heard me. I didn’t stutter.
The Root is too polite to let me write it all out, but I want you to go over each and every letter to understand what I’m saying, and when you figure it out, I want you to say it with your chest. Because I mean it with my chest, and I don’t care if you like it or not—it’s that important.
You ain’t deep because you say that you wanna get off the “Democratic plantation.” All you’re doing is mimicking the discredited black voices on the I-don’t-see-color/All Lives Matter side of the political equation. The ones who are the first to yell “We sick” when white supremacy is threatened, all while hoping that a white hand will rub their shiny black forehead for being a special type of Negro. In other words, you’re being Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Don’t be Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Let me give you a brief lesson (or, as my uncles would say, “Lemme learn ya”) about politics and how it actually works, and not how you think it works from the confines of your couch. Most politics, whether you like it or not—and I don’t like it—isn’t centered on an ideological morality that people would like to define society. Yeah, it sucks, but almost all politics is directed, from Otto von Bismarck to Barack Obama, around a series of realpolitik, Machiavellian, pragmatist decisions that range from “Sucks to be you” to “Sucks to be all of us.” It’s about recognizing that if your opponent is playing chess, you better be playing a damn good game of political mah-jongg to beat him or her. And black folks have worked too damn hard to get a chance to play to simply walk away from the table now.
Oh, and I know. The idea that “Black people died for your right to vote” has turned into a cliché as old as Sister Griffin raising her hand and fainting at the same time each Sunday at your local storefront church, but it’s true. Black folks live in an American society that was formed on white supremacy, and is still based on white supremacy, and the blood spilled to let your woke ass have a voice in this society isn’t going to be wasted in vain. Dred Scott didn’t want to be a name on a T-shirt; he wanted his humanity, and the only way get that is by exercising your citizenship. The Latin definition of vote is votum: "a vow, wish, promise to a god, solemn pledge, dedication."
You need to get off Twitter and head to the polls to make that solemn pledge in the name of the hundreds of black people who were massacred in Hamburg, S.C., in 1876 by white terrorists to prevent them from voting. You need to get off Facebook and head to the polls to make a vow to those who were spat upon, beaten and, in the case of Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney, murdered like dogs in Philadelphia, Miss., in order to give you the franchise that’s your birthright. You need to get off Snapchat to dedicate the 15 minutes it takes to punch a vote for president for every black person, like North Carolina’s the Rev. William Barber, who fights for your voting rights while you’re live-tweeting The Real Housewives of Atlanta.
You need to vote.
Ain’t nobody said that you had to love Hillary Clinton. Yeah, she was talking about “superpredators” in the 1990s, but if you’re gonna hold her accountable, you better give a side eye to a bunch of skin folks who said the same thing about locking up Cousin Numb Numb and dem during the Great Mass-Incarceration era. No one’s hands are clean, and we’re still picking up the pieces of lives destroyed. That’s real talk about realpolitik. But you don’t mortgage your voice for the future simply because you’re mad about the past. And you can’t make a false equivalence between one candidate who is a normal, ego-driven politician and the other who is a neofascist who thinks of blacks, Latinos, Asians, Muslims and any other nonwhites as untermenschen, or inferior people.
You just can’t.
Being truly woke means understanding that a Clinton administration can be pressured, protested, directed, and it can be made to work for the black community through politics. It is your duty to look at the power of the black vote, demand that Clinton make that realpolitik decision to work for black folks. A Donald Trump administration? It’s about as useful to the black community as the bounced check Omarosa is gonna get after Trump loses.
So take your wokeness into the polls, vote and then tell the world that you’re not satisfied with the world the way it is. Because those who would disenfranchise black people—and, let’s be real, who hate black people—are banking that you stay asleep Nov. 8.
Lawrence Ross is the author of the Los Angeles Times best-seller The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities. His newest book, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses, is a blunt and frank look at the historical and contemporary issue of campus racism on predominantly white college campuses. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.