Voting is important but there is a reason many do not…or cannot

Stop saying, “If you’re not going to vote, you can’t complain later!”

Please, register and go out and vote. Please. I mean, not if you’re a republican. Stay right the fuck home if you’re a republican, but otherwise, yes, please go vote. We might not get another chance after this.

Really.

So, please, go vote, but we’re all gonna need you to stop saying, “If you’re not going to vote, you can’t complain later!”

Seriously, there is an endless list of reasons why you should stop saying that, but I’ll just touch on a few.

First, saying that implies the results of an election are just trivial outcomes that one might only complain about. The results from an election are only trivial if you are part of a group whose rights have never been separately legislated by an outside group.

It also implies that voting is the only necessary political action. Again, that’s only true if you are part of a group whose rights have never been separately legislated by an outside group.

It also implies that voting is fundamentally a trustworthy system, ignoring the enormous problems inherent within it. For instance there are more and more places in this country where politicians pick their voters, instead of the other way around.

Saying that also displays an attitude that is just absolutely antithetical to the idea of voting in the first place. The point of voting is not to have your individual voice heard. It is to have our collective voices heard. No matter what boxes you check in the voting booth, you’re hoping for a group victory. You want your side to win. You’re rooting for your own team. Like it or not, intended or not, you’re voting for everyone else’s benefit or downfall as much as your own.

Also, trying to convince someone to take part in a system means that you are vouching for that system. But that system is broken and there are people breaking it more and more every day.

Look at Georgia. The white man in Georgia running for governor is also the guy in charge of the election and he just saw to it that 107,000 people were removed from the voter polls. This is after he purged 53,000 voters just the week before, affecting a disproportionately high number of Black voters. Surprise.

Here’s another Georgia surprise. There’s a lot happening in Georgia because the democratic candidate is Stacey Abrams, who could be the first Black woman governor of any state ever.

But Georgia isn’t the only place this is happening. There’s the poll taxes in New Hampshire. There’s the rejecting of Black peoples’ mail-in ballots in Florida (again, surprise). There’s the online voter registration rejection in Texas (I mean…). There’s the Native American voter suppression in North Dakota (…). And this is all without getting into the fact that more than 6,000,000 Americans aren’t allowed to vote at all. It’s not new, but it’s on the rise and this was entirely predictable when they gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.

You ever notice how the intended audience for a lie used to be larger? Like, most people know the president is lying. He’s not very convincing and he’s not trying to be convincing…to you. You’ve seen the footage of his rallies. Those are the people he’s trying to convince and it totally works. He’s shown how few people you actually need to aim lies at to remain viable and other politicians have followed suit. It fools people not only with the lies themselves, but also with the idea that they are the only ones who matter.

Voter suppression works similarly. Only let one kind of person vote and you’ll convince them that their vote is the only one that matters anyway.

We can’t let that happen, but in order to stop it we’ve got to try harder than usual.

My father always said, “If you’re in a position to accuse someone of not pulling their own weight, then you’re in a position to pull a little bit more yourself.”

So, yes, please go vote. I really do think it’s absolutely necessary. Just stop saying, “If you’re not going to vote, you can’t complain later!”

There are plenty of groups out there trying to fix the system that absolutely need and would totally love your help.

Pull a little bit more.


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Photo by Mohamed Hassan on Pixabay

How about we examine what’s really likely with Kavanaugh?

“The facts presented do not mean that Professor Ford was not sexually assaulted that night or at some other time, but they do lead more to conclude that the allegations fail to meet the more-likely-than-not standard.”

That’s what Maine Sen. Susan Collins said on Friday in a speech from the Senate floor supporting Brett Kavanaugh.

“The more-likely-than-not standard.”

That’s that bullshit. I mean, I get it.

Men commit 88% of homicides, and the homicides of most women involve domestic violence. So, if you’re a cop investigating the murder of a straight cis woman, it’s a good idea to start with the husband or boyfriend.

Some things are more likely than not. I get it, but with Collins that’s that bullshit.

You can only tell if something is more likely than not if you take in as much information as possible. You can be reasonably sure of your safety if you look left every time you cross the street. Until you get to England.

Now, obviously, Collins wasn’t interested in gaining as much information as possible. She knows Kavanaugh deals in conspiracy theories and she absolutely saw him publicly threaten people. But let’s do what she didn’t. Let’s take in all that information. Let’s widen our context like a cop might in a murder investigation.

First, let’s talk about how we talk about rape. We say “a woman was raped,” not, “a man raped a woman.”

We talk about “violence against women” like it’s a fucking act of God because that’s how we view it: Natural, unquestionable and we’re all helpless to even make sense of it, never mind do anything about it.

And by “we” I mean men. And by “men” I mean rich, white, cisgender, straight males because they have the media companies, they’re the politicians, they worship themselves enough to put their faces on the money, all of which you can bet that they control the language.

Unfortunately, even right now in 2018 this kind of vague phrasing also serves as a type of protection as women would undoubtedly face violence for even using the language necessary to precisely name the crime.

Kavanaugh is a rich, white, cisgender, straight male. Each one of those descriptors is a type of permission. Any permission removes you from the standards held to those without that permission. For example, the government obstructs Black people from voting because of our race, but that also means it grants permission for white people to vote free of any racial obstruction.

These types of permissions also mean that you have no responsibility to anyone without those permissions. In other words, if you are not rich you are held to account for things that the rich are often not. The same if you are not white or not cisgender or not straight or not male.

There are no social standards designed to hold someone like Kavanaugh to account.

According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence network, one out of every six women in America will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. Add on that the majority of sexual assault victims are under 30.

Let’s also add that, according to Sexual Assault Response Services of Southern Maine (SARSSM) Approximately 66% of rape victims know their assailant and approximately 48% of victims are raped by a friend or acquaintance.

Let’s consider the witnesses who have seen him be overly aggressive and abusive toward girls in his youth. Let us also include women who have experienced abuse say that he obviously behaves like an abuser. Let’s include the fact that he tells the same lies one might tell to seem innocent of attempted rape. Let’s include how we’ve all seen him get suddenly and needlessly aggressive with at least one woman full well knowing the entire world was watching.

So, we have a crime so shameful and brutal and common that we don’t even actually describe it. A male is accused of this crime multiple times on multiple occasions by multiple accusers. This male fits the description of the statistics. This male has also been given every kind of permission imaginable by society. And when defending himself of these accusations, he speaks in a way common to those who have been proven guilty.

“The more-likely-than-not standard.”

Maybe you’re one of those types who thinks there needs to be an eyewitness, video evidence and signed confession to be certain of an individual’s guilt.

If that’s your view, all I can say is you’ve probably never been a Black man standing in front of a judge.


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The little, pink General Lee

The last time I really went through the house was probably 10 years ago.

I had just come back from my first big tour abroad and I couldn’t wait to tell my dad all about it. The visit went how they almost always went. I told him stories, he beamed with pride. He told me stories, I tried to take a lesson from them. Then he’d sit down at the piano, I’d pull out my guitar and we’d play old blues songs for the next couple hours. Then we’d take a break, start all over again and keep going until I had to go home.

This particular time, after our first round of stories and blues, I started feeling nostalgic and went upstairs to check out my old room.

The house itself is very old. It was built by my great-grandfather on my mother’s side. Even though most of that side of the family was long dead, much of them still remained in the house. No one was ever completely gone. This was obvious anywhere you went in the house—even in my old room.

My father hadn’t really touched the room since I moved out. My pretentious music and movie posters were still on the walls—which were still the same color I’d painted them in high school: black, naturally. My same bed was still in the same place, though not completely mine. The mattress was mine, but the frame had been my grandmother’s. It was white and gold and matched her dresser, which was also in the same place it had been when I last lived there.

And there was Grammy’s big closet. It was a walk-in, but just barely. It was unfinished and under one of the eaves, but you could definitely walk into it. I never really had, though. It had always just felt like my Grammy’s big closet and none of my business.

Grammy had died when I was five, but I still had vivid memories of her. And they were all loving. In the drawers of her old dresser must’ve been a hundred pictures of her and I, and every one of them reflected those memories. Both of us happy, usually playing together, usually mid-laugh. Even now memories of her bring back a sort of love and excited contentment I haven’t felt since she died.

I was looking for more of that feeling when I decided to go through her closet that day. And that feeling is exactly what I found.

My parents used to drop me off at Grammy’s Friday afternoon. I’d stay the night and she’d let me stay up late and watch my favorite show, The Dukes of Hazzard. She even got me a little toy car that I’d drive through the air and mimic the sound of its Dixie car horn. The toy car didn’t actually look anything like The General Lee. It was pink and it didn’t have any moving parts. It was just a hollow, plastic shell, but it was close enough for me at the time.

Every Saturday morning she’d drive us back to my parents’ apartment and we’d all have breakfast. Then she’d get up to leave and I’d cry. Then she’d hand me that little pink car and tell me that she’d see me in a few days and she’d let me stay up late and we could watch our favorite show.

Naturally, the next week would come and I would have lost the car. But every single time, somehow she would find it and I would have the little, pink General Lee in hand, ready when our favorite show came on.

That little, pink General Lee is in all my memories of Grammy, even the last one. I was laying on my stomach on the floor in the doorway between the living room and the kitchen of my parents’ apartment. Grammy was sitting with them at their kitchen table. She was mid-sentence when her eyes rolled back and she fell out of her chair. My father caught her and gently laid her on the floor. My mother called the ambulance and I jumped up screaming and crying, clutching that little, pink General Lee.

Over the next 20-plus years I would think about the little, pink General Lee whenever I thought of Grammy. It became a sort of legend I not only associated with my grandmother, but also with the house. So, you can imagine the overwhelming joy in my laughter when, in Grammy’s closet I found a shopping bag full of little, pink General Lees.

I had often wondered how she always “found” something at her house that had been lost someplace else and it turned out she hadn’t. I couldn’t stop laughing at what a wonderful, joyous thing this was. It was this sweet and loving prank she had played on me, a joke where the punchline arrives more than twenty years later surrounded by the happiest nostalgia. I went back downstairs to share the joke with my dad.

He didn’t laugh.

My father’s relationship with my grandmother was very different than mine. My grandmother’s family had lived in New England for generations. She was a pillar of her Maine community. She was a deputy sheriff’s widow. And she was the very protective white mother of a white daughter who had just married a big, Southern Black man.

She was never overt in her opinion of my father’s race, but she would let him know in other ways. In passive-aggressive ways. In plausibly deniable ways. In cruel ways. For instance, she would let his Black child watch a TV show that glorified the racist symbolism of the south. She did this knowing how he felt about that racist symbolism. She would go further by encouraging that Black child to run around with a little car hollering out Dixie in his home, knowing how he felt about that song.

It wasn’t possible to explain to me what racism was, never mind all of the layers. The long and cruel history of a country, its life-long battle with race, its ever-permeating racist symbolism and the day to day effects of these things on people who look like us. The country itself still doesn’t understand it, so how would this four-year-old child?

My father was stuck. He was alone, but not in the usual ways a Black man is alone in a white place. This was different than being followed around a store or being questioned by the police. This was even different than the plain and hidden racism he faced in public as a Black husband to a white wife. He would not discuss this with my mother. He would not risk the retaliation from my grandmother. He would not risk the possible loss of his wife and child. He would take as much as he could. Like he did the whispers from fellow restaurant patrons and the shouts from passing cars, he would take it. He would take it because he grew up with different bathrooms and water fountains. He would take it because he was 10 years old when Emmett Till was beaten to death. He would take it because even though it was in his house now, he’d come too far to let it steal his dignity. But he wouldn’t take it lying down. No. He threw away every little, pink General Lee I came home with.

And here I was, 20-odd years later. An adult, standing there in front of him, overjoyed, grinning that same Grammy-is-the-best grin, holding that bag, a time capsule containing a sweet and loving prank for me and a hard, sordid one for him.

I went back to look at those pictures in her dresser drawers. Grammy and me still playing and laughing. They looked different, but not entirely. Even now, when I look at them it’s impossible not to see what I saw then. The photos are as true and real as any grandmother’s love for her grandchild. But I also know another thing. I know that if she had not been my grandmother and I had met her as I am now, the spitting image of my own Black father, she would have likely judged me solely for that.

She was absolutely a loving grandmother. I still have no doubt of that. She was also a spiteful person who would manipulate and exploit her own grandchild in order to make his father suffer for his race.

Both things can be true.

I still have no doubt of that.

I wouldn’t go through the house again until my father died.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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