As we head into the final days of the 2020 presidential election season, it’s safe to say that tensions are running high. For a myriad of reasons, our choices are essentially two old white guys, one of whom has made it clear as day that he has no f*cks to give for the American people. For Trump, the presidency is simply the means to an end of filling his insatiable appetite for attention and for filling the Trump family coffers. Or paying down his debts.
We’re almost a year into what might be the worst public health crisis in a century, and he has shown little in the way of compassion or leadership. As we settle into fall, the COVID-19 numbers are rising across the country, and Trump’s inability to lead or create cohesive messaging on staying safe is no doubt a major driver of that trend.
Even prior to the pandemic, it was clear that Trump was not a leader, but it was easier for the masses to look the other way as he locked children in cages and stoked racial tensions. However, all of Trump’s flaws went on full display when life as we knew it ended in mid-March with the arrival of COVID.
While Biden served as the vice president to our nation’s first Black president and has chosen a Black woman as his running-mate, Biden carries heavy baggage as it relates to race. At this moment, as talks of ending mass incarceration become normalized, it is hard to ignore the fact that Biden was the co-sponsor of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that disproportionately led to the mass incarceration of Black and brown people. At the time, Biden was most certainly proud of his tough stance.
Needless to say—despite the United States being an absolute dumpster fire and Americans being effectively trapped in this country due to the Trump administration’s inability to manage the pandemic—there are still a lot of mixed feelings for Black Americans in this year’s election.
While older Black (and often more socially conservative) Democrats in South Carolina were the key to jump-starting Biden’s presidential aspirations and essentially stopping the swell of support for Bernie Sanders, to assume that all Black folks are in support of the Biden/Harris ticket is naive at best.
The truth is, just as white folks are a varied group politically, so are Black people. In this era of Black Lives Matter, to watch Black folks lumped together as a monolithic group is another reminder of how little is truly understood about Black lives or Black humanity.
As a Black member of Generation X, who is dancing quickly to my late-40s, I can say that there is no singular Black experience in America. Other than the universal reality and undercurrent of racism that almost every Black-bodied person will eventually encounter. Yet even that thread of commonality does not mean we live the same lives.
There are Black leftists, Black conservatives and Black folks in the middle. While Black wealth is not universal and still lags behind white wealth, the truth is that college-educated Black folks in the middle class or above are also a reality. The impact of mass incarceration on several generations of Black folks means that we also do not all come to this moment from the same place.
It means that for some folks, accepting that the same Biden, who essentially played a key role in the degradation of Black life and humanity, is now our political savior is a hard pill for some Black folks to swallow. While there is a certain pride in seeing Kamala Harris as Biden’s running-mate, some Black folks see it as no more than political pandering, given Harris’ own track record during her tenure as California’s top cop.
In recent days, many words have been printed about Black celebrities who are leaning toward Trump, or who in some cases are still undecided. While it is easy to mock or chide such people, I think this moment requires more of us in terms of how we frame those people. If we say that Black lives matter, does that not mean that Black folks have the agency to choose their destiny?
White folks in America have most certainly been free to choose, and the rest of us have had to live with those choices. In 2016, 53% of white women chose to support a sexist, xenophobic, racist narcissist as their leader. Sure, it’s been an unmitigated disaster, and we are all being impacted, but overall there hasn’t been a hard questioning of these white women—more of a collective slight raising of the eyebrow by the population.
If we are going to embrace this Black Lives Matter movement, there can be no qualifiers—it cannot be a certain type of Black person. To accept Black life and affirm Black humanity is to accept that some Black folks will make choices we may not agree with. It is also to understand that there is no one form of blackness, nor is there any one spokesperson for Black people.
As a Black woman, I stand in support of all Black life, even when our politics are not the same. Personally I am voting for Biden; not because I love his politics, because I don’t. However, as a Black mother and grandmother, I am not ready to dance my kids and grandson to an early death. I don’t believe this country can survive four more years under Trump, nor do I think a true revolution will occur if he stays in office. Americans of all stripes are too invested in the American concept of individualism and as this pandemic is revealing, we struggle with decisions for the greater good or even staying the course for our own survival.
I also can’t actively support anyone who actively denigrates Black folks, but at the same time, I will acknowledge that the Democratic Party for far too long has taken Black votes for granted. It’s tiring to be taken for granted and never truly seen, so I also understand why for some that exhaustion is enough to say, “No more.”
If we say that Black lives matter, say it and let it stand on its own. Understand that when we judge individual Black decisions and question their very blackness because of those decisions, we are continuing to operate through a white supremacist lens that only offers acceptance of race when the behavior of people in that race meet our needs.
Yes, we can criticize their stances when they run counter to ours, just as we do with other groups, including those 53% of white women I mentioned before. But even in doing so, we need to recognize that they are still Black people in an unjust system—and sometimes the choices they make are shaped by that system’s effect on their lives, whether they are liberal or conservative or somewhere in between. Their lives matter just like any other lives, but they are at more risk than white ones and more ignored than whites ones, hence why Black Lives Matter arose in the first place to remind people they matter. The disagreements of some Black folks with people like me and many of you (whether they are Ice Cube or Clarence Thomas or some average Black Joe) are not somehow more special or more toxic just because they unexpectedly come from Black people.
You don’t have to like some of their decisions, but you can’t cherry-pick which Black lives will be acknowledged and protected any more than you can do that with white people—not if you want to have any moral, ethical or intellectual leg to stand on.
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