Not Your Sassy Black Voter

Olivia Kirk

While election season typically means cringeworthy attack ads, realizations that your high school Facebook friends might be slightly racist, and tense family gatherings where you hope that your uncle and grandmother don’t start fighting as they did last Thanksgiving, the 2016 Presidential Election truly must be one for the ages. Where else but America can we have one party where the front runner is a frightening shade of circus peanut who passes off hate speech as “honesty” and is applauded for it? And he might not be the worst option? However, as much fun as it is to observe the seeming implosion of Reagan’s Party, I feel like Democrats shouldn’t quite be let off the hook.

While it is refreshing to see that while GOP Debates have devolved into the equivalent of a high school bathroom graffiti wall, Democratic candidates have, for the most part, been fairly tolerable. One might find a candidate’s ideas too “pie in the sky” or question how truly left leaning the other’s politics are, but it is nice to turn on a debate and not question if you accidentally changed to a horrifying reality show. In the grand scheme of things, at least for many Dems, either candidate receiving the nomination would not automatically mean voting for the possible harbinger of the end of times. On the other hand, being a racial minority in election season, much like during the rest of the year, means being used as a pawn. It is easy to point to the Grand Ol’ Party as being Big Bad Racists and Democrats being Great Enlightened Allies come to rescue people of color from a modernized Paper Bag test, but that lets everyone off the hook despite the fact that liberal New York is where black and brown citizens are routinely harassed by the NYPD and despite the fact that supposedly progressive schools of higher education are incredibly hostile places to be a person of color. I’m hardly going to say that Dems are as bad as their red counterparts because any browse through a Yahoo! comment section, Facebook page, or CNN/Fox website is a game of Which Brown People Do We Hate More. Additionally, despite the insistence from historically bastardizing conservative pundits, the Democrats of 2016 are a completely different political party than thatof the 19th and early 20th centuries, which was very fond of the letters K, K, and K, and people only started to switch parties when the Catholic JFK was elected. But that does not mean that this election has not shown the very ugly side of the Democratic party.
Since Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders became the two potential candidates, both sides have become incredibly ugly if you have the nerve to be a person of color and hold a contrary political opinion; this especially came to a head on Super Tuesday, where Clinton continued her sweep of votes, getting one step closer to becoming the Democratic nominee. Bernie supporters, some of whom have been termed “Bernie Bros” (white, middle class men who probably vape and call Clinton and Co. “bitches” on every occasion) were understandably upset. I sympathized right up until comments about “black people voting against their interests” or “Clinton supporters (black voters) are low information voter” starting showing up on political websites I frequent. As someone who has spent the majority of her 22 and counting years on this Earth being black, it was insulting to be told by liberal whites, my racial identity’s “allies,” that people from my community are morons who can’t make up their own minds. Or, better yet, that there is some uniform “black interest” which every single black American had a referendum about and voted on. Black people, much like other racial groups, are Not A Monolith. We have massive class disparity within the community, colorism, various religious beliefs, the fact that too many black people (I’m looking at you, Kanye and Whoopi Goldberg) believe that Bill Cosby is not a rapist, and the propagation of respectability politics by upper middle class blacks; there is no “interest” that unites us all. To suggest that we are a united hive mind who don’t know how to think beyond what’s comfortable is not only unbelievably condescending, but it doesn’t make your liberal racism any less offensive. It’s awesome that Sanders marched with Dr. King back when most white people wouldn’t have, but regurgitating that fact as though I am automatically swayed by the mere mention of the Great Dr. King is reductive. You might think it’s okay to say you won’t vote or, better yet, will vote for someone who spreads violent rhetoric and has received the support of literal KKK members, but in doing so you are simply showing that you are a terrible excuse for an ally. I am not a voter to berate into choosing your candidate because you have some idea of what The Black Voter cares about.

While this could very easily turn into an irrite essay about how Bernie Bros are the epitome of why I dislike progressives who assume that they aren’t racist because they grew up in New York or California, Clinton supporters also deserve some criticism of the atrocious way they’ve treated all women of color, not just black ones, who are ambivalent about electing a white woman (I’m looking at you, Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem). We are all women, yes; we all face misogyny, yes. However, as it has been reiterated since Latinx, Asian, Native, and Black women have existed in the United States, we all experience it differently, both within our own racial groups and in predominantly white spaces. I have a hard time understanding why it is so difficult for Clinton’s female supporters to understand that many of us are not going to readily support a woman who has called black folks Super Predators, voted for a war that resulted in the deaths and displacements of numerous Iraqi women, and seems to have a hard time remembering that while women who look like her might get 82 cents on the dollar, Native and Latina women have the greatest wage gaps in comparison to white men. You, too, are guilty of the Monolith Myth; just because she has some of the black community supporting her does not mean that she has the Black Vote. You can write your all caps listicle about why Hillary has to do some things different “because she’s a woman,” but don’t tell me to accept it at face value. Do not tell me, as a black woman, that Super Tuesday shows that black people and women should work together more, as though those are two completely different groups. I am not going to discount the numerous accomplishments of an incredibly successful and savvy politician, but I refuse to automatically sing the praises of a Corporate Feminist just because her team calls her abuela or does the nae nae when it comes time to “get the [insert racial group here] vote.”

For the time being, unless something drastically happens, I’m not going to act as though politically left leaning racial minorities are going to stop voting Democrat. As much as I like to rail against liberals who think that being from north of the Mason Dixon line absolves them from racism, it’s at least nice to know that my mere existence is not despised by some people. However, this fact has allowed the left to become complacent and, as this election has shown, hostile. Condescending racism or Intersectional When Convenient feminism is not superior to someone calling me the N-word or a bitch; it’s just more nefarious and irritating. Complacency is the bedfellow to failure; do not conflate Democrats being “better” with them receiving a vote. This isn’t to say I won’t vote; my grandparents and great-grandparents fought too hard for me to take that right for granted. But I am saying that Democrats need to stop resting on their laurels and the Monolith Myth to keep their party afloat because after a certain point, being patted on the head every four years is not going to cut it.

Olivia is a senior at Duke University.