Editor’s Note: Please join Candace Hollingsworth and former Ohio State Senator Nina Turner for a live reading and discussion of the essay below on Colorlines Instagram Live on Thursday, August 13, at 7pm ET/ 4pm PT.
Not long before the murder of George Floyd, America witnessed a viral incident that depicted the volatility of Black life. We saw Amy Cooper, a white woman, threaten and maliciously call the New York City police to punish a Black male birder who dared to ask her to restrain her unleashed dog. The inherent harm of this call—the harm she intended and that which was possible—was evident. It is this careless disregard for Black life that makes women like Amy Cooper dangerous. We all know this is not new information. In 2016, an estimated 53 percent of white women voted to elect Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States despite the disdain and hatred he and his supporters expressed for Black people. Just as Cooper knowingly weaponized law enforcement for her benefit, so too did the women who helped elect Trump to the presidency. They are Amy Cooper and Trump’s America is Derek Chauvin’s knee. The political system as we know it is a violent one and Black people will no longer be its victim.
The country is in upheaval as protests against police violence and systems wrought by racism continue following the murder of George Floyd. While white people across the country appear to be awakening to the realities of the white supremacist culture from which they benefit, they are still part of a system that exacts violence upon Black people mercilessly. In these times, the promise of voting and the prospect of a Democratic winner in November only comforts the complacent. Some may say, “There’s no way Trump wins after this.” The reality is that Trump can win and those buoyed by his racism and strategy of divisiveness will continue to win if former Vice President Joe Biden does not do the work required to earn the vote of Black Americans. We are aware of our power as a voting bloc. If Trump and his Senate of enablers is what our political participation has created, we know that a vote in November must secure a different outcome to save our lives.
The reality that many seem to ignore is that we can stop Trump and require Biden to earn our vote. Doing the work to earn the support of Black people beyond that which he has been afforded through the familiarity and trust placed in former President Barack Obama would give Biden the very real mandate to do what we elect him to do. The problem is that the work of earning our vote requires steady, vocal acknowledgment of our issues and proposed solutions in front of every audience—not just those flooded with Black faces. Earning our vote would create an accountability structure which to date has been avoided. By requiring the candidate of a major party to meaningfully address Black issues today, we are audacious. Going beyond an apology for previous political positions and, instead, having Biden properly atone for his role in constructing and reinforcing an unjust legal system that thrives on the penalization of Black bodies, would put this system on a path from violence to restoration. The effort required to earn Black America’s vote is difficult because it would require upsetting a system that is functioning all too well (for him) just the way it is.
Lest you believe I am being unfair, I want to remind you that previous calls for Biden to heed the demands of Black voters have been, thus far, dismissed. On May 14, seven notable Black women graciously reminded Biden of the debt he and the Democratic party owe to Black voters, and Black women voters, in particular. After all, it was a landslide victory in South Carolina among Black voters that propelled him forward. Not even a week later, Biden had arguably the greatest (worst) faux pas of the campaign. In response to a line of questioning about his record and his platform for Black people, a frustrated (and all too comfortable) Biden retorted, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black.”
Black advocates and journalists were met with derision when they dared to demand something in return for their loyal vote. The callousness and disregard displayed by Biden is representative of the cycle of political violence that is thrust upon Black people in America. Only now, there is a desperate attempt by the Democratic party and the left generally to salvage the appearance of a functioning democracy. Because of the violence enabled by this political system, the action of not voting allows one to deny their participation in a system that not only does not benefit them but in some cases actively harms them. James Baldwin was right. In those times, our indifference to this political structure is in direct relation to its investment in our well-being and our collective future. To be clear, this is not the righteous indignation of many disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters because, at the end of the day, the system still works for them.
The democracy we believe in is one that, in fact, this country has never experienced. We must remember that the American political system has its origins in the negotiation of Black humanity. It was not designed to support governance that prioritizes—in any way—our collective self-interest. To the contrary, Black people are historically used to advance the interests of others—interests which in many cases undermine our own. Our Black Party is established to be an independent political voice for the interests of Black people. We are committed to building Black political power and fiercely advocating for radical change that dramatically improves the quality of life for Black people in America.
For us, demanding the presumptive nominee to do the real work of earning our votes is a last-ditch effort to prove that there is still value to saving this democracy as we have envisioned it. I believe it is possible. We are mobilizing to power the Black agenda by bringing the voices of the activists in the streets to the halls of power where they belong. When combined, this makes for a powerful machine that could catapult any electoral hopeful to victory at the highest office.
Our vote and that support, though, must be earned. Unless and until it is, like Chauvin, Biden will continue to keep his hands in his pocket.