Every few years, at election time, I feel very conflicted. I was raised to understand the importance of voting, and more directly, Black people lost their lives for the right for me to do so.
My mother made sure me and my sisters watched Eyes On The Prize on PBS. That documentary chronicled all the different ways Black people in the 1950’s & 60’s organized to fight desegregation (of which protecting/restoring their right to vote unencumbered was a part), and the myriad number of ways white citizens, the states and the federal government were involved in keeping them disenfranchised.
So with a heavy heart full of gratitude and sagging with the debt of my ancestors, I usually find myself treading into some mildewy church basement or pissy school gymnasium to
exercise my God-given right pull the lever–an excercise meant to turn the tides of 500 years in one fell swoop.
And so here we are. It’s 2008 and not only can we now vote (mostly), but we have the first viable Black candidate running for president. Barack Obama’s ascendancy to this place, seems rife with all right thoughts of “fulfilling the dream” and “keeping America’s promise,” which has certainly been helped by his PR machine. That’s not to say he’s a phony or a fraud. I have never met him but I do, like most of the people who seem prepared to cast a ballot his way, seem to trust he believes what he says most of the time, which is more than I can say for any of the other frontrunners.
But there are others who feel that this very narrative, the Moses/Jesus/Lincoln/MLK-like prophet come to deliver the people and the nation, is the thing they despise about what he represents most. There are people who feel as though his election will say to the nation and the world, “The US is now beyond race (at least beyond the black & white paradigm). Racism is over. They’ve gotten the Presidency. Now, stop complaining and get to work. Come On, People!”
There are others who feel that he, whose “Black genes” trace most directly to Kenya and not Kentucky, is not Black enough to be even considered the first Black president.
There are more of us, knowing too well that he is Black, who feel he faces the certain and decisive bullet of an assassin if elected.
There are some of us who simply feel the US Presidency will never be a place to transform the United States. Some of us would in fact, rather undo it.
So, if his election may be fraught with such tension, hope, ambivalence or disillusionment for Black people in America, why should I vote? Why should any Black person in America vote?
I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I don’t know why I do vote most of the time. But I know that there isn’t an easy answer to how the descendants of chattel slaves should position themselves trapped as we are in this strange paradigm. But as much as I feel–in the deepest core of my being–somewhat anxious about Obama and wanting to see him do well, I am under no delusion that his Presidency (nor Clinton nor Edwards nor any of ’em) will save any of us.
And so I will watch the Iowa Caucus tonight, and all the other election broughaha over this year, with a good deal of hopefulness and anxiety, highly skeptical that freedom can ever be found in a ballot box, but knowing full well that budgets, laws, and public policy can shrivel or spread misery.
The choice is yours.
May the ancestors be with us.