When I read this piece by Brother Bandele, I asked his permission to post it on my website. The article has been edited for length; the full text, complete with cited works and references, has been sent out on The Whirlwind mailing list. This piece is insightful and provocative. Please read it and act upon the knowledge therein. Peace and love, Jim Clingman
With an upcoming presidential election looming, Afrikans-in-America are once again faced with a very interesting state of affairs. History shows us that this is the time where Afrikans-in-America will be courted. Both the Democratic and Republican parties (and on a smaller scale, some independent parties) will try their hardest to look like ”friends of the Negro”. Both parties will tout their records where Afrikans-in-America are concerned. They will dismiss, disassociate, and distance themselves (as a party) from anything that can be thought of (even remotely) as anti-black. Personalities from the Afrikans-in-America community will be trotted out to organize forums, teach-ins, registration drives, etc., in an effort to ”get out the vote”. More interesting (and tragic at the same time) is that all of the aforementioned will use the memory of those among us that struggled (some losing their lives in that struggle) for Afrikan people to have the right to vote. However, Afrikans-in-America are rarely encouraged to critically analyze the concept of voting. Ergo, many Afrikans-in-America will go on assuming that voting in and of itself, is the solution, a panacea, to every ill that affects us.
Passed in 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed the right of black men to vote. This Amendment was hotly contested, even by some white suffragists. At a gathering in Pennsylvania, white feminist and suffrage pioneer Elizabeth Cady Stanton bemoaned that black men might actually have the right to vote before white women. She feared for black women (apparently), who would suffer a “triple bondage that man never knows” (Giddings, 65) if she doesn’t receive the ballot. She later lamented that “it would be better to be the slave of an educated white man than of an ignorant black one” (Giddings, 65).
Stanton and other middle and upper class white feminists “who believed that because, in their eyes, emancipation had rendered black people equal to white women, the vote (15th Amendment) would render black men superior, were absolutely opposed to black male suffrage” (Emphasis added)(Davis, 72 & 73).
The Democratic and Republican parties have always viewed (both Afrikans-in-America) as expenditures, like a popular candy throughout most Black communities, Now-and-Laters. Apparently, the black vote is something that can be given attention to primarily during presidential elections (i.e. NOW!). It is also something that can be summarily evaded and avoided when necessary (i.e. LATER!). And now, several black personalities have boarded the “vote or die” bandwagon. Evidently, the slogan Vote or Die (promoted by Sean “P-Diddy” Combs) is being used to motivate young people (Afrikan American youth in particular) to register to vote, and to vote. After all, argues P-Diddy, Russell Simmons, et al., many of our own people struggled (some losing their lives) to afford us the right to vote. (Incidentally, few other aspects of our ancestors’ legacy are upheld and promoted by those that embrace this position.) They go on to explain that those of us that choose not to vote do a monumental (maybe cataclysmic better describes their very emotional stance) disservice to those that fought and died so that succeeding generations could vote.
Shocking as it may seem to some, this writer does not adopt such a position. Admittedly, hundreds if not thousands did fight and die so that Afrikans-in-America would have the right to vote secured. They struggled so that Afrikans-in-America could walk into a polling facility and not be harassed, beaten, arrested, forced to take some outrageous litmus test, or jump through any hurdles simply to vote. Indeed, they fought for us to have the right to vote, not to look upon voting as a kind of panacea to all that ails us. Giving them the benefit of the doubt (and the mental capacity to discern the difference), voting was looked upon as a strategy, a tactic. According to The American Heritage Dictionary (4th Ed., 2001), strategy is defined as “the over-all planning and conduct of large-scale military operations.” The definition we need to pay strict attention to is the second one: “A plan of action.” In the same dictionary, we f ind that the word tactic is defined as follows: “An expedient for achieving a goal; maneuver”. No where, in the definitions, is the suggestion made that either word connotes solution. Many of us have ignored this lesson, to our detriment. We rush to register black people to vote, but rarely do we address other issues significant to our very survival. Many of us rush to make more and more black people members of the Democratic Party. But rarely do we educate those same people about the dubious history of the Democratic Party, especially where it concerns Afrikans-in-America. Some of us will go so far as referring to those blacks who express little or no faith in voting (or either party) as traitors, turn-coats, and/or disloyal to our legacy.
Paradoxically, this “vote or die” position could be viewed as just as traitorous and misleading. By promoting this position, its adherents propose that Afrikans-in-America ignore some blatantly obvious truths. For one, “in every presidential election in the past three decades, blacks have given the Democratic presidential nominee more than eighty percent of their vote” (Hutchinson, Crisis 75). Second, “the Republican Party has systematically rejected blacks for three decades” (Hutchinson, Crisis 75). Obviously, we have overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party (including their recent Darling Boy, William Jefferson Clinton). Yet history teaches that the Democratic Party has let down Afrikans-in-America (there are some glaring current examples). Several lengthy papers (books even) could be written on this contention alone, and several have. The writer will direct the curious to two books, both by Dr. Earl Ofari Hutchinson: 1) Betrayed-A History of Presidential Failure to Protect Black Lives; and 2) The Crisis in Black and Black.
Moreover, clearer definitions of power have not been included in the great voter registration drives of late (a clear difference from the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee’s efforts in the 1960s). According to the “vote or die” ilk, voting alone is power. If we are dissatisfied with a person in office, we simply vote him/her out of that office. In essence, then, what is inferred from this is that political power is power. There seems to be no other ethnic group in this country that embraces such a notion. In his Magnum Opus, Blueprint for Black Power, Dr. Amos N. Wilson writes “A group whose members share a strong sense of identity and purpose that are employed to define and motivate its organization, a shared sense of group solidarity and a shared sense that it can determine its destiny rather than have it determined by outsiders, possesses the preconditions and prerequisites for power. (Emphasis added) (p.47)
The question, then, becomes how does voting infuse these qualities in a people? Rather, can a people who are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils really think of themselves as powerful? Wilson also offers us a very interesting definition of power, in the same book: “Power refers to the ability to do, the ability to be, the ability to prevail. Beingness and aliveness originate with power. To be powerless is to be will-less, impotent and lifeless; without effect or influence; to be nothing, of no account” (5). In the same chapter, Wilson discusses the perception that many Afrikan people have regarding power-that it is inherently evil and “by nature, corrupting and therefore as something to be eschewed, denied and renounced” (6&7). To this thought, Wilson answers “This perception of and orientation toward power on the part of Afrikan people, is but a prescription for their unending subordination, exploitation, and ultimately, when it is convenient to the purposes of their oppressors, their genocidal demise” (7).
According to economist Thomas Sowell, “power is not simply the ability to get something done, but to get it done despite the resistance and opposition to others” (Anderson, 29). Applying this definition to voting, it would seem nearly impossible for Afrikans-in-America to acquire the power necessary strictly from the political arena. Certainly, Afrikans-in-America would have to include other forms of power, such as economic power, institutional power, ideological power, cultural power and numerical power. Of significance, however, is economic power, and not the kind that says that blacks make X amount of dollars annually. By now, everyone knows the embarrassing figures regarding black-on-black spending. So there is really no need to regurgitate them here. Suffice it to say, though, that this type of spending behavior is not conducive to true economic power.
The attempt to register black people to vote may be considered a noble movement. There are numerous sincere individuals engaged in such activity. But fancy sloganeering, we-are-the-world type songs (which tend to include many of today’s most popular performers), scare tactics (vote Democrat or return to slavery), or voter registration that lacks voter education will not help Afrikans-in-America. Many of the same stars that decry the need to vote speak nothing about self or group empowerment. This writer has not yet heard Oprah Winfrey encourage blacks to do for self and kind (first). When was the last time Sean Combs or Russell Simmons spoke about black entertainers distributing their own material? Indeed, black people should register to vote, but not to become lackeys for the Democratic Party. Black people should never be made to feel like traitors to the race simply because they do not wish to vote for the lesser of two evils. And this notion of non-voting blacks not having the right to “complain” about how bad things are needs to die as well. We all must understand that voting, by itself, should never be looked upon as the ultimate solution. Voting is but a tactic, a strategy, or a means to an end. Though some may be well meaning and sincere, far too many are promoting the idea that all black people need to do is vote, and heaven is just around the corner.
Afrikans-in-America need to be informed of the importance of self and group empowerment. Those of us that know must also teach Afrikans-in-America that they are not racist or bigoted simply because he/she embraces self and group empowerment. This young generation (more than ever) must be taught the importance of embracing its own group. They must also be taught that no other group will educate them to compete equally with the children of that other group. No Child Left Behind notwithstanding, there will never be an educational system that will adequately prepare Afrikan American children to compete. The only benefit that some of our youth will receive is the privilege to become cogs in another people’s machine. Lastly, they must be taught that voting is a means to an end, not and end itself.
Tarikh Bandele firstname.lastname@example.org