Black Voters Don’t Need Lectures, They Need Empathy
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Black Voters Don’t Need Lectures, They Need Empathy

Not forgetting about us for four years at a time…

Every single election cycle, a segment of the Black population is asked why it lacks faith in a political system that pays them such little mind. Rarely is the question asked with sincere interest in an answer, though. It’s merely a precursor to the true motivation: to ostracize the most vulnerable among us for perceived complacency.

I’ve never found the strategy persuasive, but its longevity is undeniable. Our community’s most notable uncle and auntie duo, Mr. and Mrs. Obama, may be the most famous recent examples of this, but high and mighty thoughts are not limited to the rich and powerful. I see it on social media, even in what I thought was escapist TV like Love & Marriage: Huntsville. Here I was thinking I am just going to laugh at country and grand Black folks with delusions of grandeur and/or wayward dicks, but instead I got treated to the same tired “people marched for this” angle.

As always, I fault our political coverage.

In a recent story from AP, a 31-year-old Black woman offers a criticism that feels passed down like a (bad) recipe. “As Black people, a lot of the people who look like us died for us to be able to sit in public, to vote, to go to school, and to be able to walk around freely and live our lives,” she said. “Every election is an opportunity, so how dare we not vote after our ancestors fought for us to be here?”

When some of y’all Black folks talk like this, do you feel good about yourself? Do you feel like you really said something of value? I hope not.

For the record: According to a study published by the Brookings Institute, Black people very much vote their fair share collectively. “While Whites traditionally have the highest voter turnout relative to other racial groups,” authors Rashawn Ray and Mark Whitlock write, “Blacks have higher voter turnout than Hispanics and Asians.”

I’m nobody’s latte liberal — I just know that you can’t always call the police when you fear for your life in your home, because you have to consider that the police might actually murder you in your time of need.

But if you’re still searching for reasons some of us skip voting, let one of Jacob Blake’s friends offer one worthy of real consideration. Although Michael Lindsey has contempt for President Trump and acknowledged frustrations with how law enforcement treats Black people, the 29-year-old Kenosha resident expressed doubt in a recent interview with the New York Times that a vote for Joe Biden will change much of anything.

“Let’s say I did go out and vote and I voted for Biden,” said Lindsey. “That’s not going to change police brutality. It’s not going to change the way the police treat African Americans compared to Caucasians.”

Although you could attribute Lindsey’s attitude to his relative youth, that same cynicism stretched across generations and genders throughout the Times article. These particular remarks, though, reminded me a lot of my dad — a man whose political ideology has always boiled down to, “I’m just a poor Black man in a White man’s world.” Simple as it is, it makes more sense to me than the bullshit I’ve heard for much of my life.

But as it turns out, even my father may be voting this year, and for the reason so many others are: He’s sick of about hearing Donald Trump.

If he changed his mind, would I fault him? No, the same way I don’t begrudge the cousins, classmates, and old neighbors who I once saw stand in line to vote for Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primary, only to see little changes in their day-to-day lives afterwards. My life has changed, but it took a six-figure debt for me to get even a fraction of the opportunities those born into better circumstances have. (And those opportunities came saddled with many other consequences.) Meanwhile, I can still be shot dead by a cop at any moment, turned down for whatever because I am Black, and — judging by the actions of the federal government — drop dead without any value placed on my life.

My interest in politics despite all of this is a testament to me finding it interesting on cable news as a child who couldn’t go anywhere, and who needed anything to drown out what was happening around me.

And one thing you learn watching too much cable news is that people really hate changing their minds once they get stuck in their antiquated positions. On Tuesday, I watched Rev. Al Sharpton explain to Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s that only “latte liberals” were really pushing #DefundThePolice. That’s news to me. I’ve been forthright that my hatred for the Trump administration and penchant for revenge has delayed my full embrace of abolitionism, but as far as cutting the funds of the po-lice, they could have called Michael Lindsey.

Hell, they could have called me.

I’m nobody’s latte liberal — I just know that you can’t always call the police when you fear for your life in your home, because you have to consider that the police might actually murder you in your time of need.

This is not a diss to Rev. Sharpton. I know he’s organizing and marching, as he always has. That said, he knows it’s not simply goofy White people who don’t know any Black people outside of Twitter calling for defunding of the police. Plenty of us know the influx of crack vials spotted on the streets of NYC will not go away with more policing. At least not from the NYPD, of all people.

Whether people want to admit it, Michael Lindsey is right that his vote won’t change his life in the interim. I believe a Biden administration might be better for all of us, but it remains hard to deny Lindsey’s words when we see from the Rochester Police Department that not even a Black face will make us any safer around law enforcement.

For that matter, neither will a Black politician elected to an executive office.

The Democrats are better than the Republicans insofar they don’t have a racist demagogue at the top of their party. I am doing my best to convince those who lack faith in the process to just try, but I don’t see their cynicism as a personal flaw. They’re not “complacent” — they’re left behind and picked up every four years when some people get scared about the consequences an electoral result might bear on their lives.

Heaven forbid they maintain skepticism.

Voter apathy isn’t born out of thin air, and unless you respect that, you will never reach these predominantly poor (and rightfully jaded) Black folks.

I’m terrified of a second term for Donald Trump. I know that if that happens, this country, as most know it, is over. He is not kidding about a third term. As much of a joke as “President Ivanka Trump” sounds, her sick daddy is not playing around about making her the first woman president.

However, for a lot of people, this country was already over. And as we all bear witness to the pain and destruction brought to our community, while we must get rid of Donald Trump, we should also understand why some of us don’t share the same level of concern. This country has already failed them; many of them remain alive not because of what our political system has done, but in spite of it.

It doesn’t require a shared experience to understand that kind of faithlessness in the system — but when trying to convince someone to have faith in the system anyway, empathy goes farther than shame ever will.