Every election cycle I find myself confronted by the memes that say, “If you don’t vote, then you can’t complain,” or my personal favorite, “Our ancestors died for the right to vote.” These are frequently written by black people aimed at other black people, “reminders” by way of guilt trips.
Locally, for example, election posters for the Cook County state’s attorney race remind us of Anita Alvarez’s role in failing to prosecute the cop who shot Laquan McDonald. The posters seem to be telling voters, specifically ones in the black community, that, vote the “wrong” way, and the next police shooting cover-up is on us.
But these “reminders” ignore the black community’s increasing lack of faith in our democracy.
According a 2014 study by the United States Elections Project, voter turnout for that election hovered around 36 percent nationwide. In Illinois, it was slightly better at 40 percent.
There’s usually a lot of disgust that comes with reading those statistics. But I get it. I mean, think about all the wrongheaded rhetoric and political tactics black people are subjected to every election cycle. Especially in Illinois, where the Democratic party consistently takes the loyalty of black voters for granted.
Many African-Americans felt that the Democratic Party abandoned them by naming San Antonio mayor Julian Castro as the keynote speaker of the 2012 Democratic National Convention. To them, it felt as if the Democratic party was seeking out votes from up and coming demographics such as Latinos and gay people at the expense of the party’s black base.
Before the last Illinois gubernatorial election, then-governor Pat Quinn skipped a forum hosted by a group of prominent black business owners. Again, many in the black community felt disrespected by Quinn’s no-show.
Then, when two prominent black pastors in Chicago, Corey Brooks and James Meeks, backed Rauner, they were lambasted by the black community for doing so. It got so bad that they were branded as “Pastor House Nigga” on social media. The same vote-shaming folks who chided people for not voting at all also read their riot act to voters who didn’t produce an outcome favorable to Democrats.
Maybe it’s just voter’s remorse. Do the people who voted for Rauner instead of Quinn have second thoughts these days? Maybe, they think, if Quinn was re-elected, Chicago State would stay open? In the meantime, many of our friends have found creative ways to continue the guilt trip in lockstep with the current election.
On one hand, you have a faction within both Bernie Sanders’s and Hillary Clinton’s base who’ve used a paternalistic tone, telling black voters what is good for them. Clinton’s support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, commonly known as the “crime bill,” is widely viewed as the forerunner of today’s era of mass incarceration, sticks in the mind of many black voters. It didn’t help that Clinton was also seen as being dismissive towards Black Lives Matter protesters who crashed one of her fundraisers.
When freelance writer Terrell Starr argued that Sanders’s message appeared to cater specifically to white liberals, the reaction from “Bernie Bros” gave life to Starr’s claims. They tried to shout him down on Twitter by reminding him of Sanders’s activism as a student at the University of Chicago.
This is just another guilt trip, by the way.
On the other hand, you have the Republican Party, which has done next to nothing when it comes to being inclusive to black people. Now, when black people are assaulted at Donald Trump’s rallies, what message does that send us? Let’s not forget the newspaper ads he took out in 1989 calling for the execution of the Central Park Five—the five black and brown teenagers accused of raping and beating a white woman who was jogging through New York’s Central Park. (Their convictions were later vacated and another man confessed to the crime.)
On top of that, we have former presidential candidate Ben Carson, who alienated so many people in the black community who had previously idolized him for his humble beginnings by endorsing Trump. With all his race-baiting, Trump is like the living manifestation of hateful, racist Internet comments. And Carson endorses this?
At this point, we’ve seen the Doomsday scenarios for the frontrunners in both parties described in great detail. When the GOP frontrunner says “Let’s Make America Great Again,” is he saying he wants to make America unsafe everyone who isn’t a white male? When Clinton made similar comments about the framers of the Constitution, she conveniently forgot to mention that some of those men were slaveowners.
What does one say to a potential voter who has found enough flaws with Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Sanders, and Clinton not to vote for any of them?
What do you say to someone who looks at this mess and logically concludes that they would rather not vote at all? Whatever you say, do me a favor and don’t guilt trip them into voting against their conscience. The right to vote also means the right to reject the options laid out before us.