In my third part of the “After the Fire” series for The Root I touch on politics, #BlackLivesMatter and the current social justice movement. In “Black Voters Matter,” I talk to several people, including Van Jones, Rev. William Barber II, Jeff Johnson, Patrisse Cullors, Charlene Carruthers, Cornell William Brooks and many more. Check it out.
Here’s the intro:
Black people have the most impossible standard for togetherness, but it’s for a good reason.
We’re among the few, maybe the only group, who can get near 90 percent of its demographic on the same page, to vote one way or another. You can’t get 90 percent of women—across races, socioeconomic lines, religions, etc.—to agree on anything. Ninety percent of white people? Agreeing? Not happening. Latinos and Asians don’t vote 90 percent in one direction.
Yet despite our incredible ability to get together and get something moving, we’re extremely critical of our progress. It’s as if, so what if you got that 90? What about that other 10? What are they doing? Why didn’t they turn out and vote? Or, if they did, why didn’t they vote the same way? Don’t they know strength comes in numbers? Doesn’t that 10 percent know it’s an emergency?
And it’s never not an emergency in black America. Sirens are constantly going off, warning of one thing or another. Fires are constantly burning. People dying. People going to jail. Kids not getting educated. Schools closing. Lack of jobs, lack of resources, lack of grocery stores. Crime. Drugs. Guns.
To that 10 percent, the 90 percent turns into Harriet Tubman, Bible in one hand, gun in the other, issuing threats that this 10 percent is not going to get the 90 in trouble. The 90 percent isn’t going back. Get on board or get out of the way. Ride or die. Push or move.
The 90 percent is a bully.
Not because it wants to be, but because it believes it has to be. The only love it knows is tough. We know our opposition wants to tear us apart, to deny us our only real power—one another. So we tell ourselves we aren’t together in order to scare one another into staying together, reminding us of the constant crisis we live in.
We’re only 13 percent of the U.S. population, after all. A heavily policed, disproportionately incarcerated 13 percent. But though we are small and oft marginalized, we are mighty. We can do great things. We can change this country by holding the line and holding it accountable. We can elect presidents. That makes us dangerous.
That’s probably why, after the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, weakening it, nearly half of the states in the U.S. started pushing “anti-voter fraud,” voter-suppression laws meant to depress voter turnout under the guise of fighting nonexistent people who vote twice. But what was fraudulent? Too many black people voting in one direction, at a rate of 90 percent, throwing all their numbers behind one issue, one candidate and (at least this century) one political party, thus potentially having the ability to change the landscape of everything?
Yeah. That probably did it. And it was pretty awesome that the first black president is a two-term one, but now what? When schools in urban centers are being closed and privatized; when black unemployment (while better) is still higher than white unemployment; when there are nearly a million black people in prison; when unarmed black men and women, old and young, keep either getting killed by the police or dying in police custody.
What do you get for 90 percent?