The Ballot was a Bullet: Black Power at the Polls
It was the French philosopher Michel Foucault who is known to have said, “Politics is war by other means.” For African Americans, we have been engaged in a one-sided war since Trump took office. A war that culminated in one of the bloodiest summers Black people have experienced since the Red Summer of 1919. After enduring the insults of a president who despised us and used every opportunity to insult us, after the collective trauma of seeing video clip after video clip of another Black person killed by police or random white gunman, after surviving a worldwide pandemic that has wiped us out disproportionately, Black people took to the polls with the intention to achieve a measure of justice we have never known in this country. For all the real bullets taken these last several years, Black people’s collective ballots became the decisive bullet that has effectively dispatched the presidency of one Donald Trump, an act of self-defense that would have made even Malcolm X, himself, proud.
In his speech, The Ballot or the Bullet, Malcolm said that, “Historically, revolutions are bloody, oh yes they are. They have never had a bloodless revolution. Or a non-violent revolution. That don’t happen even in Hollywood. … A revolution is bloody, but America is in a unique position. She’s the only country in history, in the position actually to become involved in a bloodless revolution.” Despite the lack of bloodshed on Election Day, I highly doubt Malcolm would have referred to this election cycle as a “bloodless revolution.” Black people’s blood has been spilled in streets all across the country by police with the unmitigated support of municipal, county, city, state and federal officials. A trail of blood that leads us to November 4th. This election and the record turnout of Black people and other people of color communities and our white allies is an act to stop the bleeding from a president who, surrounded by police, once encouraged them to escalate their abuse by chiding them with a devilish smirk saying, “please don’t be too nice.”
It might be more accurate to say that this was an electoral revolution that did not call for a retaliation of bloodshed. Such is the prudence of Black America that this country has yet to fully comprehend, let alone appreciate.
As the exit polls and election results indicate — a majority of white Americans, men and women, would rather have fascism than democracy, would rather have dictatorship than democracy, would rather have white supremacy than democracy. More than half of white America would rather have this fake orange-skinned embarrassment of a president that can’t keep an honest word in his mouth represent them on the world stage for the sake of holding on to their privilege than allow for the equal justice of a multiracial America to take hold in this nation. Trump’s rabid racism is truly theirs to claim. A record number of white people voted for this man who is the embodiment of their white privilege. His recalcitrant attitude toward the truth — facts and science — is indicative of what their white identity represents as it is erected on a scaffold of lies and buttressed by violence. His refusal to condemn white militias and white men who have killed in Charlottesville and Kenosha is reflective of their own acceptance of violence when committed by white people as their only means left to keep their power-status in place.
Their continued support of such an inhumane and disgusting person is lesson in how it was possible for white people to show up at lynchings in the thousands to participate in the torture and murder of a random Black man or woman or child. These are voters who would sacrifice their elders to open an economy even as thousands continue to die every day. Make no mistake, the mentality and spirit that is Trump is the willful and deliberate articulation of a vast segment of the American population. And this election was as much a repudiation of that America by that segment of the other American population that has been forced to lived under the terrorism of what white privilege ultimately means.
Pollsters were left shaking their heads wondering how they got it wrong, again. When the answer is obvious. These were “secret Trump voters.” White folks too embarrassed or afraid of criticism to publicly indicate their support of Trump. Yet as their Klan predecessors did with those sheets, these voters went into those polls and pulled the cover of the ballot box to hide their identities and the respectable middle-class jobs they have and voted their interests. Intent on giving this monied mountebank a mandate to assault the last vestiges of civil rights left. Piling on the court so-called constitutional “originalists” who seek to turn the clock all the way back to the Confederacy. In Pennsylvania election officials have been told to segregate mail-in ballots arriving post-Election Day. Segregate. Exactly what some would like to see happen to the people that cast said ballots.
Trump’s refusal to accept the results has been a threat he has posed since before the election. Not only has he kept to that threat, he is now directing it to the very cities that are responsible for his defeat. These are not mere threats in a country where white people have massacred whole Black communities because one Black person attempted to vote on Election Day. Yes, Black people have caught bullets for casting ballots. This is America. Politics here is war.
With this election, America is bearing witness to Malcolm’s political prophecy come true. Malcolm could have been speaking about this election when he said to the crowd of Black people gathered there in Ohio, “Twenty-two million black victims of Americanism are waking up and they are gaining a new political consciousness, becoming politically mature. And as they become — develop this political maturity, they’re able to see the recent trends in these political elections. They see that the whites are so evenly divided that every time they vote, the race is so close they have to go back and count the votes all over again. Which means that any block, any minority that has a block of votes that stick together is in a strategic position. Either way you go, that’s who gets it. You’re in a position to determine who’ll go to the White House and who’ll stay in the doghouse.” Yet, in this instance, it is determining who will go to the White House and who should go straight to the jailhouse.
Black people took the polls with the undeterred defiance of those Black Union soldiers in the 54th Massachusetts regiment. Armed with our mail-in ballots, we wrapped around entire city blocks like bullets in a bandolier strapped around the chest of a Black Panther. We cast our votes aiming for an electoral kill-shot. And that is just what we accomplished. Some waited in line for hours, an entire work day. An hour for every minute Chauvin had his knee on George Floyd’s neck as he died. And it was worth the wait. Many of us dancing in line as though we knew what the outcome would be. Black people have executed the presidency of the man who once placed an ad in the New York Times calling for the death penalty for the men now known as the Exonerated Five. And therein lies the sweetness of this victory. More than a win for a Democratic Party that has yet to put respect on our vote, it is a necessary win for a Black community who continues to defy the odds this racist system continues to stack against us.
It was most fitting that the Black community to draw first blood would be the same city that was first devastated by the Coronavirus and the federal government’s lack of support. It was in Milwaukee that we first learned that Covid-19 was having a deadly disparate impact on African Americans as more than half of the state of Wisconsin’s initial deaths came from the Black community in Milwaukee alone. Black voters there did not need to be encouraged to vote in honor of Civil Rights activists who gave their lives in the Sixties. These voters had their own family members and loved ones in mind when they cast their ballots to rid the White House of a man whose negligence can only be described as a crime against humanity.
Next came Detroit and Flint, where reports that residents were targeted with robo calls saying that due long lines they should stay home and vote the following day. And this on Election Day. Long lines in cities are acts of suppression on their own. Black voters there were not deterred with a record 166,000 absentee ballots from Detroit alone. Both Milwaukee and Detroit/Flint made critical electoral moves to outflank Trump’s base in both states to give Biden/Harris the wins needed to pave the way to the White House.
The decisive blow came from the city that Trump said was where bad things happen. Black voters in Philadelphia carried the state back to blue by a margin that of this writing is set to swallow Trump’s two-day lead whole. Philly, where Black people are still reeling from the latest police killing. 27-year-old Walter Wallace, Jr was shot by two police officers, one shouting “shoot him” before they unloaded more than ten bullets into his body as he was experiencing a mental health crisis. His mother immediately racing to his bleeding body overcome with a mournful rage that was felt by every Black person who witnessed the killing live and on social media.
Black voters took to the polls sick and tired of this cycle of senseless police violence as National Guard soldiers were deployed downtown. Many of them waiting in line at City Hall to vote early or on Election Day beside a statue that is a reminder of this city’s history of election violence and intimidation against Black people. The statue is of Octavius Catto, a leading Black voting rights activist of the late 19th Century, who was murdered on Election Day in 1871. This statue serves as the timeless reminders for all Black people across this country of the white supremacist threat that continues to seek to suppress our vote and repress our participation in America overall.
Black Atlanta took the rear guard, keeping Trump at bay in the South, and eventually flipping this red state for the first time in thirty years. An upsurge in turnout that was due to the groundwork of the irrepressible Stacey Abrams, who was robbed of the governorship there when her opponent, who was somehow able to maintain his role as Secretary of State, won by doing to her what Trump is hoping to do to Biden. Black folks in Atlanta and across the state waited in line holding the sacred memory of Dr. King’s greatest apostle John Lewis, who passed earlier this summer. One of his final acts was appearing on the newly named Black Lives Matter Plaza in DC and criticizing Trump as an illegitimate president.
But this victory all began just to their north. Where our elders played kingmaker. Though quite poetic, it is no less true: The hands that once picked cotton now pick presidents. What was once the seat of the Confederacy, the Black community there is ultimately responsible for bringing down the president who favored Confederate flag waving militias. It was Congressman Jim Clyburn, House Majority Whip, who snatched the whip from the hands of the racists of his own state and beat them back as he came forth and breathed new life into the primary campaign of the man who would become the 46th president-elect of the United States. Were it not for him and that old Black elder wisdom he conjured, we would most definitely be looking at a 2nd term for Trump. Thus, all thanks for this Biden/Harris win goes to the Black community in the heart of the old South. Their collective experience of and defiance to white terrorism was the initial shockwave that sent reverberations throughout Black America. They knew it would take Obama’s VP to bring out the record Black turnout necessary to send Trump packing.
Yes, Black folks saved America from itself. Salvaged this still-emergent democracy whose validity is due largely to our community risking our lives to make it so. Once again. Yet, please know this was not some selfless act. No magical negroes here. No one was playing The Help here. This was as selfish and self-centered an act as we have made since we were brought here. It just so happens that in saving ourselves we saved the rest of ya’ll too.
We didn’t cast our votes believing that in electing Biden and Harris we have now reached some political Promised Land. Whatever mirage we had about the power of the presidency to relieve what ails us as a community was decisively wiped away with Obama’s presidency. What this was about was the unequivocal repudiation of a bald-faced racist trying to turn this country back to the days of his presidential hero Andrew Jackson. It was the collective Black eviction notice to a white slumlord tycoon and carnival conman posing as a president from a house built by enslaved Africans that was most recently the home of the first Black president. It could be considered the just desserts served up from the kitchens of working class Black Americans across the country for the man who began his campaign for presidency by lying about the then occupant of the White House, deliberately weaving a conspiracy of lies claiming that Obama was not a legit president by challenging his citizenship. At every step and measure, the Trump presidency has been a foul odor of white supremacist conspiracy and lies rooted in an anti-Blackness that has been the main Republican dog whistle since the days of Nixon. These reasons alone are sufficient cause for our celebration. And, yes, we know this is but one battle won. Yet, it is a decisive win. A necessary win. A win that we, led by Black women, in alliance with our Indigenous and people of color ally communities can and must build on for the sake of the future our families deserve. A win that the pro-Black world needs.
Cause that’s what we do.