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Posted under: Race & Identity Opinion

The complex action of my black vote

It was the summer I turned 18. I was excited for the opportunity to vote in a presidential election year just after reaching the age of eligibility. Discussions from my AP Government class were still wafting through my mind, though I had graduated high school and was headed for the workforce. I blithely pledged allegiance. Four years earlier, Al Gore had won the popular vote. George W. Bush won the electorate. Bush became President. I just knew that this time would be different, even though I felt John Kerry lacked charisma. If I voted, Bush wouldn't win again. He did and I became bitter. Learning how presidential elections worked in a classroom versus experiencing one firsthand left me with a sour disposition toward the process. If the majority of Americans wanted a certain person to represent the country, why did this smaller body actually determine the presidency? What did my vote even mean? Did it matter? These are the questions I would ponder for the next four years until the next presidential cycle. After high school, I became more militant. I read about leaders such as Angela Davis and Marcus Garvey, and I idolized people like Muhammad Ali whose celebrity wasn't centered around politics, but whose politics unabashedly threatened their celebrity. The 'conscious' mentors around me mostly spoke about the futility of voting in the same breath as admonishing me to remember the rights that our ancestors had fought and died for. By the time Obama came into the picture, I felt bludgeoned by systems who had only amended themselves (on the surface) to include me but were still largely to my detriment.
Photo: livescience.com
Photo: livescience.com
Photo: Livescience.com My mentors were constantly talking about how the POTUS is just a figurehead: A customer-facing demagogue used to placate, patronize and program the people until 'consensus' is reached. The black face running for the "most powerful job in the world" didn't move me, but this time when I voted, my guy won. It wasn't excitement that drove me to the polls that second time, though. It was a feeling that I was beholden to the work of my predecessors. I had to vote. People had fought and died for my right to do so. My grandmother had picked cotton as a child. That's how close my lineage was to captivity. Then, I wondered: Does this right to vote make me free or is it a mechanism of perceived escape from captivity? After all, I didn't vote for my people to make up more than half of the prison population, even though we make up less than a third of the country's population. I also didn't vote for my people to be left out of what is arguably the economic language of the future — technology. I started feeling like my vote was just a turn of a systemic Rubik's cube, where my color would always find itself lost. To be completely honest, President Obama's election and re-election didn't give me hope. It just further illuminated the deep and disturbing way that black people are hated in America and abroad. Years later, here we are again. It's time to put someone else in office, a new leader or figurehead, depending on how you look at it.

It's strange that I feel at home with this election.

Everyone else finally sees it for the circus I've always felt it was. Candidates are talking about their private parts or referencing pop culture as a way to pander to young black voters or hedging their bets on building walls to keep out 'undesirables.' I'm still out here wondering what it's all for. Even though I can now sit at the same lunch counter as a white male, he's likely to more easily afford his meal than I am. The job he has still statistically pays more, even if it's the same as mine and our experience is equal. If we're both in a rush when we leave the lunch counter, we both speed, and are stopped by police. He might be annoyed by the imposition, but I'm praying not to have to assume the position. After work, I'm probably commuting further, while he might have just moved into (gentrified) my "hip, up and coming" hometown. On election day, our ballots might only differ by name, but our experience in this country is vastly different. I fluctuate between apathy and anger, between duty and dignity, between pessimism and realism. Even though I'll find my way to a voting booth when the time comes, I think I have to start fighting for something more than a vote. Because I'm tired of waiting for allegiance to be pledged to me.

What has been your experience when voting? Sound off in the comments!


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