Sunday, October 26, 2008

Why Some Black Folks Don't Vote

Why Black Folks Don't Vote

Paul Scott

"Politics and hypocrites turning us all into lunatics..."

"You're the Man" Marvin Gaye

I was hangin' at the spot a while back with one of the homies when he asked me to fill out a voter registration form.

"You know I ain't votin'," I said in faux anger.

(This year, I was joking. Other years, I have been dead serious.)

All of the sudden, I turned around and was face to face with an Obama-ite pointing her finger about an inch away from my nose. "You're ancestors died so you can have the right to vote," she yelled in a voice usually reserved for someone who went too far with a "yo mama is so fat" joke.

Now usually, that would have been a good opportunity to engage someone in a debate about the short comings of the two party system but this lady was seriously about to give me a beat down so I cruised on out the door mouthin' a weak...

"I was just playin'..."

Every four years, black folks are bombarded with dark tales of the Apocalypse. If every black person in America doesn't vote and vote for the Democratic Party, something very wicked this way comes. And any black person who even dares to question the relevance of voting risks being tarred and feathered and run out of tha hood.

At the risk of blasphemy, I have to say that even in this election year there is a sizable part of the African American population that doesn't vote or questions the dedication of either the Donkey or the Elephant in solving the problems of the non middle class black community. What bothers me most is that the same folks who wouldn't engage in any conversation deeper than a discussion over the latest Tyler Perry movie or who's going to win the Super Bowl have now become overnight political scientists.

I mean, the same folks who you couldn't drag to a school board meeting, six months ago and couldn't find their way to City Hall if you paid them are now threatening to round up black folks and march them to the polls en mass at gunpoint on November 4th. While the stereotype of a non voting black person is an apathetic bum who sits around the crib all day playing PlayStation and eating Fruit Loops straight out the box, many vote virgins have a good reason for abstinence.

But instead of asking the simple question "Why don't you vote ?" We come up with urban legends and doomsday sayings such as "vote or die" which may scare Tyrone into taking five minutes out of his day to go to the polls but does not, in anyway, make him more politically educated. The myth that our ancestors died so we could vote doesn't quite match up with historical facts.

If you look at the whole Civil Rights Era, voting was simply a means to an end. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a staunch advocate for the poor who caught hell regardless of who was in office. Also it must be noted that much of his activism was under the Kennedy/Johnson Administration which, by the way, allowed the FBI to bug his phone. And these were supposed to be the good guy Democrats. Also, one cannot forget Malcolm X's stern warning about the "Dixiecrats."

Secondly, while the idea of a great conspiracy to deprive black folks of their rights to vote has merit, many times it is overblown. While history is full of instances of threats, poll taxes and other tricks of disenfranchisement, in reality voting is a necessary evil in a Democracy. As I heard a news commentator say one time, " voting is a Democracy's alternative to rioting in the streets." The promise of a vote, in and of itself, substantially changing the reality of the poor is needed to keep the natives from getting restless. That is why the urban legend of black folks losing their right to vote every 25 years is laughable. However, the same people who would dismiss the idea that the CIA had something to do with drugs being brought into Los Angeles believe this conspiracy theory, whole heartedly.

Thirdly, the idea that the world will end on November 4th if the Democratic candidate of choice does not win points more at short sightedness than political sophistication. I guarantee Conservatives are having meetings all over the country coming up with a plan B, while many black folks are planning the big election night victory party at Magic Fingers Strip Club.

It must be noted that the "angry white man" reaction to the Democratic victory in '92 gave rise to the "Republican Revolution" of 1994. We must also remember that while black dj's were busy debating who had the better rappers, the East Coast or the West Coast, Right Wing radio was becoming a major political force. It must be noted that for every one Hip Hop radio station that plays the latest Lil Wayne jam, there are five conservative talk radio stations that feature Bill O'Reilly, Mike Savage and Neil Bortz 24 hours a day.

Also, although the efforts of Hip Hoppers and black radio stations to get young black folks to vote should be applauded, after the election, Conservative radio will go into over-drive plotting the Republican Revolution (The Sequal), while black radio will go back to playing "booty bounce, booty bounce," in continuous rotation.

As a matter of full disclosure, I already early voted but my decision was not based on some messianic vision of a political Promise Land. Call me shallow, but the Right Wing's fear of Obama rollin' like Robin Hood; stickin' it to the rich and giving to the poor made me (an Independent) 'rep for the Democrats this year. Not to mention, the thrill of the possibility of seeing Sean Hannity's mug having to announce the selection of the first black president was a little hard to resist.

However, I am under no illusion that anything will change unless the black community finds a way to harness the energy that was generated during the election and ration it out over the next four years in daily doses.

As Thomas Jefferson once said, "The price of Freedom is eternal vigilance."

Word up!

Paul Scott's blog is He can be reached at (919) 451-8283