American democracy remains an American dream. Voting rights for African Americans continue to be a nightmare for sections of the country.
Unless and until there is a binding and final agreement on their full participation in the democratic process, we need to talk about American democracy as a work in progress. Because it is still uploading. It has not fully materialized.
In the 1950s and ’60s, African Americans sang, “Keep your eye on the prize,” but years later, many elected government officials are toying with their children and grandchildren for rights they organized, marched, were beaten, arrested and died for.
I suppose the hope of these officials is exhaustion so that African Americans will no longer put up a fight. Just lay there, take the abuse and then die. African Americans must daily resist the tactics of oppression and micro-aggressions, which imitate Southern plantation life.
We’ve seen and heard it all before. Attempts to restrict, deter and deny African Americans the right to vote, to be a part of the decision-making processes of this country, is a part of America’s history. It is also our present reality.
This implies that there are those who believe that African Americans should have no choice in who leads them and how they are governed. It suggests that there is a group of people who know what is best for African Americans, and it is best if the decisions were left up to them instead. “After we take you from Africa, we’ll take it from here.”
The infantilization of Africans and later African Americans who were kidnapped and enslaved to save them from supposed barbarism and hedonism is a narrative set during the period of American slavery.
Thus, for those who paternalize power, thinking they know what is best for marginalized people groups, a connection can be made from the plantation to American politics. This belief and behavior are rooted in colonialism and its partner in crimes against humanity, laissez-faire capitalism.
The current voter suppression tactics serve only to counteract the independence and assertiveness of African Americans. This is evident in states like Georgia, which is not surprising given its history.
A “founding father” of the New South movement and editor of The Atlanta Constitution, Henry W. Grady said this in 1887:
“The supremacy of the white race of the South must be maintained forever, and the domination of the negro race resisted at all points and at all hazards — because the white race is superior. This is the declaration of no new truth. It has abided forever in the marrow of our bones and shall run forever with the blood that feeds Anglo-Saxon hearts.”
Grady could easily say it again today. This is not a mere history lesson but speaks to the headspace, the heritage of the socially constructed identity of whiteness and its need to violate the rights of other human beings because of a contrived belief in supremacy.
You cannot vote out something that is felt so deeply. That’s not the work of civil rights leaders, activists or peacemakers. That work is personal; no webinar will ever cut to the bone.
Hands down, it is a conviction that only they can feel in their bones. This is about keeping some hands down.
Because no matter how hard African Americans work for the boots that they strap on to pull themselves up to build a successful career or company to support a thriving community, it could all be burned to the ground overnight out of spite.
Because some people feel that they have a right to do so. Because some people believe that African Americans still don’t belong here – that African Americans don’t have the right to speak up about what they need to feel safe and supported by their community. Though they live here, they don’t get a vote in what matters most to them.
This is not only historic but also sustained suppression, often supported through violence against African Americans meant to keep this community in fear.
So, in the year 2022, there are bomb threats made to historically Black colleges and universities during the month-long celebration of African American history and culture.
And if you think we are done protesting police brutality, then you haven’t heard the story of Amir Locke in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You are to feel safe nowhere — not sleeping on the couch or studying for an exam.
Because it doesn’t really matter what you have in your hands. Either way, we’ll shoot you down.
This is why books are banned — not guns. Because then we all might wake up to the fact that American democracy is but a dream.
Editor’s note: This article is the first in a series this week calling attention to Black History Month.