As of late, I’ve observed a lull in our proactivity, a stalling in the enthusiasm of our anti-racism and social activism work. And I can’t help but think that it’s connected to the increased attention being paid to the 2020 presidential election.
I need to make a few things abundantly clear: replacing Donald Trump will not fix America’s racism. He is a symptom, a manifestation—not the cause.
Donald Trump has displayed so much overt racism and white nationalism (including publicly stating that four sitting Congresswomen of color should “go back” to the “broken and crime infested” countries “from which they came”), that it’s difficult not to prioritize and fixate on it.
To be clear, Trump’s behavior is obviously harmful and unbefitting of any American, much less any U.S. president. This dramatic reality, however, makes it difficult for many of us committed to racial equity not to conflate our nation’s overall racial health with the moral failings of its leader—no matter how bald and hateful they may be.
Within the context of the daily barrage of outlandish, inappropriate, and, at times, frightening actions taken by Donald Trump, we have been trained to believe that our country’s overall social health depends upon our vote.
It does not.
More broadly, voting for (and even electing) the most progressive, socially- and racially-conscious politician to replace our president is not a substitute for the personal responsibility, incumbent upon those of us who have dedicated our lives to dismantling white supremacy.
White supremacy’s eradication requires a steadfast commitment to daily individual action.
Criminal and justice reform activist (and law school classmate of mine), Elisabeth Epps, stated it more perfectly than I ever could:
Fighting supremacy doesn’t hinge upon voting. To think otherwise is a common fallacy of white supremacy: mistaking voting as being either sufficient or necessary for civic engagement, when it is neither.
True racial allies have committed ourselves to dismantling an entire racist system. Voting for appropriate and effective governmental representation is one small part of that commitment.
In the midst of the media’s obsession with electoral politics (read: ratings) we must remain focused and steadfast in our commitment to educate ourselves, organize, and take action as often as possible. We must continue to make every effort to refine and grow our the reach of our message of anti-racism, diversity, and equity (shameless plug: black& podcast).
We should stipulate to the importance of effective governmental representation, while also bearing in mind that focusing our attention on the the presidential horse race is but a tempting distraction.
As the legendary feminist Audre Lorde reminds us:
“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives here. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.”
Dedicating energy to national presidential politics at the expense of our individual fight and personal commitment to dismantle white supremacy is a mistake. It’s a misstep that is often difficult for us to recognize, because, despite that focus’s satisfaction/reflection of a similar overarching progressive mindset, it fails to acknowledge the myriad, often more effective, daily practices we fail to sustain amidst the political excitement.
As the adage goes, we must walk and chew gum at the same time. If dedicating time and energy to the 2020 presidential election is chewing gum, we must note that it is but a temporary infusion of flavor and excitement which does little to move us forward through the complicated landscape of defeating white supremacy.
Keep up the fight, y’all.