As America finds itself staring down the barrel of a Donald Trump presidency, everyone from Washington insiders and political pundits, to everyday citizens and the politically disenfranchised have been desperately looking for answers on how a seemingly joke candidacy has resulted in such a shocking result.
But this hasn’t been rooted in simple exploration or a search for answers; this has become a search for who to blame. Condemnation has widely fallen at the feet of third party voters, the minute number of minorities who voted for Trump, and those who didn’t vote at all. So when Colin Kaepernick, one of 2016’s most prominent anti-racism activists, announced he didn’t vote in the election, many found it easy to point their rage directly at him.
On Sunday, after the San Francisco 49ers lost 23-20 to the Arizona Cardinals, reporters asked Kaepernick about his seemingly hypocritical decision to abstain from voting, to which he said, “I think it would be hypocritical of me to vote. I’d said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against a system of oppression. I’m not going to show support for that system. And, to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression.”
To any historian of the African-American community, this nuanced point is neither shocking or new in any way, shape or form. Kaepernick’s stance is in line with Malcolm X’s “The Ballot of The Bullet” speech, where he brilliantly elocuted, “A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.”
Kaepernick’s stance is also in line with W.E.B. DuBois’ article, “I Won’t Vote” where he penned, “I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no “two evils” exist. There is but one evil party with two names, and it will be elected despite all I can do or say.”
Malcolm X, like W.E.B. DuBois, both propagated the ideology of strategic voting, especially DuBois who, along with other Black leaders, encouraged the Black electorate to cast their votes for Democrat Woodrow Wilson in 1912, Republican Warren Harding in 1920, and Socialist Norman Thomas in 1928. He voted in every single election with the intention of supporting the candidate who most expressly exhibited concern and support for African-Americans. And after several decades of political motivation, he essentially said “to hell with it,” knowing that White supremacy was so embedded in the fabric of the nation that it would be upheld at the expense of the Black community regardless of which party and which candidate occupied the House, the Senate or the presidency.
It’s the enduring solidarity of Whiteness.
Yet, days after the election, when Kaepernick initially revealed he didn’t vote, the hot takes, removed of nuance, historical perspective or even modern-day social investigation, came in fast and furious. Stephen A. Smith, histrionics in tow, continued to show himself as being anti-academic about any topic revolving around race, but it was the comments by White people that were more disconcerting because as the upholders of privilege and systemic injustice, you’d hope they’d be able to see why Colin Kaepernick, a man so overtly committed to change, would disallow himself from participating in the election. A Forbes piece entitled, “Colin Kaepernick’s Failure To Vote Tarnishes His Credibility As A Social Activist,” published the day after Trump was officially announced as the winner of the election, and it perfectly encapsulated everything wrong with these anti-Kaepernick ideologies.
To claim that Kaepernick’s credibility is tarnished by not choosing to vote is an overt statement that overthrowing White supremacy was on the ballot. We’re not talking about violent, racial outbursts which have been thoroughly represented through every step of Trump’s campaign, but an actual repeal of the entire system. It actually would be the definition of hypocrisy to cast a vote for a candidate who did not represent immediate relief and unapologetic recompense for African-Americans by participating in America’s electoral college system, which was founded off of White supremacy.
The idea that Black voters routinely have to square off against choosing the lesser of two evils is not “a lazy take.” It’s the reality of being Black in America that has persisted for generations. To “advance the conversation” isn’t completed by Kaepernick voting, it’s achieved by White men and women overcoming their fragility long enough to recognize that they have the privilege of not having to cast a vote that could be disastrous to them based on the color of their skin.
In his article the writer opined, “In order to enact long-lasting social change, he must take part in the democratic process. Failing to do that sabotages his cause.”
This statement is predicated on the privileged idea that long-lasting social change has been achieved in America. Ava DuVernay’s brilliant documentary 13TH and Michelle Alexander’s exceptional book, “The New Jim Crow” insightfully outlines the fact that racial progress has been largely a myth. That’s not conspiracy theory, that’s heavily rooted fact.
The main difference between Colin Kaepernick, Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois and many others who chose not to vote, versus those who decided to cast a ballot, is the idea that true structural change is the only hope for ending systemic discrimination. The idea that simple laws and simple votes will destroy White supremacy is childish at best, and willfully ignorant at worst.
Hillary Clinton, a center-left incrementalist with a history of advocating for the mass incarceration of Black “super-predators” and Bernie Sanders, who is for every type of extreme reform except reparations, were not going to dismantle the system to help Black folks. Ballot measures aren’t going to overcome the need for White supremacy to win. In 1994, when Prop 176 was passed—a.k.a. the three strikes law—it resulted in a racial disparity in imprisonment that was 13 times worse for Blacks than Whites.
Kaepernick’s credibility remains in tact because, as Bomani Jones states, he isn’t asking for peace; he’s crying out for justice. He’s not calling for a Democratic president or a supermajority. He’s calling for the whole scale demolition of the prejudiced political system. He’s not begging for legislation. He’s demanding a full accounting of law enforcement and the justice system’s White supremacist leanings. Those weren’t on the ballot, and if you believe that incrementalist legislation is the answer, you need to speak to a historian about how well that has gone for Black Americans throughout our time on this continent.
In America, the one thing that has always escaped the grasp of Black Americans is unfettered freedom and the idea that Blacks should be lectured to about “encouraging disenfranchisement” is downright racist. People of color throughout the nation have fought tooth and nail for everything they’ve received, and the idea that “hope” rather than White detachment from supremacy is what’s contingent on our continued progress is insulting as hell.
Lincoln Anthony Blades blogs daily on his site, ThisIsYourConscious.com. He’s author of the book, “You’re Not A Victim, You’re A Volunteer.” He can be reached on Twitter @lincolnablades and on Facebook at Lincoln Anthony Blades.