The Assumption of Black Patriotism

So, it’s day two. We are all waiting. Waiting on Nevada. Waiting on Pennsylvania. Waiting on Pending lawsuits. Waiting for every vote to be counted.

Tensions are high, and we all are ruminating on this election and what it means for the future of elections in general. We had the highest voter turnout in history. A rare positive consequence of the pandemic forcing us indoors. Early mail-in voting, as cumbersome as it may have been for the post office helped ensure massive voter participation.

While scrolling through Twitter, I saw a tweet from Ben Rhodes, the former Deputy National Security Advisor and co-host of Pod Save The World.

I replied

I admittedly know nothing about Mr. Rhodes. I have never listened to his podcast or, quite frankly, knew he even existed before I read his tweet. So I will do my best to make no assumptions about him or his political leanings because I don’t believe they are relevant to this conversation. I believe that his mistake is common among many white folks—the overestimation of Black patriotism.

Before I go further, I will give the standard disclaimer.

Black people are not a monolith. Anything I write will run counter to some Black person somewhere. My thoughts and comments are me speaking in general terms. We all have a Black friend or are the Black friend who believes something counter(Black)-cultural. For example, I don’t like sweet potato pie. Don’t @ me.

We good? Good.

Black Americans are, by in large, not patriotic. There is nowhere we would rather be. We love this country, but we are not patriotic.

What’s the difference? We can start here.

See those words? Devotion. Vigorous support? And that's before we get to those synonyms. Nationalist? Jingoistic? Oof…

What in America’s history would have you believe that Black folks would be patriotic?

No. Instead, we love this country with clear eyes. We love it because we love the legacy of our ancestors who built it. Our love is the result of sunk cost. The labor Black folks have put into building this country, both involuntary and voluntary, can never be recovered. There are no chips to cash in towards starting over somewhere else. It is a dysfunctional relationship, to be sure, but here we are.

Mr. Rhodes, in marveling at the resilience of Black voters, misattributes the motivation to vote. We do not submit our ballots to save democracy because, frankly, we can’t. To save Amerian democracy means that at some point, it was well and safe. It wasn’t. Not for us, at least. It’s the same reason we roll our eyes at Black MAGA supporters. When was this great for YOU?

We vote to slow and, when able, reverse the tide of injustice in some incremental way. We chip at a wall of oppression, not hoping to see it crumble but simply to create a little more space to move.

It is in this way that our vote is, at its core, protest.

Confession time. I was once, not so long ago, ignorant to all of this. There is a whole op-ed somewhere where I foolishly claim that voting in presidential races is a waste of time. If I’m being honest, it was one of those shameful moments writers sometimes have where the desparation to be seen and read outweighs the value of the commentary presented.

It’s not that I didn’t believe what I was saying but I was definitely clout chasing. But that’s a story for another day.

I read the article not too long ago and it’s…bad. My arguments were elementary at best and mostly centered around the elecoral college and all it’s fundamental flaws. And if I’m being honest, in addition to the feeble premise it was poorly written. I sometimes think of asking to have it taken down but that seems disingenuous.

I’m not exactly sure when or how my view changed. I imagine it came from being fortunate enough to have friends smarter than myself. That and my ignorance being more lackadaisical than wilful.

A friend challenged me on the idea of voting being a form of protest.

He wrote, “ …I look at it like America is racing to a negative level, and we are fighting to force it to a decent baseline that it doesn't even want. So we end up fighting and dying just to get to zero. So, it doesn't “feel” powerful (though it is); it feels like fighting to keep our heads above water. And then when everything is all done, and we are tattered and exhausted, the country looks at us, turns around, and continues business as usual. Because we save this country from itself every generation, but our position doesn't change much, and our own ingenuity and exceptionalism lift us. (Idk maybe we’re fighting for a baseline environment where our own ingenuity and exceptionalism can lift us?).”

I responded, “Fighting to keep our heads above water, to get to zero, is just that… a fight. But that’s what a protest is. Zero is the goal. Zero is where freedom is. Fighting for more isn’t protest. It’s greed. The confusion comes because those keeping us from zero do so as a means to get more than their fair share. For us to come up, they have to come down, and they don’t want that.”

I pointed to America’s history of denying Black people the right to vote and, once granted, the suppression of that right as proof that the act of voting is resistance.

America’s relationship with Blacks is complicated. The reverse is even more so. Mainly because this country has not reconciled itself with it’s own history.

As pointed out by Professor Eddie S. Glaude Jr., (white) America has a generational moment of clarity where it sees itself for what it actually is. Not what it imagines itself to be. We witnessed it with this year’s deluge of white support in the face of the litany of Black folks killed by police and white men.

But, like previous iterations this year felt like a flash point that, while burned intensely, didn’t last long enough to boil water.

Being Black in America is to be on a team that gives you inferior equipment and being expected to outperform your cohorts. We are expected to put the team first when they have never done so for us.

Voting for Black American’s is about saving democracy in as much as democracy can save us. It’s a means to a hopeful end. But it’s about us first because it’s the only time we are first for anything.

Writer (duh). Bylines @LevelMag @thegrio @NBCBLK. Co-creator of the Good Talk Podcast Network. Don’t forget to add me to your Medium email list!

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store