In 1903, sociologist and civil rights activist William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, more commonly known as W.E.B. Du Bois, published his classic and widely-respected work “The Souls of Black Folk.” The book is a series of essays in which Du Bois leverages his own personal experience as a black man in America to comment on the larger societal struggle for equality of black people decades after Reconstruction.
In “The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. Du Bois is unapologetically dogmatic in his assertion that, given the overtly prejudicial attitudes embedded within American society against black people, they must always maintain what he referred to as a “double consciousness.” That is, an ongoing awareness and cognizance of: 1) how blacks view themselves, and 2) how society views them. And though I don’t necessarily concur with Du Bois in that regard, as it would require black people to make some of the same unfounded generalizations and assumptions of others as are being made of them, I can nevertheless understand why he would offer such admonitory counsel.
It was a recent Washington Post article, written by Vanessa Williams, a black woman, that recalled Du Bois’ “double consciousness” theory to my mind and reminded me that a black person can be just as guilty as anyone of providing the impetus for one’s adopting his thesis as a form of social orthopraxy. The article is Williams’ rather racist postmortem about why Democrat Stacey Abrams, a black woman, was narrowly defeated by Republican Brian Kemp, a white man. Without getting too deep into the specifics of Williams’ reasoning — you can read the article for yourself — she essentially is placing the blame for Abrams’ loss at the feet of the 11 percent of black men who, to her apparent consternation, voted for a white man over someone who, in terms of skin color, looks like them (hence the article’s headline).
In other words, Williams is lamenting the fact that 11 percent of black men, all of whom were legally registered to vote in the state of Georgia, volitionally exercised their Constitutional right, in conjunction with the dictates of their respective individual consciences and without regard to either Abrams’ or Kemp’s ethnicity or sex, voted for the gubernatorial candidate of their choice.
Why … why … the horror!
How dare they?!
Do these men not realize they’re … black?!
In “The Souls of Black Folk,” Du Bois declared, “For this much all men know: despite compromise, war, and struggle, the Negro is not free.” Du Bois was right. There is ample empirical evidence that black Americans, not only in the late 19th and early 20th-century but for many decades after, were not “free” to the same extent as their fellow image-bearers of God (Genesis 1:27, 5:1) who were white. In fact, one might very well argue that what Du Bois maintained more than a century ago is still a reality in 21st-century America. The extent to which such an assertion may or may not be the case is not a question this commentary is intended to address. Suffice it to say that inequity and injustice are both natural and expected by-products of a world beset by sin (Romans 5:12), the metastasizing effects of which we, as sinners, are to blame with regard to our deliberate and incessant maltreatment of one another (Mark 7:17-23).
But notwithstanding the aforementioned statement by Du Bois, which undoubtedly was posited from the standpoint of his own personal experience, there remains today a form of bondage from which black Americans have yet to be emancipated. It is a servility that is more philosophical than physical; a yoke that is more furtive and surreptitious than the overt and palpable white supremacy spoken of by Du Bois, having been placed upon the necks of black voters by people who look just like them, people such as Renée Graham, for example, who, subsequent to Abrams’ defeat, published an article in the Boston Globe urging black men to stop voting Republican.
It is in light of this reality that several questions come to my mind: Why did Williams not title her article, “What’s up with all those black women who voted for the Democrat in the Georgia governor’s race?” After all, is it not the least bit concerning to her that one political party holds a near-monopoly on the voting strength of an entire ethnic demographic? What level of betrayal did these black men commit by supporting Brian Kemp as opposed to Stacey Abrams? Was there some inherent allegiance owed to Abrams by these men simply because their melanin content is similar to hers? Why would their choosing to vote Republican draw, as Williams writes, “gasps and rebuke on social media and news commentary”? Why is it that black people, unlike any other ethnic voting bloc in America, hold one another to a collectivist ethos regarding politics, while treating other aspects of their existence as self-determining and autonomous (e.g. religion, vocation, education, etc.)?
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” – Frederick Douglass
As much as I appreciate the issues that were so courageously — and necessarily — confronted by Du Bois in “The Souls of Black Folk,” the question remains: what about the minds of black folk?
In other words, why is it that so many black people continue to propagate the notion that merely because they are black, they are somehow obligated to support only political candidates who are either black and/or Democrat? It is this kind of ethno-tribalist mindset that serves to perpetuate the stereotypical narrative that blacks are politically monolithic, that their votes are cast primarily in terms of what is best for their “race” as a collective group as opposed to what is in their best interest as individuals, while at the same time decrying anyone who would dare accuse them of being so politically tunnel-visioned (though historical exit polling data proves that that’s exactly the case).
Speaking only for myself, I have never understood why blacks like Williams and Graham, with all due respect, see it as virtuous that black voters devote themselves so unquestioningly to one political party. To advocate for such blind loyalty is to suggest black Americans set aside their responsibility as individuals to be ideologically discerning about how their votes are cast, and instead support candidates solely on the basis of socio-cultural tradition. Black voters are the only people, politically speaking, who apply this kind of ideological collectivism to themselves; and who openly castigate each other for refusing to embrace it.
In closing, I want to make it clear that in no way am I arguing that the probity and integrity of the Republican party exceed that of the Democrat party. Not at all. All politicians, regardless of party affiliation or ideological persuasion, are sinners before they are in office, while they are in office, and after they leave office (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23). That politicians, regardless of such external characteristics as ethnicity or sex, share the same sin nature as the people who elect them to office is why we must be diligent in exercising both spiritual and ideological discernment in deciding whom to support for political office.
It wasn’t because the elections in Georgia were not “free and fair,” as Stacey Abrams has alleged, that she fell short of making political history in Georgia. No, my friend. Abrams lost, in large part, because 11 percent of black men, for reasons known only to them, made an informed, educated, and volitional decision to support her opponent in the race for governor of Georgia. It was a decision with which people like Williams and Graham should have been completely fine.
They weren’t. And that’s a problem.
Given the universal reality of the imago Dei, it is the height of sinful ethnic bias (“racism”) to infer that 11 percent of black male voters in Georgia failed in carrying out their ethnocultural duty to the broader “black community” by doing not only what they had every legal right to do, but every spiritual right as well. Black Americans, like any other ethnic group, should be completely free to express the conviction of their conscience when entering the voting booth. Conversely, they also should be free from the ridicule and criticism of tribalist blacks who insist that they, as black people, automatically subordinate their God-given individuality to that of some arbitrary and subjective collectivist mandate.
As the old truism goes, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.” Indeed it is. And black people should be — and are — free to express their individual political philosophy in whatever way that seems best to them, without fear of being disparaged, denigrated, or ostracized by other blacks simply for having done so.
Humbly in Christ,
This Op-Ed was published with permission from Darrell Harrison and originally appeared on Just Thinking…For Myself.
Darrell Harrison is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. Darrell is a 2013 Fellow of the Black Theology and Leadership Institute (BTLI) of Princeton Theological Seminary in Princeton, New Jersey, and is a 2015 graduate of the Theology and Ministry program at Princeton Theological Seminary. Darrell is an advocate of expository teaching and preaching, and has a particular passion for seeing expository preaching become the standard within the Black Church.
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