There’s a skit on Paul Mooney’s 1993 album Race where the legendary comedian muses about creating a hotline where white people can hire a Black man to blame for any crimes and transgressions they commit. It’s a joke based in an ugly reality. Black males have always been America’s folk devil, ciphers used to project every type of fear and danger onto. That projection has resulted in the imprisonment and death of thousands of Black men by legal and extrajudicial methods.
This election cycle has seen many old tropes about Black men rise again to facilitate their collective political lynching. The difference this time is Black academics and strivers are holding the rope.
It’s no secret that many Black men and women have expressed concerns about voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Biden’s history as the author of the 1994 crime bill that wrought havoc on African-Americans and Harris’ prosecution record in California are albatrosses that are hard to overlook but instead of addressing those concerns their handlers and supporters are countering with pandering and swift attacks on anybody who voices concern. The worst of the attacks are reserved for Black male voters, with prominent Black academics and pundits weaving a narrative about their motivations and intelligence that feels coordinated.
The numbers don’t match the rhetoric. According to recent polling 45% of Queer men and 30% of AAPI voters are in favor of Trump. Amazingly, 35% of Latino male voters are Trump supporters in spite of his anti-Hispanic rhetoric and the conditions immigrants receive in ICE facilities. In contrast, Trump has a 19% approval rating among Black Men, the smallest percentage of registered male voters.
So why is there so much attention and hostility being given to that number instead of the other groups of men, or the 53% of white women voters that helped give Trump the white house in 2016? I think the reasons for that are twofold: the opportunism of Black strivers, and the arrogance of self-proclaimed white “allies.”
“OUR Kind of People“
There is a psychological hierarchy among Black people. Those of us who went to the right schools, joined the right fraternity or sorority and have the right connections see themselves as the only people fit to articulate the concerns of Black people to America’s white power structure. If you’re not part of that group, you are not qualified to speak. It’s a holdover from the idea of the “Talented Tenth,” popularized by W.E.B. DuBois, that only the “best” Black people should represent us. The problem is all too often people who claim to be representing us are really representing themselves. For this group, which now includes the professional social media protester, being seen as the HNIC who explains Black struggle to white liberals is the goal. If authentic Black concerns have to be suppressed to achieve that goal, so be it, and some of the discussion about Black male voters from the members-or applicants to this group-sound like they come from the scientific racists DuBois spent so much of his life combating.
We Been “Good to You People”
The other element in this mix is the white liberal who-in their mind-is so sympathetic to the suffering of Black people that they go out of their way to show Black people how much they sympathize. The problem is many white people with liberal leanings have patronizing attitudes towards Black people and cast themselves in the role of white saviour, taking on the burden of uplifting the ignorant black masses without bothering to consult them about what they need. They don’t want to step too far out of their comfort zone so co-signing every statement a member of the Black striver class says is a perfect way to signal their “wokeness.” Thing is, many of the Black strivers advising them have only a surface understanding of Black culture at best and no connection whatsoever to the Black masses. They have no interest in learning more as that would jeopardize their proximity to whiteness and power. This is how Black voters get twerking and surface level “representation” instead of policy while every other voting bloc gets solid policy discussions.
For decades this symbiotic relationship has meant that the material needs of poor and working class Black people were ignored or distorted by people claiming to want to help them. Thanks to social media, both of these groups are hearing pushback for the first time and both are shocked. White gatekeepers are shocked to hear that Black people are fed up with being pandered to and Black gatekeepers are shocked that that the Black masses are able to articulate their demands without the help of Negro Whisperers. The bitter irony is the Black gatekeepers are responding most viciously to this new reality, using Jim Crow style rhetoric to react to this grassroots Black political awakening while allowing their white “allies” to express the condescending racism that was always below the surface of their performative “wokeness.”
Malcolm X. famously used the analogy of “The Wolf and the Fox” to describe how white liberals can be more dangerous to Black progress than white racists. MLK made similar observations about white moderates. It seems an even more dangerous group is Black academics and pundits for whom Black progress stops with themselves and are willing to throw Black men away to advance.
Election 2020 has revealed that many Black people in positions of influence have the same attitudes about Black men in general and Black male voters in particular as the alt-right. It’s deeper than comments. These people shape how we’re portrayed in mass media, academia, and interpret our culture. This should alarm anybody concerned about the collective well being of us as a people and it’s an issue that must be confronted, no matter who wins on November 3rd.