ASK JANICE: Reflections on Black History Month 2020

It’s the last day of Black History Month 2020, and what a month it’s been! We started the month with the much debated Gayle King/Snoop Dogg kerfuffle following the untimely death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant in late January. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but suffice it to say, “misogynoir” was in full effect, as were the ongoing debates about celebrity, legacy, and redemption.

We’re ending the month facing a global pandemic in the form of a deadly new coronavirus which, if it spreads as fast as some experts predict, may prove to be the end of us all. Countries are issuing travel bans, Japan has closed all its schools for a month, they’re talking about postponing the 2020 Olympics, and even the stock market is freaking out. Wash your hands thoroughly and often, folks!

Amidst all the drama and fear, the looming U.S. Presidential election is on everyone’s mind. Despite what the current occupant of the White House’s propagandists and minions would have us believe, the majority of African Americans fear another four years of this Administration almost as much as the coronavirus. Except for a few outliers like Diamond and Silk (or as I like to call them: Cubic Zirconia and Polyester), and the 14% of self-hating Black dudes who voted for him, most African Americans want to send that orange menace back to the swamp from whence he came.

Which brings me to the point of this Black History Month reflection: the right and responsibility to VOTE.

It’s fitting that this year’s Black History Month theme is “African Americans and the Vote”, which recognizes the struggle for voting rights among Black men and women throughout American history. I know we say this during every election cycle, but the 2020 Presidential election really is one of the most important elections in our nation’s history. Especially for Black people.

Especially for Black people.

From the time the first stolen Africans were brought to the U.S. in 1619 to now, any rights and privilege of citizenship have had to be violently wrestled from the hands of the white supremacists who’ve ruled. This is especially true when it comes to voting rights. Following the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved persons, Black men were constitutionally given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment in 1870. The Amendment stated that “voting rights could not be denied or abridged by the United States or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Of course, we know that even though Black men could vote legally, there were violent forces in place that suppressed their votes, effectively silencing their voices.

It would be another 50 years before women were allowed to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment. However that Amendment did not initially include any women of color, and most certainly not Black women. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed 45 years later in 1965 that Black women were officially allowed to vote in the U.S., a full 95 years after Black men got the vote. NINETY-FIVE YEARS!

1965 wasn’t that long ago, y’all.

Anyway, that brings me back to this very important 2020 Presidential election, and how it’s more critical than ever for Black people to exercise their hard-won right to vote. I know Black women will turn out in droves to vote, because we always do. And when we do vote, we tend to vote in our best interests (96% of us voted for 45’s opponent in 2016 – a statistic that is forever burned into my brain).

What I’m worried about is voter suppression. Several states have been purging their rolls of legitimate, eligible voters in record numbers. Deliberate misinformation and propaganda from everyone from Russian bots to Republican operatives are being fed to Black and brown communities via social media, television, and radio. And I fear we’ll see the same slippery and violent tactics used during Reconstruction come election day.

So we must remain vigilant, watchful, and deliberate in making our voices heard. We need to double and triple check our voter registration status, and encourage our friends and families to do the same. We need to keep up our voter registration efforts and educate as many young people as we can, so that they will become engaged and participate.

And most importantly, we cannot forget our history when it comes to having the legal right to vote. Black women were only officially allowed to vote in 1965. Think about how hard our foremothers had to fight so that you and I could have a say in how we’re governed. Think about the voter intimidation, literacy tests, and other obstacles our foremothers faced even after the the Voting Rights Act was passed. And think about how even in the 21st century, there are strong forces out there seeking to take this fundamental right away from us.

Think about it and VOTE.

And wash your hands.

 

 

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