Ways of Seeing: ‘Vote blue no matter who’ blues
I don’t plan on writing much about electoral politics over the next months, but recent developments are prodding me to say one or two things to my fellow white Democrats.
First, I would like to quote the brilliant Bishop Talbert Swan: “I’m sick of white people telling me, ‘The goal is to get rid of Trump.’ No, that’s your goal. Our goal is to get rid of white supremacy. Black people were being murdered by police, brutalized, dehumanized, and treated unjustly and inhumanely long before Trump. Your apathy is what created Trump.”
White readers, can you sit with that statement for a moment? Does it make you uncomfortable? Does it ring true? Do you observe an impulse to defend yourself or your lifelong voting habits?
If you are a person of faith, or if you have a yoga, meditation, or other spiritual practice, perhaps you have experienced one or more moments of feeling “at one” with the universe, with other people, with the web of life. For me that feeling of connection is one of the great blessings of yoga. Through some combination of our diligent effort, persistent showing up to practice and grace, some of the difficult physical, mental and emotional tightness we carry melts away, and we feel, if only for a fleeting instant, at peace with and utterly part of Everything.
These temporary experiences of being at one with the world have brought me straight into the struggle for racial justice. My experience of a deep sense of physical and emotional safety in the yoga room has led to my current life motto: “Everyone Deserves To Be Safe.” It’s such a basic truth, isn’t it? Women deserve to be safe from sexual assault and domestic violence. Children, whatever their ethnicity or immigration status, deserve to be safe from having their families ripped apart due to incarceration or border atrocities. Human beings deserve to be safe from the threat of police violence, whether they are driving a car (Philandro Castile, Sandra Bland), playing in a park (Tamir Rice) or sitting on their couch eating ice cream (Botham Jean).
In the warm embrace of the yoga studio, I have felt tension I didn’t even know I was carrying melt away from my shoulders, my jaw, my eye sockets. And then I think about a Black friend having an encounter with a police officer. I imagine the elevated blood pressure, the pounding heart, and the adrenaline coursing through their system as they try to stay calm, knowing that one movement could trigger the jumpy police officer to pull their weapon. Can you imagine how long it takes for that kind of stress to be released from the human body? Is it any wonder the life expectancy for Black Americans is significantly shorter than the average for other Americans?
Now let’s talk about the election. Two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination who did well in Iowa and New Hampshire deserve scrutiny they are clearly not getting from liberal white Americans: Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar.
Mayor Pete has charmed many white progressives with his fluency in several languages, impressive academic credentials and military service record and adorable husband Chasten. But Black residents of South Bend oppose his candidacy due to his poor handling of racism within the South Bend police and fire departments, as well as what many feel was biased enforcement of housing codes that discriminated against poor Black neighborhoods.
Amy Klobuchar has been asked by the NAACP (an organization I am proud to be a member of) and Black Lives Matter to suspend her campaign due to her aggressive prosecution of a Black teenager named Myon Burrell, who is now imprisoned for a murder that he most definitely did not commit.
The fact that Buttigieg and Klobuchar did as well as they did in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire tells me that white voters are either not paying attention to the concerns of Black voters, or they simply don’t care.
And now we have Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican, three-term mayor of New York City, vying for the nomination as well. Bloomberg is notorious for stop and frisk, an unconstitutional policy that targeted young Black and Brown New Yorkers at extreme levels.
Above, I mentioned the stress Black and Brown citizens experience in interactions with police. Now imagine what it might feel like when your neighborhood is one of those singled out by the NYPD. Has the former mayor apologized deeply, in a way that shows he understands the impact this policy had on young men growing up in New York City under his mayoral administration? Has Mayor Bloomberg apologized to the family of Kalief Browder, a teenager swept up in aggressive policing and held at Riker’s Island jail for three years? Browder died by suicide two years after being released.
For New York City residents who are Muslim, or who are Black or Chicano, or who are being pushed out of their neighborhoods due to gentrification, Mayor Bloomberg’s rise in the polls is a deep affront.
Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian Feminist activist and co-leader of the Women’s March, is cautioning white Democrats not to dismiss the pain of marginalized people with “Vote Blue No Matter Who” rhetoric. Black and Brown people have a long history of voting in the best interests of people with the least power and privilege in our society. Witness the 93% of Black women who voted for Hillary in 2016. They did this in spite of damaging legislation passed by Bill Clinton, and painful statements calling Black youth “super predators.” They voted the way they did knowing that Trump’s presidency would be a grave threat to our flawed democracy. Meanwhile 53% of white women chose to vote for the man currently debasing the oval office.
Please don’t let the panic you feel at the thought of four more years under Trump cause you to throw common sense and common decency out the window. Listen to the voices of those with the most to lose. In the words of the historic Combahee River Collective Statement, “If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.”
If you are a white American, you have a duty to learn more about Black American history. Seek out knowledge all year long, not only during Black History Month. That way, you can engage in the political process less from a place of privilege and more from a place of solidarity. This is the way to take the feeling of oneness with the universe (if you are lucky enough to have experienced it) straight from your heart and out into the real, hurting world.
Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Joanna lives with her family in East Middlebury. When not practicing or teaching yoga, Joanna enjoys taking walks, cooking, serving on the board of WomenSafe, and working with the Middlebury chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Feedback welcome at: [email protected]
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