You guys, I only thought about one thing this week, and it was the U.S. election. After striving to be marginally less online over the past couple of months, I’ve been back on Twitter 24/7, glued to CNN, obsessively refreshing the NYT map (because the dials are far too stressful) and only paying attention to celebrity stories that intersect with U.S. politics 🤷🏽♀️.
But while I’ve been watching in horror as the race between an imperfect but decent candidate and an incompetent orange monster has been literally too close to call for days, I realized something important: from now on, I don’t want to hear about “coming together” or “overcoming differences.” In fact, I am deeply (deeply) uninterested in these post-racial fairy tales that ignore white supremacy’s role in getting us here—and pretend it will somehow go away if (when) Biden wins.
I won't minimize the challenges or dangers before us. But I believe America is more broken in politics than in heart. There's ugliness and hate - systemic and historical. But I think we can find common ground on important issues if we could get tribal politics out of the way.— Dan Rather (@DanRather) November 5, 2020
So no, Gap, I do not want to hear about your stupid bipartisan sweater, and Dan Rather, aside from the fact that “tribal politics” is offensive, I’m so curious where you think we’ll find common ground on white supremacy, police brutality or babies in cages. (Is there a number of children who have been separated from their parents and deported to the wrong country that we should be able to accept, or…?) And all those people posting on Facebook about how the election has been hard for everyone, which is why the winners shouldn’t gloat and the losers shouldn’t despair, do you really think there’s a moral, much less emotional, equivalence between the people who would be sad they can’t control women’s bodies, kill Black people with impunity and deny marginalized folks basic human rights like housing, healthcare and fair wages, and the people who would be subject to all that injustice? Because there is not.
Instead, what needs to happen in America—and in Canada, frankly—is a real reckoning with white supremacy, because it is the only explanation for this uncomfortably close race; it is both a driving factor behind the GOP’s efforts to deter or deny BIPOC folks from voting and it plays into how most of America votes. According to the New York Times’ exit poll analysis—which, to be fair, does skew conservative—white people made up the majority (65%) of total voters, and 57% of them opted for Trump. That is to say, while most Americans voted for Biden, most white people did not. And at this point, I don’t think we need to explain that if you can overlook Trump’s racism, you’re racist yourself, right?
A majority of Black voters voted for Biden.— African American Policy Forum (@AAPolicyForum) November 4, 2020
A majority of Latino voters voted for Biden.
A majority of Asian voters voted for Biden.
A majority of white voters voted for Trump.
Keep that in mind before sharing your hot take.
That’s not to ignore the fact that more racialized people voted for Trump in 2020 than they did in 2016, though at least some of that bump can be attributed to higher turnout. In 2016, Americans cast 138.9 million votes; we don’t know exactly what turnout was like in 2020, but NBC News projects at least 159.8 million people voted this year, which would be a 15% increase. So, it’s not surprising that this year’s election would capture more racialized Republicans. But there are for sure BIPOC folks who actually thought Trump’s tax plan would benefit them, or believe so strongly in abortion that it was enough to overlook everything else he says and does, or who buy into his white supremacist rhetoric. In those cases, I agree—it’s super troubling that any racialized person would vote for a candidate who is so clearly acting in opposition to their best interests.
But we have to be clear: when people of colour vote to uphold white supremacy, that is a function of white supremacy. Non-Black people of colour absolutely have to acknowledge the privilege we gain from our varying degrees of proximity to whiteness, unlearn anti-Blackness, call it out among our friends, families and communities and actively work to become anti-racist. And we all have to understand that we live in a system that benefits from pitting us against one another. But when media and the Twitterverse hyper-focus on the Black, Indigenous and people of colour that voted for Trump, what we’re actually saying is that the symptom matters more than the actual disease.
And perhaps the most important thing to note about BIPOC folks voting for Trump is that actually? Most racialized people voted for Biden. As CNN’s Brandon Tensley noted on Wednesday evening, “while early exit polls (which, it’s important to underscore, are notoriously mercurial) indicate that Trump may receive slightly more support from voters of color this year than he did in 2016, the more significant story is that his white base seems sturdy.” Republicans did not desert the party following four years of Trump’s antics. In fact, according to the NYT’s exit poll analysis, only 6% of Biden voters think of themselves as Republicans, which is actually less than in 2016, when 7% of Clinton voters identified as Republican. Meanwhile, 87% of Black people voted for Biden, as did 66% of Latinx people, 63% of Asian-Americans and 58% of the remaining ethnicities in America. Without racialized people, Trump would win… which is a very sobering thought considering just how invested Republicans have been in suppressing Black votes—especially this year.
Progressives already knew that Joe Biden wasn’t going to be anyone’s saviour, and that regardless of who won this election, there would be plenty of work to do in continuing the fight to abolish police and prisons, and to ensure racialized people have equal access to healthcare, housing, nutritious food, clean water and even internet. But the closeness of this presidential election is also a reminder to white people that it is especially important for you to recognize that the institutions that benefit you don’t benefit the rest of us, and figure out how you’re going to actively dismantle this system. Basically, we need to have the same energy as we did in June when a slew of incidents of police brutality sparked worldwide protests and renewed attention for the Black Lives Matter movement. Back then, I was thinking a lot about the personal and interpersonal things we could do to support our Black friends and family. Now, I’m thinking about the political action we should be taking over the next four years (and beyond!). Here are the lessons this election highlighted for me:
Push for electoral reform
a small reminder: yes, 68 million people voted for Trump. but that is not “half” the population of the US. total pop is almost 330 mil. so 68 mil is only 20% of total pop. they are completely outnumbered. and that’s why they are acting out the way the are.— Sylvia Chan-Malik (@schanmalik) November 5, 2020
The only way for America to ensure its citizens actually get to choose elected officials to represent them is to change their system—one way or another. As Isobel van Hagen explained this week in Teen Vogue, “Americans do not have a direct election system—‘one person, one vote’—for the presidency. Instead, that power is reserved for 538 ‘electors.’ As such, the presidential election is portrayed as a fight to win states and their accompanying electoral votes. A presidential campaign must accumulate a majority—270—to win the election. Forty-eight out of 50 states use a winner-take-all system, in which the candidate with the highest number of votes in a state claims all of that state’s electoral votes, and sometimes by a very slim margin.”
The system is rooted in slavery—it was literally created to maintain white slaveowners’ power—and continues to disenfranchise Black voters. But it’s not actually good for anyone. According to Fair Vote, states get one electoral vote for every 565,166 people (approximately). But some states, like Wyoming, get much more than that. It has three electoral votes and only 578,759 citizens, which means each of the state’s electoral votes represents just 192,920 people. “Understood in one way, these people have [about three] times as much clout in the Electoral College as an average American,” the site explains. What’s more, “voters that live in ‘spectator states’ [instead of swing states] essentially have no clout, as candidates know that the outcomes in those states are already decided. There is very little incentive to campaign in those states or respond to the needs of those voters.”
There have been hundreds of attempts to abolish the Electoral College to no avail, but there is a way to make U.S. elections more fair even without doing that: the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, an agreement where states would award all their Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate that wins the popular vote, which would ensure the winner of the popular vote also wins the Electoral College. Right now, 15 states have signed this agreement; if you live in the U.S., considering writing your assembleyperson, governor and senator to express your support.
In Canada, we don’t have an Electoral College (thank GOD), but we do have a first-past-the-post system, which is also not proportional representation. In FPTP, we vote for MP candidates according to riding, and the candidate with the most votes wins a seat in the House of Commons—even if they do not achieve the majority of votes. It’s not a bad system, though it does make it harder for smaller, issues-based parties like the NDP and the Green Party to win seats. You might remember that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made electoral reform part of his party’s platform in the 2015 election, but in 2017 decided he wouldn’t honour that commitment. We know that at least some Canadians don’t seem to want a different system; there have been two referendums on electoral reform, one in B.C. and one in P.E.I., and in both provinces people voted against moving away from FTPT.
However, there’s another type of electoral reform that can make a huge difference: ranked ballots for municipal elections. In this type of ballot, voters indicate their first, second and third choice for a particular position, which advocates say gives voters more choice and makes it easier to elect diverse candidates. If you live in Ontario, like me, you should know that the province included an amendment in its October 20 COVID-19 recovery bill to ban ranked ballots. You can find out how to express your support for this style of voting here.
Get involved—and that means more than emailing your elected officials
Regardless of where you live, I think 2020 has shown us the importance of getting familiar with the way your city, province (or state) and country is run, and more importantly, getting involved in the process.
For example: Georgia has not gone to a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992, when Bill Clinton won the state. But this year, it might actually go to Biden—on Friday morning, the two candidates were literally neck and neck with each holding 49.4% of the vote, and he was actually leading Trump by a slim margin. It was very stressful, and also a testament to the work Stacey Abrams has been doing since 2018, when she ran for governor of the state, but lost to Brian Kemp. Kemp was then Georgia’s secretary of state and he “mass-canceled more than a million voter registrations between 2012 and 2018, and in the run-up to the tight gubernatorial race, froze an estimated 53,000 registrations, a majority of them belonging to African American voters,” according to Vogue. She has been registering voters since 2013, when she started a nonprofit called Fair Fight, but after losing to Kemp she ramped up her efforts. Thanks to Abrams and Fair Fight, an estimated 800,000 additional voters have been registered in the state since 2018, many of them are young and/or racialized. And hi, that’s definitely paying off at the polls right now.
Meanwhile in Arizona, Living United for Change in Arizona (LUCHA), a progressive, Latinx-run social justice organization in Arizona, has been registering voters and adding people to the early voter list since 2010. Tomàs Robles Jr., LUCHA’s executive director, told the New York Times’ The Daily podcast that the organization added 600,000 people to the early voting list and registered 350,000 new voters between 2010 and 2016—their hard work paid off in that they helped get notoriously racist sheriff Joe Arpaio out of office during the last presidential election, but seeing the state go to Trump was a disappointing setback. In the four years since then, they have put 800,000 additional people on the early vote list and registered an almost 600,000 new voters. If Biden wins Arizona, where he had 51% of the vote on Friday morning, it will be in large part thanks to LUCHA’s efforts.
It’s extremely important to communicate with your elected officials via phone, email and social media, but I think those two examples also make it very clear that more hands-on action is needed, too. Maybe that means getting involved with orgs that register voters, volunteering with a political party and speaking up at city council meetings and town halls. And maybe it means running yourself?
Work across party lines
I know I started this newsletter by talking about my irritation with platitudes like “coming together” and “finding common ground” but… I have to end by acknowledging that we can’t actually change the way our society works by ourselves.
My frustration with that kind of saccharine statement comes down to privilege. If you can choose to ignore your BFF’s racist voting habits, it means you’re likely moving through the world unencumbered by racism yourself, either because you’re white, white-adjacent or rich. But that doesn’t mean that progressives should ignore their conservative friends, family members or elected leaders–and that’s especially true for white progressives.
Trump voters (or supporters of the populist blowhard in your region) aren’t that hard to find. As comic writer Jordan Clark points out—and journalist Anne Helen Petersen co-signs—the people who would happily vote to take away rights from people who look like me “live in your city, they teach your kids, they work with you, they decide who gets a loan, they decide voting and housing laws, they’ve had brunch with you,” as Clark tweeted on Thursday. So, talk to them. Call out their racism, hold them accountable for their prejudices, push them to own just how problematic their words really are. And non-Black people of colour have to do the same thing in our own communities.
And, this video of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a good reminder, too. Recorded after she voted early and in-person in the Bronx, the congresswoman for New York’s 14th congressional district emphasized that “a progressive and strong vision for our future can win in purple areas and neighbourhoods. It can even win Trump-leaning neighbourhoods, but we have to meet people where they’re at” before going on to say that she’s very proud that she doesn’t ignore Trump supporters or other conservative-leaning parts of her district. (She was correct; she and the rest of the Squad were all re-elected on Nov. 4.)
What was even more important to me, though, was her assertion that those conservative-leaning voters actually do listen to what she has to say. To me, this is the opposite of those “common ground” platitudes—it’s a reminder that you can be extremely progressive and uncompromising in your values, and still garner support in surprising places. And that’s what we need if we’re really going to dismantle this system.
Did I miss something? Send me feedback and corrections at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And Did You Hear About…
Luna Stephens’ news report. Apparently, nothing much is happening right now!
Bridgerton, the new Netflix show about the romantic entanglements of eight siblings in Regency England. It’s based on Julia Quinn’s bestselling romance series and looks great.
Lil Wayne’s girlfriend breaking up with him after he endorsed Trump. (Fair, tbh.)
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