White America, history has its eyes on you
I try to approach writing an opinion column the way serious jazz musicians approach their music. If you don’t have anything to play, then don’t play anything. And if somebody else has already played it, and you don’t have anything substantial to add or subtract, then don’t play anything. I haven’t commented much on the 2020 U.S. presidential election because I really don’t have anything substantive to add to what I wrote in 2016.
I wrote the following preceding the 2016 presidential election: “If you are African-American, Latino, Asian, Muslim or a member of the LGBT community, voting for Hillary Clinton for president is a matter of self-defense – self-preservation, really. If you are an American who identifies as white, you face a choice latent with profound moral and social implications.” That is from a column I wrote entitled “Donald Trump and the last stand of white male privilege in America.”
Four years later on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, I would write exactly the same thing, with the exception of substituting Joe Biden’s name for Hilary Clinton’s. Because literally the circumstances and consequences for the enumerated groups have not changed. To the extent they may have changed, our circumstances are worse and the consequences are even more dire now than then.
But there is an improvisational rift to this based upon a quote of Joe Biden’s when he announced his candidacy in June of 2019: “We are in the battle for the soul of this nation.” At the time, I wrote, “The election will not be a battle for the soul of the nation, but it will be a battle for the soul of white America.” What did I mean?
We are faced with an existential crisis in this election. And we have suffered what we have suffered these last four years because the majority of white Americans chose to be here by the choices they have made. Now, white political pundits and their African-American enablers will tell you that what happened in 2016 was that the Black turnout wasn’t as high as needed for Clinton to win and that voters of color generally underperformed. Both assertions are a crock. (And, for the record, Black people are not responsible for political or moral salvation of white America.) Let’s look at who really should own the outcome of 2016 presidential election.
While the census will tell you the country is 60% white and 40% people of color, the political reality is a little different. The country is politically whiter because of the difference in median age between white Americans and people of color. In the 2016 presidential election, the turnout looked like this: 70% white, 12% Black, 11% Latino and 7% Asian.
Here’s how those groups voted: white voters 58% Trump, 37% Clinton; Black voters 8% Trump, 88% Clinton; Latino voters 29% Trump, 65% Clinton; and Asian voters 29% Trump, 65% Clinton. Every ethnic group in America saw who Donald Trump was in 2016, but only white Americans saw in him something that allowed the majority of them to consider him morally fit to be POTUS. Donald Trump is president because of the moral failure of the majority of white Americans, not the failure of Black voter turnout.
Which brings us to November 3. Blacks voters are responding to this election like their lives depend upon it, because it does. Joe Biden is like just about all white Democratic politicians to Black voters: they’re not the one we love, they’re just the one we’re with. So, we’ll do what we need to do, as we’ve always done, not because we want to save American democracy but because we want to save each other.
It’s white voters who are at the moral fork in the road. The United States since its inception has been a society based upon neoliberal, patriarchal, white supremacist values, but was a functioning democratic republic for white people. What white voters now have to decide is would they rather redefine what it means to be white in a multiracial, multicultural democracy or do they want to retain their white privilege in a neofascist, dystopian nightmare?
We’ll live – or not – with the consequences, but we don’t get to the make the call. White America, history has its eyes on you.
Mike Jones is a member of The St. Louis American’s editorial board.