A Substantial Opinion piece by Fellow and Contributor Taylor Corlew
Mono·lith \ noun
1: A large and impersonal political, corporate, or social structure regarded as intractably indivisible and uniform.
In Perth Amboy, New Jersey on March 31 of 1870, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African American to cast a voting ballot in a United States election. Only 150 years removed, this act gave birth to what we now commonly refer to as ‘the black vote.’ At face value, the black vote is both treated and discussed as a monolith, a term that ascribes uniformity to a largely diverse and varied group of individuals.
But what does it mean exactly?
While nondescript, the term ‘black vote’ itself is indicative of the modern politician’s attitude toward potential African American constituents. The term itself refers to a tale of two Americas. Historically, the black vote has been proven to swing election results entirely. For example, there was a brief seven-year period spanning from the ratification of the fifteenth amendment (February 3, 1870), to the end of Reconstruction (March 31, 1877). During this time roughly two thousand Blacks were elected to serve in both state and local government offices, which included state legislatures along with
members of Congress.
This was ultimately met with white resistance, which as a result led to numerous discriminatory tactics such as literacy tests, polling taxes, and grandfather clauses. The grandfather clause is defined by Britannica as “A constitutional device enacted by seven southern states between 1895 and 1910. This allowed those who had enjoyed the right to vote prior to 1866 or 1867, and their lineal descendants, to be exempt from recently enacted educational, property, or tax requirements for voting.”
Meaning the sole function of this clause was to enfranchise white voters who wouldn’t have otherwise met the criteria to vote.
Fast forward to weeks ahead of the upcoming presidential election, there are many conflicted potential young black voters. Whether they feel as though their vote, in particular, doesn’t count or they just aren’t too thrilled about the prospect of either candidate.
Is there any reasonable response that I could offer to the individual who has no desire to participate in the very system that disparages them at every turn? Or the individual who feels constantly pandered to at the onset of every political season with hardly anything to show for in the way of results. I’m not exactly certain. However, there is a fundamental responsibility that we as black people have to ourselves as well as our community to simply exercise the vote that countless of our ancestors died to attain.
I conducted a series of interviews with several black male and female voters under the age of thirty to gauge their sentiments regarding the upcoming election.
“I think this election is a bittersweet experience. My first election was in 2016 and I remember feeling the excitement of voting for the first time. This time around it’s simply a vote of buying time for me.” Said Alexis Wilder, a twenty-two-year-old graduate of NC State University. I then asked Wilder who or what shaped her particular outlook on voting. Her response was, “Family, my grandmother’s husband was a freedom rider and he told us stories of what he endured during the civil rights movement. I know what it took for us to have this opportunity.”
So, what exactly is at stake in this upcoming election?
Lives, democracy, and the overall well-being and safety of blacks in America. The President’s encouragement of the recent social unrest that this country undergone coupled with his fatal negligence regarding COVID should be reason enough to
inspire you to do your part in effecting change.
But on a micro-level, if one was to feel as though voting in a new Commander In Chief has no tangible effect on his or her own life, the ballot on November 3rd will hold local implications as well. This is an unprecedented time to pressure the powers that be into seeing us as more than a voting body. We must demand a better future for our children by voting in Superintendents, push for reform by voting in Attorney Generals, and vote in the State senators or any other elected official that directly affect your life.
I also interviewed Jordy Etafe (Elon University graduate)—a twenty-three-year-old Belgian citizen who also holds U.S. residency- about his overall feelings regarding voting, to which he replied, “I think that voting is one of the biggest privileges that we get as a people. Understanding this is absolutely necessary to understand how to use this privilege to affect real change in our communities.
As a young black man, it is my responsibility to help other Black folks become more literate about their power and about the importance of local elections as they affect our daily lives even more than the federal elections. I truly believe that voting is not only a privilege, but it is also a duty and as such, it should be required as it is in my native Belgium.”
With November 3 inching closer each day it is imperative that we all not only register to vote but encourage those who are not already registered to do so. Cast your vote early, if possible. It is also important that we do our due diligence, informing ourselves among others on the importance of fulfilling this particular civic duty and the persisting voter suppression tactics that may accompany it.
Lastly, the most important thing that we can do come Election Day is simply, vote.