Trust The Base
With liberty and justice for all.
Through the first twelve years of my public education, I repeated those words roughly 2,100 times. They are, of course, the final six words of the Pledge of Allegiance, a daily affirmation to our country that we, as students, were required to say. For me, I never truly thought about those words as the morning pledge was simply one part of the routine that became my daily school day. For students like myself, the pledge represented the start of the day and nothing more. It was a habit that none of us thought too much about during our formative years.
Flash forward to 2019. I think about those words a lot, more so than I ever did as a student. Part of it was my awakening as a public school teacher when for the first time, I was asked to lead the pledge for my own students. Being on the other side of the pledge makes you take a critical look at the words you are asking your students to recite. Were my low-income students of color truly experiencing liberty and justice? What about the resources they were being denied? What about the constant test prep we forced them to do? What about the lack of transportation our school had so students couldn’t stay for after-school tutoring? What about the textbooks that were 2-3 grades beyond their reading level that the district forced them to use to save money? After my first two years as a public school teacher, I began to see that the words behind the Pledge of Allegiance rang hollow and meant nothing to low-income students of color. For the first time, I began to question the idea of American exceptionalism.
Over the past decade I have come to see the truth: in the United States we have liberty and justice for some. More specifically, we have liberty and justice for those who can afford it, meaning primarily White, straight middle and upper-class families. Being White is alright in so many of life’s circumstances from education to housing to job opportunities to health care to transportation to retirement. You are set up for success simply by winning the lottery of life as a straight, White male. You see the world through a lens that makes you entitled to succeed. And why shouldn’t you see the world this way? You’ve never been denied housing because of your skin color. You’ve never been unable to afford to pay for an AP or SAT exam. You’ve never been denied a job because your name was Shanita instead of Sheryl. You’ve never been fired from your job because of who you love. You’ve never been passed over by a taxi driver for someone down the block. No matter how bad a job you may have done, you’ve not only kept you job but in many instances you’ve actually been able to fail up simply because of your gender, complexion, and sexual orientation.
And these are just the visible ways in which a person’s Whiteness has put them in positions to succeed. Think now of a person of color. Think how they have to act growing up in crowded, often unsanitary living conditions. How they have to know exactly which streets to avoid at at what times to avoid them. How they have to treat police officers with an almost god-like reverence to avoid a potentially fatal encounter. How they attend schools but see those who are supposed to be teaching them life lessons as outsiders, unable to connect to their lived experiences. Think how a person of color has to act in a job interview, dropping his or her accent or dialect to sound “professional” for the interviewer. Think how a person of color has to live his or her life fighting stereotypes that White people will never face: lazy, stupid, criminal. Think about how all that would affect you on a daily basis.
Because of all this, people of color are the best judge of today’s politicians. Their lived experiences have put them in constant contact with White people, some of whom have been genuine and some of whom have been fake and insincere. People of color are keenly aware of when they are being pandered too. When a White person sees them are a token friend of color, they are offended and rightfully so. People of color know when someone is trying to take advantage of them. It’s in their DNA. A person of color in America today knows when he or she is being used for political gain. Yes, there are some who willingly allow themselves to be taken advantage of but by and large, the overwhelming majority of people of color see through these ruses. They know exactly what someone’s intentions are and often know those intentions better than the person themselves.
The 2020 election will come down to what kind of future we want for our country. The republic as we know is fractured, but not fully broken. What 2016 has taught us is that we have 1/3 of the country who is perfectly content with White supremacy, a number that has always been there but has now become emboldened to say it publicly for the very first time. When people of color say their lives are at stake, their lives are actually at stake. Over 3,000 people of color are dead in Puerto Rico. Children remain in cages. People of color continue to be shot by White police officers who fail to receive repercussions for their actions. Access to safe, affordable health care which primarily benefits women of color is being threatened. Trans men and women are being denied an opportunity to serve their country. Tribal lands are being stripped and sold off to the highest bidder. And the act of voting, seen as the great equalizer throughout our country’s history for marginalized groups, is being stripped down and eroded by a Republican Party that wants to pick its voters rather than have the voters pick their leaders.
People of color know what’s on the line now. They knew what was on the line in 2016 when 94% of women of color voted for Hillary Clinton. Despite the fact that candidates of color, especially women, will never have equal media access that should not discourage us from hearing their views. At the end of the day, people of color will be the ones who end up electing the 2020 Democratic candidate for president. They are the only ones who saw through the great conman of 2016 and they are the only ones who aren’t buying what the media is already selling in 2019. They know who is genuine and who is pandering. They know who is actually fighting for them rather than mouthing the words. They know, once again, that the future of our republic rests at the ballot box and America absolutely cannot get this wrong a second time. If we do, that idea of liberty and justice for some has the potential to become liberty and justice for none by 2024.
So pick your favorite candidate in 2019. Get to know more about him or her. Vote for him or her in your state’s primary. But at the end of the day, pay attention to states like South Carolina where people of color make up the majority of Democratic voters. See who connects with them. See who is connecting with the state’s church and political leaders of color. When articles come out about fundraising numbers, see which candidate is connecting best with donors of color. This should give you a clear indication as to who is connecting with the base of the Democratic Party. At the end of the day it is the Democratic base of people of color who will see through all the smoke and mirrors and who will help elect the person they see as the most qualified candidate to take on Donald Trump in 2020.
And we would be absolutely foolish not to listen to them.
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