The Material Reality of The Black Vote

As we watch former Vice President Joe Biden be crowned “the comeback kid”, attributing his unbelievable election sweep to the elusive “Black vote”, we have to question who and what that is referring to.

South Carolina became an unexpected turn of events for a primary election that seemed to be favoring Senator Bernie Sanders (despite the mess of the Iowa Caucus). The “Clyburn Effect”, named for Congressman Jim Clyburn’s seamless ability to change the outcome for Biden from dead last to prominent candidate, has once again forced mainstream media and voters to remember the “Black vote”. We must, however, be acutely aware that what we witnessed was not a “comeback”, but instead a consolidation of right-leaning and centrist moderates that is supposed to initiate a new “party unity”— rallying behind a decrepit and incoherent conservative white man with a non-existing campaign who is positioned as “most likely to beat Trump”.

Limited by who is allowed to be umbrellaed under the “Black vote” (non-immigrants), the discussions around Black voters have always been reactionary. None of the mainstream discussions happening now pull at the root of any particular issue. Discussions instead focus on the individual voter in divisive ways such as “the generational divide”. There is an existing intracommunal generational divide through conflicts around the bourgeois electoral voting split between elders (old guards), and Millenials (and Generation Z)— those weaponizing their history as a Black person in the US with language like “your ancestors died for the right to vote” (they did not) and those who dismiss and disregard those lived experiences of Black elders entirely to belittle them for their voting choices. The truth is these arguments about the “Black vote” are rooted in power— or rather, lack thereof. 

The Black voter has never had the subsequent power to implement policy. In fact, the individual Black voter has no influence on policies that are pushed by special interest groups within the political apparatus. There is a denial or blatant ignorance around the function of the Congressional Black Caucus that has blinded the collective masses of the Black working class. The ‘power’ attributed to Congressman Clyburn’s endorsement is tied to a Black misleadership machine. As Ujima People’s Progress Party has correctly analyzed,

“Maybe it’s a result of the U.S. education system where the glorification of the individual is historically more praised than the action of institutions, organizations, and groups. We have learned to criticize a POTUS as an imperialist warmonger but disassociate the entire office of the POTUS from administrating imperialism and war. 

You cannot, however, separate the deeds or misdeeds of an organization from that of its members who carry them out. Personalizing leaders does not help us understand how to value or attack their political actions.

The Black Congressional Caucus is the leading Black neo-colonial (misleadership) class force playing the role of blocker for U.S. imperialism nationally and abroad. It has been their consistent sell-out of the masses of Black, Brown and working-class people and refusal to stand in opposition of imperialist policies that have pushed our community further and further behind.”

The utter failure of the majority white Senator Bernie Sanders supporters to acknowledge that machine’s existence and how it functions, but instead punch down on the Black voting demographic most susceptible to how that machine works is nothing short of racism, anti- Blackness and pure disdain for Black people. To watch Black Sanders supporters, the alleged progressives, also punch down has been embarrassing. The bottom line is, your organizing sucks. That machine works because that machine is present. That machine attends their churches and hosts kid-friendly community events and that machine is recognizable not just during election season. Biden’s sweep of the “Black vote” is your failure, own it. 

With that said, the continued false belief in voting as a “tactic” void of acknowledging that some tactics do not work has perpetuated the intracommunal “divide” that exists in the struggle for power. The Black masses, influenced by bourgeois media and a political apparatus, deeply deprived of concrete political education, are often left overlooking the forest for the trees. In other words, “the devil you know” becomes less of a saying and more of a creed.

In the panic-driven “vote Blue no matter who”, any power the “Black vote” may have has been contained under the false dichotomy of Democrat versus Republican. There has never been a choice for a Black America characterized by distortion, self-denying censorship, and punishment of non-conformity. Choice is dependent upon the power to choose. When both parties’ histories contain monstrous assaults on Black life in the U.S, choice is merely an illusion.

Black life in the U.S has always existed within the fold of freedom and identity, systematically being denied both. Black America’s continued strive toward community, alongside preparation for and understanding that the histories of Black life in the US have been hidden and destroyed, has created a justifiable suspicion of systems and how they sustain oppression. 

Poverty is a slow death, strangling Black communities. A newfound dependency on the gig economy, a country-wide housing crisis, the ever-expanding prison industrial complex and (a pandemic on the horizon while) most remaining uninsured due to cost and countless other intentional atrocities are strangling Black America. The socio-economic conditions that create and sustain poverty within Black communities are exacerbated by the same “devils” we know and our own choices are manipulated or contorted to align with the existing status quo that makes Black life expendable. 

A common denominator in the last decades of harmful legislation that has left Black America vulnerable and without power has been Biden. Biden’s 2020 campaign clearly intends to dress his racist past as Senator and role in mass incarceration in a pretty bow, denying its impact on Black life in the U.S (despite him admitting to having made “mistakes”). “Uncle Joe ”, as he is referred to among the more foolish, has created a legacy for himself based on smoke and mirrors. This legacy is sustained through his proximity to former President Barack Obama and exploited to gain the “Black vote”, granting Biden access to what actual Black Democratic candidates couldn’t achieve, leaving him as the front runner.

Although Obama has yet to officially endorse Biden, the masses of working and petit Bourgeoisie Black People in this country, young and old, unite in love and longing for the return of Obama and by extension, his “right- hand man”, Biden. 

Through Al Green serenades, the Obama administration ushered in a mass embrace of the state under a skewed image of patriotism in Blackface and loyalty shown to a nation that has perverted the fundamental nature of what Black communities are, was or ever could be.  No longer are the Black masses collectively rejecting loaded terms such as “law and order” or suspicious of institutions like the FBI, CIA or even the Department of Defense. Black America has moved closer to seeing themselves as ‘Americans’, more devoted to the empire.

Aside from the more radical and principled Black people in the U.S, Obama’s 8-year presidency went unchallenged. The election of Trump has the Black masses clinging tighter to those 8 years. Black America, spearheaded by the Black misleadership class, has joined in agitating potential wars, praising FBI department heads like James Comey who coined the term “Black identity extremists”, cheered on the Muellar investigation under the false pretense of “Russiagate”, which exposed the extreme institutional misconduct that Black America knows so well, and has disregarded internationalism as anything sufficient.

The impact of the Obama administration through domestic policies (like the Blue Alert Law, heightened deportations and bailing out of Wall Street) and foreign policies (like crippling economic sanctions, endless droning, and military support of countless coups) has all but been ignored in favor of ‘imagery’. What Obama’s continuously high approval ratings throughout Black America have dismissed is the very real fact that the “hope” and promises of his campaign never materialized. It was never actually intended to. Why else would he choose someone with a political history like Biden’s to be his running-mate if not to put white Americans at ease that he won’t be too favorable to us Blacks? The machine (the DNC/CBC apparatus) that was oiled so well during those 8 years has now positioned Biden as not just “electable” but viable—- manipulating conversations around the “Black vote” that focuses on everything but power. 

Biden is not promising anything to Black America. There is no platform specific to the Black American agenda or the fight for reparations. He is, however, promising to “restore” America back to its decency. Decency that is unfamiliar to a Black America that has always been violently held under the systemic thumb of this nation, with deprivation of rights that predates Trump as president. What Biden is promising is “unity” that doesn’t confront racism but invites racists “into the fold” as a show of partisanship. What Biden is promising, in fact, is power— the power for white America and its lackeys to confine, exploit and manipulate the “Black vote” in their favor. 

Biden is indeed the exemplary white moderate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of, and perhaps even more dangerous because he’s using a Black man to shield that truth. Biden’s candidacy is not centered around Black people’s needs in the US, but instead a transition of power for the Democratic Party to mislead the masses and secure them well within the neoliberal imperialist party under a twisted guise of “democracy” and “choice”. 

How little the Democratic Party thinks of Black people in the U.S. How little Black people in the U.S think of the possibilities of Black power not dependent upon the bourgeois electoral process. It is important to understand, as we listen to conversations about the “never before seen comeback” of Biden, and as we watch the contradictory consolidation of democratic elites behind Biden that mass movements push political candidates, not the other way around. Black America can not accept any choice affecting our lives unless we control the terms under consideration. That IS power.  

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.