There is a meme floating around. I won’t share an image of it. Somewhere along the way, I pieced together too many followers to casually link to people’s memes and social media content. I don’t want it to seem like I’m refuting any single person so much as an idea floating out there in the ether.
The meme cites James Baldwin and/or W.E.B. DuBois on why the negro should not vote.
I respect both philosophers a great deal. I teach DuBois as the start of modern sociology. I think my respect is well-documentated.
However, there is another political philosophy about the African American vote that I find interesting. I will call it the Bash Mister’s Head Open And Think About Heaven Later philosophy.
If you don’t recognize the reference there is an excellent chance that you are not a black American of a certain age. It is from The Color Purple:
(copyright Warner Brothers)
I have tried for a long time to articulate how I understand black southern working class women’s philosophy in the U.S.
Many smart people are doing this work formally. You should read Anita Allen, Paula Giddings, Tina Botts, and Brittney Cooper to get started.
I am thinking about philosophy more like a sociologist might: philosophy of knowledge and the political economy of knowledge production. And, I am thinking about philosophy more like a black southern Gen-Xer raised in Black Panther Party politics but also in the NAACP respectability machine might think about it. That is, it is complicated.
That’s the gist of my argument about Hillary Clinton’s campaign in “False Choice: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton” A recent book review called the feminists in that volume, including me, as peripheral to mainstream feminism. I was like, you ain’t never lied but also thank you.
Being on the periphery is exactly what black women like me have always been. Our philosophy reflects that.
Bash Mister’s Head Open And Think About Heaven Later philosophy reflects the peripheral knowledge production that black women have done as they fight in their house: with Mister, with Mister’s oppressors, and with political machinations that ignore both.
In that space where our fight has been systematically and deliberately erased, it is useful to think about DuBois and Baldwin’s arguments against voting as a powerful statements of resistance. And they are. But they are not absolutely statements about how black working class (who have been historically situated in the U.S. south physically or ideologically) women have to fight in a political regime.
Miss Sophia offers a way to understood black suffragists like Ida B. Wells. Wells, who knew as much about state sanctioned white rage and violence as anyone, still organized for black women’s franchise.
Later, black women socialists wrote the philosophy of revolution but also, some of them quietly, organizing the vote.
These philosophers of action and rhetoric seemed capable of both incrementalism and revolution, something we’re told are incompatible. The result was revolution of a sort. It was revolutionary for blacks to force one of the mightiest nations in history to prosecute whites for hanging blacks, for example. And, it was also incremental in that state violence clearly continues to target black people. But to say the revolution is incomplete isn’t the same as saying revolutions don’t happen. They simply may not happen the way we dream of them.
Philosophical rhetoric is important but black women philosophers have argued and lived the truth that it is not the only thing that is important.
Here’s where I am: I try to vote the interests of poor black women and girls. I do that because, as a winner in this crap knowledge economy, the election outcome won’t much affect my life no matter who wins or loses. But poor black women and girls don’t have a lobby. So, I supported Bernie Sanders because, despite his (non)rhetoric on race, I truly believed that an anti-poverty policy would represent poor black women and girls’ political interests. Truly. I still believe that.
I don’t care if Bernie didn’t ever learn the words to Lift E’ry Voice and Sing. I thought that with a Democratic party machine behind him to hopefully elect locals and state officers plus a federal agency to legitimize an anti-poverty and jobs program, maybe we could get some long overdue economic and political investment in poor black women and girls. Now I will vote for Hillary for the same reason, even as I know that being oppressed in the U.S. still makes us all complicit in the U.S.’ global oppression of other poor people, brown people and women.
However I am crystal clear on this: my not voting or voting Trump doesn’t change global geo-politics. By definition, a “vote” can never do those things as voting is defined by nation-states and the military power to enforce their boundaries and, ergo, legitimize voting as a state project. That’s why I can’t ONLY vote but vote and donate; vote and organize; vote and philosophize a resistance. Petty feels good, god knows it does. But so do applied philosophies like Planned Parenthoods.
I want to bash mista’s head in with Planned Parenthoods for poor black women and girls now while I think about heaven (and revolution) later.