Appreciating the right to vote as an African American
On Wednesday, Feb. 5, Trump was acquitted of all the impeachment charges leveled against him. While this does not come as a shock, it certainly reflects the current value system the American government strives to uphold. Trump’s first term as president has challenged concepts of justice and equality in American society, and his impeachment acquittal is no exception. If the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to punish a man who has continuously abused his power as president, how can the American people rest knowing that the rights currently enjoyed are not at risk of being taken away? This fear is especially true for African American voters who celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the 15th Amendment on Monday, Feb 3. This anniversary is made even more significant not only by the current state of American democracy, but also by the fast-approaching general election.
As an African American, the ability to cast one’s ballot has always held a special place in my heart. Even though this will be my first year voting in the general election, I am not ignorant to countless sacrifices made by other African Americans to allow me to actively participate in this democracy. For many, the act of voting is just another thing one does as an American. You pick a candidate that aligns with your values and cast your ballot on election day. However, many never stop to realize how fortunate they are to have the opportunity to vote, and many will never have to.
For African Americans, the act of voting is inextricably linked to what it means to be an American. On one hand, the 15th Amendment finally gave Blacks the opportunities to participate in a country they have been part of since its inception in 1776. But it also reinforces the fact that this was not granted to African Americans out of the kindness of someone’s heart. Rather, it was gained through continuous struggle and sacrifice. Even after the 15th Amendment was established, African Americans continued to face difficulty when it came to voting. In the South, Jim Crow practices created physical obstacles between African Americans and the ballots. From poll taxes to literacy tests, African Americans may have gained the right to vote, but continued to be seen as less than and unworthy of the vote.
The fact that Jim Crow laws created physical barriers to stop African Americans from acting out their constitutional right proves that power in American democracy has— and continues to lie with — those who support white, patriarchal systems that actively try to inhibit the rights of minorities. It is an utter shame that the 1965 Voting Rights Act had to be established after the 15th Amendment to ensure that African Americans were enjoying the rights for which they fought. The 1965 VRA not only dismantled Jim Crow practices in the South, it also helped reflect the diversity of voices that existed in American democracy. Today, we dedicate a month to the diversity of the Black community and its many accomplishments in spite of systematic racism. While I am truly fortunate for this time of appreciation, it also reflects that American society is willing to join in on our celebrations but won’t be seen acknowledging our woes.
Case in point is the spectacle of Trump’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday, in which he acknowledged a handful of African Americans for their stories and accomplishments. But this wasn’t because Trump truly believed that these stories needed attention, but rather because he is attempting to gain the support of Black voters. Does Trump believe that just because he gave a few shout-outs to African Americans in the audience, his relationship with the Black community will suddenly be revived? Trump has a history of bigotry towards African Americans and it should not be overlooked because he now acknowledges the existence of African Americans in this country.
The praises Trump sang at his State of the Union Address were one of many tactics he has created in order to garner the support of Black voters. Trump dedicated an entire Super Bowl ad to criminal justice reform in which he showed the magnitude of his abilities as president by commuting the life sentence of Alice Jackson for her nonviolent participation in a cocaine ring. In the commercial, Jackson is seen thanking Trump for his role in reuniting her with her family. While I am pleased that Jackson was reunited with her family, Trump is only using her to build a platform for himself in the Black community. Where was Trump when Jackson was still serving her life sentence in 2016? Trump is representative of the type of Americans that use African Americans as pawns in their games, though in actuality, his opinion towards us has not changed. Trump’s impeachment acquittal has proven he is politically invincible. However, votes are what got him into office, votes are what have shaped the current climate of American democracy,and votes will be the answer to forming a society that upholds honorable, morally righteous standards.
The diversity of each vote cast is imperative to the future of America. African American politicians and leaders did not tirelessly fight for the establishment of both the 15th Amendment and the 1965 VRA so we could say our vote doesn’t matter. Minority votes matter more than ever before. The right to express our opinions through voting should not have been the product of struggle and sacrifice. So with this opportunity to shape the future of America, we have to use it before history repeats itself.