An open letter to white Democrats on Election 2020
I keep seeing y’all stressing about Trump getting elected again, wondering who of the Democratic candidates is “electable,” wondering who can beat Trump. Biden seems like the safe choice. Mayor Pete can talk to Midwest voters. Surely, we should just stick with a white guy, since the woman lost last time. “We need a moderate,” you say. “What about the Obama-Trump voters? How do we win them back?”
You might pride yourselves on being “realists.” “America is still so racist and sexist,” you say. “All that matters is beating Trump. Progressives are pulling the party too far to the left. We are going to alienate the center.” Anyone who challenges you gets interrogated: “Will you vote for the nominee? But will you vote for the nominee?”
Folks, let me tell you something. The President of the United States just told four American citizens duly elected to public office (without interference from Russia, ahem) to “go back where they came from.” Tonight, in North Carolina, the President singled out the Muslim Member of Congress to double-down on his rhetoric, and the crowd chanted, “Send her back, send her back!”
This man was elected on racism. “Make America Great Again” is white supremacist code for turning back the clock to a time when white Americans could rely on white privilege to give them advantages in education, work, and housing, while people of color “knew their place”: segregated from schools, consigned to low-wage jobs, and red-lined out of desirable neighborhoods. Immigration is his top issue, because he and his followers view non-white asylum-seekers crossing the southern border as a contagion that is infecting the “pure” US body politic. Brown migrants are not people, but an invasion, a pathogen, which justifies any cruelties against them to keep them out.
White friends and acquaintances, let me tell you what Americans of color know: we are beyond safety and half-measures. We are beyond moderation.
Trump has turned his Administration into nothing less than a line in the sand about what America stands for. On their side, America is a white, Christian, patriarchal nation, a walled city where purity must be protected from the corruption and disease of civil rights, religious diversity and atheism, and feminism. This is not about “economic insecurity.” It’s about people who traditionally have held power — white, Christian, heterosexual men — holding onto that power in a world that is becoming increasingly diverse, where marginalized people are insisting on their rights and their voices. They have proven that they will do anything — bend any law, break any norm, compromise our national security, shred the Constitution — to hold onto that power.
And then there’s the rest of us.
We are not all on the same page. The GOP has drawn such a small, tight circle to define their “us” that the crowd outside that circle is huge, and we are not all the same. Not even close. We live in different places. We have different backgrounds and experiences. We have different concerns. We have different priorities. How in the world are we going to be unified against this core of true Trump believers?
This is where I ask all of you who are NOT marginalized, who are able-bodied, straight, cisgender, middle class or higher, Christian or Christian-raised, but especially all of you who are white, to listen very carefully:
Let people of color lead.
People of color are on the front lines and targeted in the crosshairs of this Administration. People of color are and have been paying the highest price since Trump took office. People of color are the ones who suffer most directly from this Administration’s policies.
But more than that, the President has made it abundantly clear that his platform for 2020 is racism. Racism is how he won, it’s what his base wants, and it gets him the adoration he craves. Racism is his Administration, his campaign, his brand.
The only way to effectively meet racism is to be actively, explicitly anti-racist. Not “non-racist,” because no one is free of racism in a culture saturated with it. We have to oppose it.
And if we are going to be anti-racist, you need to let the experts on racism, the people who have experienced racism from early childhood to now, over decades, lead the movement against it.
This means, white folks, that we need you to step back and sit down. We need you to stop offering your confident pronouncements about who is the best candidate for the Democrats to run against Trump. We need you, in short, to talk less and listen more.
We need you to listen to people of color. We need you to seek out and read articles by people of color. We need you to support and share the voices and opinions of people of color. We need you to educate yourselves about racism, white supremacy, white fragility, and allyship, because we cannot spare the time or emotional energy to teach you. We are using it to fight for our own communities, take care of our own households, and stay alive.
I can anticipate that many people will respond to this advice with anger and defensiveness, because this is the pattern of white fragility: “Oh, I’m not allowed to have an opinion just because I’m white?”
I am not stopping anyone from having an opinion. But I am asking white people who think of themselves as good allies to people of color to NOT center yourselves. Remember that people of color constantly need to police what we say, how we dress, how we move through the world to accommodate ourselves to Whiteness. We adjust to you. It’s time to switch roles.
Since the November 2016 election, elections across the United States — in blue states and red, in rural areas and urban ones, in “elite Coasts” and “real America Heartland” — have been decided by two factors:
- the turnout of people of color, and
- voter suppression/election fraud.
High turnouts of people of color have upset what seemed like secure Republican wins (Alabama), have propelled unlikely candidates to victory or near-victory (Abrams), and have tipped close races to Democrats. (And the demographic that has made the biggest difference? African American womxn. We should give special priority to them.)
Oftentimes, in cases where Democrats lost, we have seen evidence of voter suppression and even election fraud (North Carolina).
The GOP knows beyond a doubt that voters of color vote overwhelmingly Democratic, which is why they have deliberately and sometimes overtly deployed voter suppression as a strategy to win elections.
I believe our path forward is therefore clear:
- boost turnout of people of color, and
- fight voter suppression and election fraud with every tool at our disposal.
People of color know this.
The problem is, turnout of voters of color and voter suppression are not usually high priorities for most white Americans, even white Democrats, because of course these issues rarely affect them directly. This needs to change. If you have read this far, YOU need to change this. You need to make the priorities of Americans of color YOUR priorities. This is the service your country demands of you now, at this moment in history.
To summarize, to win the 2020 election, unseat Trump, and save our nation, white Americans need to:
- follow the lead of people of color and lift up their voices, especially in choosing a Democratic candidate for President of the United States
- be pro-active about learning to be anti-racist and promoting anti-racism (see resources below)
- fight voter suppression and election fraud.
This is how we win, folks. Because we aren’t just running for the White House. We need to take a stand that the United States of America is a diverse nation committed to the Founders’ promise of liberty and justice for all. We are not and have never been a “white” nation. Native Americans have lived on this land for millennia. White colonists brought Africans to work on plantations and in their houses. Land barons imported Chinese to build the Transcontinental Railroad. Mexican vaqueros helped settle the West and created the icon of the cowboy. The United States’ efforts at colonization and foreign interference displaced Filipinos, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Laotians, and South Pacific Islanders. This is how the United States was forged.
This election will define whether our future will be one of isolationist white supremacy under an authoritarian whose ambition is clearly to silence all his critics by extra-legal measures, or one where we keep reaching for a more inclusive, diverse, democratic, and free nation. The only way we can do this is by letting the people who have been most historically excluded lead us into that future.
White folks, you can help, hinder, or stand to the side. But only one of these choices is on the right side of history.
Are you a white person who is having negative feelings about this post? Here are some resources for you:
- How to Show Up for Racial Justice, from Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ): https://surjpoliticaledsite.weebly.com/how-to-show-up.html
- On white fragility, from The Good Men Project: https://goodmenproject.com/featured-content/white-fragility-why-its-so-hard-to-talk-to-white-people-about-racism-twlm/
- 10 Common Things Well-Intentioned Allies Do That Are Actually Counterproductive, from Everyday Feminism: https://everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/counterproductive-allyship/
- 5 initial ways you can be a better ally to people of color, from Mashable: https://mashable.com/2016/01/10/ally-to-people-of-color/
- Resources from White Nonsense Roundup: https://whitenonsenseroundup.com/resources/
“But I don’t know where to find leaders of color and organizations led by people of color!”