Rap star Kanye West set off Fourth of July fireworks of his own when he announced to his 29.5 million Twitter followers: “I am running for president of the United States.”
Looking at social media posts from white liberals, you’d think that Kanye’s announcement heralded a mass defection of Black voters from the Democratic Party that will usher in a second term for Donald Trump and the further collapse of America.
To those hand-wringing, I say, “Relax, white people.” Kanye hasn’t filed papers to run with the FEC, he has no campaign staff and no platform beyond a tweet.
I am a Black gay man who was raised in Texas by a grandmother who was born 46 years before the Voting Rights Act became law. She stressed the importance of voting just as she extolled the importance of going to church every Sunday. She experienced life before and after African-Americans could vote and the election of Barack Obama as our first non-white president. She passed away in 2013, three years before Trump launched his campaign with racist dog whistles louder than any candidate since Ronald Reagan popularized the slur “welfare queen.”
Black people know better than anyone else the clear and present danger Trump is to the country. That’s why in 2016, 89 percent of us voted for Hillary Clinton.
The real threat to us voting to defeat Trump is not a rapper with a history of publicity stunts. It’s the voter suppression campaigns to undermine Black political power.
In Kentucky, election officials have slashed the number of polling locations. In Jefferson County, which is the center of the state’s Black population, officials chose a single polling place for a population of 767,000 people. In Georgia, there are too few stations and antiquated equipment, meaning that voters in Black neighbourhoods have to stand in line for hours to vote.
Instead of placing the blame on Ye, here are three things that can be done to fight tactics that make it harder for people of color to vote.
Legislators must enact laws including no-excuse absentee voting by mail to make it easier for people who can’t take off work to vote, to help to alleviate the blocks-long lines at too many polling places that disincentivize voting and to reduce continuing fears of Covid-19. Some states, including Oregon and Washington, have had vote-by-mail for decades and it has been proven safe.
People must have hard conversations with disillusioned voters who are continuously told that their votes don’t matter by special interests to help them understand that “your vote is power and it’s worth the wait.” This can serve as a strong counter-narrative to the onslaught of disinformation tactics expected as Election Day gets closer.
Activists must continue to hold social media like Facebook and Twitter accountable for how their platforms are used to spread disinformation that discourages voting. Mark Zuckerberg has taken a “not it” approach to misleading ads that run on his platform. He needs to be pressured to clean up Facebook ad practices that have the effect of undermining democracy.
Kanye will be Kanye, but if we as a country are truly committed to increasing Black voter participation, we have to be honest about the real threats.