When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became an adult, I gave up childish ways. – 1 Corinthians 11:13
I didn’t vote in 2008. Actually, I never voted until 2012. And in case you were wondering, I turned 18 in December of 2000. At that juncture in my life, I was a political nihilist. My belief was that our political system in the U.S. was broken beyond repair, anyone running for office was bought-out by corporate interests, and the push to “rock the polls” was just furthering the wool to be pulled over our eyes.
During the inauguration of our first African-American president, I was in the shallows of the Chesapeake Bay watershed shooting ducks with my Dad, a family friend, our guide, and my Berretta Extrema. My wife was with her friends in Washington D.C. watching the historic moment in person. To me, the inauguration was just an exercise in futility, and the ducks were flying strong that year. “Shoot ducks, dodge crooks,” was what I said to be funny.
It wasn’t funny.
After paying close attention to Obama’s first term, and from constant urging from my wife, I decided to vote for the first time in my life and cast a ballot in the 2012 election. I wasn’t a Democrat then, and I’m still not now, but I voted for Obama without hesitation—he was the primary reason I decided to vote.
What I noticed was a President who valued the perspectives and lives of everyone within our country, and a President who was experiencing some of the same struggles black Americans just like me experienced at our jobs and in our social lives. The only difference was his racial battles were on a larger stage for all to see. I admired his grace and his restraint because I knew how frustrating and demeaning those attacks felt. I knew that I did not possess that same level of restraint.
And before you cry out to me “You lie!” keep in mind that believing in a different political ideology does not typically equate to devaluing other people—although, in our current political climate that is not entirely clear. There are topics where I disagreed with President Obama; however, no one person or one group of people were ever labeled as a “son of a bitch” or treated with anything less than dignity and respect during his administration.
President Obama was sharp, personable, relatable, polite, and empathetic. If you read his book Dreams from My Father, you saw a person who adored his white, mid-western grandparents and a person who struggled with his identity at several points in his life. I urge you to open your mind, read the book, and judge it for yourself on the merit of its contents. I find it impossible to read that book, and with good conscience, walk away thinking anything but positivity for who it appears Barack Obama is at his core.
Despite me realizing how much I genuinely admired and identified with President Obama, it was not enough to sway me to become a Democrat. I had too many hang-ups on the historical issues of the Democratic party and felt as though they played the identity politics card too hard at times—often to the detriment of African-Americans. Also, it has been pretty clear that the Democrats have largely ignored the political interests of black America once all of the votes have been tallied and their seats won or lost. But, whatever my issues were and are with the Dems, I feel increasingly stronger about the negative elements of the GOP. This is a party that currently has overt racists in several political seats (Steve King and Paul LePage), and has served as a launching pad for white supremacists like David Duke, Richard Spencer, and Arthur Jones.
In a recently released book titled Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist, author Eli Saslow partnered with Derek Roland Black to tell Black’s story of not only his departure from white supremacy, but how it operates. Black is the godson of David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Black’s father is Don Black, another former high-ranking official of the Klan and the creator of the world’s largest “white pride” website, Stormfront. Derek was dubbed as the heir to white nationalism. He organized and led conferences, crafted ways to indoctrinate children into white nationalist ideology, had a weekly call-in internet radio show where he discussed the impending white genocide, and even won a political race in a local Florida election at the age of 19. And guess what political party he ran under?
I do not believe all conservatives and Republicans are racist—seriously, I really don’t. But why do people like Derek Black (well, who Derek Black once was) consistently make the intentional decision to run as a Republican?
In Saslow’s book, Black describes the political tactics implemented by white nationalists that he helped to create. He never used racial slurs, he strayed away from shock-value arguments and violence, and he rallied around issues like immigration, masculinity, and entitlements. Once he had people’s interest with those topics, he began introducing other topics like white genocide, mass deportation, and how genetic differences between races are a reality (they’re not). Black wanted to win elections and gain momentum for the cause his family had dedicated their lives to with every waking breath. He knew the change his family and the white nationalist movement sought could only be achieved through political means.
And pre-2012 there I was sitting in a duck blind thinking my vote did not matter. But at least they were flying strong, right?
I was a fool.
I was a fool who was putting myself and others in danger, and I didn’t even realize it.
During a talk former President Barack Obama gave in September 2018, he noted indifference as one of the key issues with democracy. And again, he was right.
On November 6th, 2018, we all have a chance to send a clear message to our political leaders. Not just those who feel the same way I do, but also the people who currently feel the way Derek Black once did himself. They are motivated, and as we saw in 2016, there are enough of them to have a political impact.
If you are angry and you want to see a change in our leadership, or you just want to help erase the division we have all been watching, then it is time to put away this childish idea of political nihilism. It’s time to accept the power your one vote carries.
Because there is a whole political ideology depending on you to not show up.