5: Voting Against Our Best Interest

I’m fascinated by the notion brought forward by President Barack Obama, that white people vote against their best interest and elect politicians that assuage their social and economic anxiety with promises to restore “traditional ways of life.” The premise of this argument seems to be that guns, God, and nationalism somehow lighten the burden of poverty.

On poverty, Zadie Smith, in her essay “The Shadow of Ideas”, states:

“When money’s scarce life is a daily emergency, everything is freighted with potential loss, you feel even the slightest misstep will destroy you.”

In other words: fear.

Which takes me back to my study of Ta-Nehisi Coates:

“Fear ruled everything around me, and I knew, as all black people do, that this fear was connected to the Dream out there, to the unworried boys, to pie and pot roast, to the white fences and green lawns nightly beamed into our television sets.”

So we’ve established that both white and BIPOC folks experience fear and that there may be overlap in their fear’s origin. Then it seems what distinguishes the fear experienced by white folks is the way in which it is managed. The “forgotten values” promoted by conservative politicians serve as a mechanism for white people to project their fears onto black skin.

The fact that the politicians elected to exorcise white fear often live at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum of those they represent seems to be little more than inconvenience.

As Zadie Smith suggests:

“When there’s money, it’s different, even a real emergency never quite touches you, you’re always shielded from risk.”

social work. recovery. advocacy.

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