Dane County blues: On Wisconsin voting and white liberalism

November 09, 2016 @ 7:01 pm
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Well, fuck.

Madison is racist

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The voters black people should really fear from this election.

I’ve spent more than 12 hours with the knowledge that our country elected precisely who it deserve. I've spent more 36 hours diluting my life with a silent distraction that’s doing everything in its power to immobilize my thoughts, my work, my way of being. I’ve scrolled, listened to music, walked between the blocks of a neighborhood in Minneapolis I’m still new to; none of the above shook the feeling of impending doom that’s resonating with my family, many of my peers, and every corner of discourse I peer into. If apathy was the baseline, disappointment becomes the default.

I’m disappointed by the levels to all of this mess: how Hillary Clinton’s whiteness couldn’t save her from her womanhood, how our neighbors mobilized and moved for Donald Trump in a familiar silence, how the stakes elevated overnight like a terror threat level on the television when I was in middle school. I’m disappointed that this felt as normal as the Super Bowl with a hangover we didn’t expect. I’m disappointed that my sister will go through high school under the regime of a maniacal nectarine, the same way Dubya left children like me behind and read a book to children while levees burst in the background. I’m disappointed in the nearly one in ten Black bodies who got got good enough by the prospect of white-like power to cast a ballot for a weapons-grade source of vitamin C. I’m so disappointed that I can’t just watch Empire tonight without dedicating a space in my brain for the new demagogue-elect.

The worst disappointment of last night comes when I look in my pocket at my Wisconsin Voter ID. I stare at how unkempt my hair was the day I got it so I could vote for Bernie. In the ID photo, I wear a pissed smirk at the two-hour privilege of my middle-class unemployed freelancer day to post on socials for a ride, get from the Southside to the Hilldale to surrender my Maryland driver’s permit for a Wisconsin ID, and back near the South Transfer Point to cast that vote. If I didn’t have the open day this past spring, I could’ve been one of the 300,000 registered voters who were turned away from voting, the very people who could’ve swung the entire state blue and shook us from our tangerine nightmare. I’m disappointed in our Supreme Court for not hearing the appeal and I’m disappointed because I registered on my phone in Minnesota, meaning I never had to present ID: with my SSN and voter oath, I was done within a half-hour this past Friday.

However, my disappointment lies not in those who’ve made sure to go red. I’ve spent two decades acclimating myself to how the white folks who let this happen formed our cities and nation-states by wallowing in a plethora of lies, repeating them ceaselessly until they became the truth.

I truly honed these skills in my five years in Madison. I learned to trust the liberal facades of my white peers the way I learned to trust an officer not to take my life. Hillary pulled a decisive victory in Dane County last night, tripling Trump in the popular vote. Hillary won the popular vote nationwide last night. If my age group were the only one that could vote, it would’ve been a landslide for Hillary. But cast no disappointment upon me when I say I still don't entirely trust my white peers who vote the blue in the booth, but play the fool for the rest of us. This means all those progressive on paper, yet pompous in practice, touting the freedom and justice they ride for like trinkets redeemable for the sins of pigments past and present. I mean the white folks who love the ideas of Blackness, brownness, queerness, any otherness (let our society say so) until it dares to clutch their precious little America by the throat and bite ‘til every necessary drop will fall.

The first time a white boy called me a goddamn nigger, an Obama debate was on in the background for his second term. I’ve mentioned this boy before, but there’s something to remember about the way he placed his words on me. Quick as he was to call me a goddamn nigger—while other white boys around me were watched, with no sense of how to intervene—this particular white boy made sure to remind me of how white voters like him were the reason the Black man got to sit in that seat. Watching Dane and Milwaukee Counties go blue, as almost everywhere else in Wisconsin went red, gave me a clarity I now choke on when I think of that boy. He resembles so many of the default white liberals I encountered in Madison and continue to meet with a state away.

They’re in the basement sipping cheap beer, at the Union with their textbooks, at the sold-out show with the Black men on stage. When fear becomes operative currency, the price of many white liberals remains lower than many would care to admit. Even in the impending ramifications of a Trump America, many white liberals maintain a relative safety from the danger, regardless of whom they voted for, by simply remaining white. Upon reminder, they’ll wallow in a convenient cowardice by taking offense to what should be the obvious, that this reality takes more than a vote to undo. They’re on the same plane as self-identified feminist men who devote no time to unlearning their patriarchy, white feminist women who still took Trump, queer folks who imitate Black women, and people of color who engage their own oppressions while stacking their prejudices over the efforts Black and brown bodies dedicated to our social discourse around struggles for civil rights.

I don’t fear the white folks who lend themselves as accomplices—committing themselves to truly dismantling themselves—but I keep my distance from the white liberals who can’t deprogram themselves from seeing me as the nigger in their lives. It's a survival method I cannot afford to compromise. The buck doesn’t stop at a fit pic and a Kanye playlist. If our white liberal accomplices dilute their commitments to struggles with marginalized folks by upholding the supremacy they hold dear, they’re as frightening as the whites with the guns in the red states.

As you can tell, I'm scatterbrained and distracted. My programming told me to cope with a meme, my Black president told me to work together, and the homies told me to get back to work. The last of the three is the only thing certain to me. Donald will remain donald. I’ll put no prefix on evil because his America will never be mine. Not even 60 days out of Wisconsin, and I can’t shake the idea that I escaped something waiting to kill me.

I love y'all. Y'all already know who I’m talking to, we’ve said all this before.

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last updated: November 09, 2016 @ 7:01 pm

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (rap name CRASHprez) is a 22-year-old hip-hop artist, journalist, facilitator, and curator from a suburb of Black folks called Fort Washington, MD. He spent his four undergrad years in Wisconsin—through the First Wave scholarship—searching for the perfect chicken spot and learning to turn shit up on the page and on the stage.

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