Politics and white Privilege: Reflections on Why I Voted for Obama

Several months ago I came to the conclusion that I would never vote again, and decided it was some kind of meaningful decision aligned perfectly with my radical politics. I thought I would ignore the Presidential election entirely, assuming this would allow me to exist outside the US system of government. If this sounds similar to the white fantasy that we can exist outside the system of white privilege when we “think differently,” that’s because it’s almost identical. I am implicated in both systems whether I am a willing or unwilling participant, aware or unaware, and I don’t know of any cancer patients that became immune to the disease simply by ignoring it. As I’ve watched this election cycle unfold (by far one of the most appalling examples of wasted money that “modern” humans have ever known), I have reflected on what it says about my white privilege to even assume the freedom I have to abstain from voting is a “moral” freedom and to assume this decision is a “radical” one.

Full disclosure from the very beginning: I agree with several highly respected friends of color that voting is a colonial franchise. It reinforces the structural power of a neocolonial system (the US government), the foundation for which was formal European colonialism. It’s a uniquely white privilege to reflect on US national heritage with pride and nostalgia, and the “pioneering” ideas behind the creation of the US nation-state that never applied to Indigenous and ethnic “others.” I agree that voting is essentially an act of supporting this history and its influence on the contemporary moment. As per usual with a white person, however, my political position is completely different, and because of my privilege the stakes are not as high for me in any given election.

What’s the worst thing that’s going to happen to the majority of white folks if Obama is re-elected? The wealthiest of us might have to pay higher taxes? I don’t really need to think about the few unfortunate consequences I might personally suffer if Romney is elected, which means I have the white privilege to vote for myself and satisfy my own politics.. or not. I can dislike both candidates—one significantly more so than the other—and I could’ve spent this election as a “radical conscientious objector” instead of a voter, but my white privilege is unaltered either way. So I also agree with many respected POC bloggers and writers who argue that no vote for President Obama could amount to the election of Mitt Romney, which would mean worse conditions for many POC in this country.

I have no illusions that I achieved political oneness with “democracy” today because I decided, after all, to vote for Obama. What does the idea of “democracy” really mean when states like Ohio and Florida could decide an entire election? I recently had a discussion with a white feminist about electoral politics, one in which she claimed a certain group of people should “get their shit together and vote” if they wanted certain rights in the US. Not only was she perpetuating the white liberal fantasy that anyone can completely overhaul their social problems with democratic agency, but she was also suggesting that voting is the ultimate solution to any given issue. I could be wrong, but I have to seriously doubt that anti-colonial ideas have ever been viable voting measures. Folks with white skin can simultaneously be aware that the region called the “Southwest” was stolen from Mexico and Indigenous peoples, then claim voting will somehow effectively address this situation. When has “give Mexico back to Mexican and Indigenous people” ever been on a ballot anywhere in the US?

A revolution is not going to happen in the US at a ballot box, and I’m not a fan of every single Obama policy—particularly not the one that effectively means voting for him amounts to voting for more deportations of Latin@ immigrants. But Romney’s ideas on immigration? “Hey, pull yourselves up by your boot straps and self-deport.” Hear ye, hear ye, the colonizer proclaims the Natives shall leave voluntarily from their own land. It’s not better that I voted for Obama, but it would have been worse had I voted for that. Not voting for the alternative gives the worst case scenario a much better chance. I don’t think Obama is the “lesser of two evils,” I think Mitt Romney is yet another financially elite, racially privileged, homophobic, patriarchal, and white supremacist politician that does not deserve to be given more power than he has already enjoyed. Simply put: Romney is worse, and, if elected, would be much worse for communities of color. He wants to dissolve Indigenous sovereignty, which is enough of a reason to vote against him, whether you’re drinking the “democracy” koolaid or not.

Although there are political struggles aimed at disrupting and deconstructing the two-party binary system that dominates US campaigns for office, I don’t know that there will ever be such a thing as a “good vote” or a “good politician” within a corrupt system. Even my vote for President Obama was not a “good vote,” it was a vote against Romney. There have been countless moment’s in Obama’s Presidency that I have imagined how different he might be if he was not forced to operate within the confines of a necolonial and white supremacist system. I think of all the moments he could not be the candidate so many voters wanted him to be in 2008 precisely because of this system. I imagine maybe there are days when he goes to work as Bill Clinton and goes home as Malcolm X. Perhaps the problem is not so much the politician, but the faith voters have in a corrupt government and the promise that this institution, if run by the “right person,” will create the social welfare and “equality” it was supposedly designed to deliver.

I might prefer abolishing the system altogether to find a different way of life, but, as long as it is still in place, I will vote against the worst and most horrifying candidates competing to control it. This is not a heroic, ethical, or revolutionary stance—it is being the lesser of two evils as a white person.

Assuming Romney does get elected, I wonder what will be said about a “post-racial America” then. Will folks say the country is still “post-racial” just because half of its population once elected a Black male? Will they reflect fondly and say, “Remember that Black President we had.. that one time?”

—DD

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