Offshoot Journal, January 7, 2020
In the U.S., when Black people suffer and die, it’s considered progress. How we produce and digest historical narratives has everything to do with it. Selective remembrances are the tools politicians, institutions, and the state use to shape how people feel about themselves. This happens to such an extent that it’s been possible to convince far too many people that they’re supposed to die for the U.S. nation. This logic isn’t exclusive to the U.S., because nationalisms employ this strategy around the world. However, the narrative of selective sacrifice deployed against Black Americans is a barrier imposed on the struggles for liberation, and must be directly challenged.
One of the best places to examine the manipulation of history for the sake of nationalism is U.S. elections. A regular line you hear directed at or from Black people is about how all of our ancestors died so that we could attain the right to vote. This simply isn’t true, not because it didn’t actually occur at times, but because it homogenizes Black politics. Patriotism is centered by overemphasizing one aspect of Black history and erasing other dissident aspects. While some Black people did believe the right to vote was important, others did not and there’s a record of their opposition.
One person who embodies the complexities and complications of this history is Lucy Parsons. The Black anarchist revolutionary was born into slavery, but she left a clear documentation on how she felt about voting. In one of her clearest condemnations of voting, Parsons wrote, “The fact is money and not votes is what rules the people. And the capitalists no longer care to buy the voters, they simply buy the ‘servants’ after they have been elected to ‘serve.’ The idea that the poor man’s vote amounts to anything is the veriest delusion. The ballot is only the paper veil that hides the tricks.” Parsons was decrying the demoralization of voting for representatives that are beholden to corporate power and hoping for incremental change on a cyclical basis.