“A sure way for one to lift himself up is by helping to lift someone else.”
– Booker T. Washington (educator/social reformer/writer)
To vote or not to vote, that is the question. So many are torn over the issue. Comments range from “I don’t do politics,” to “I can’t wait to vote” to “there’s no point, we’ll never have a black president anyway.”
Washington was talking about the third of the seven principles of Kwanzaa – Ujima, which is Swahili for collective work and responsibility. Washington believed black people should use the system to their advantage and work together.
Playwright Lorraine Hansberry said, “The foremost enemy of the Negro intelligentsia has been isolation.”
For black people, the biggest war is not against racist ideals and prejudice practices, but it is a war of the mind. America’s creeds of capitalism have conditioned blacks to try to make it alone.
The odds are that much more against him or her if a lone soldier is going up against thousands of troops. Power in numbers is one of the most potent weapons.
This power can be exercised across the board, even in the voting booths. There is a prevalent belief that the ballot carries no weight and in a sense, that is accurate. With the electoral college, individual votes are not tallied up and counted as a democracy implies and as citizens are trained to believe.
Yet, is inaction the answer? Can the complaints of an unfair system solidify into the means to destroy it? Not quite.
“I don’t do politics” is a political statement in itself. The system will be there whether you close your eyes or not. There is no separation between politics and the people. This misconception that simply not participating in the political system means exemption from it has plagued the black community for some time.
On the flip side, can a system set up in contrast to African principles ever be used to help black people? That’s also unlikely.
The catch 22 is apparent and for many, discouraging, but from a time when black people were denied civil liberties, the right to vote is often taken for granted.
However, the right to vote was not the battle. As Hansberry said, black people were fighting to come together. Black people were fighting to become one against the powers that sought to divide them.
Today, it seems that the fight has been forgotten. Black people are content to wander the wayward streets too proud to ask for help.
It’s never been about the vote. It’s about the people. Whether we choose to try to go within the system or charge it from the outside, it’s a mission that we must do as one unit or we will fail.
Russell Nichols is a junior magazine production student from Richmond, Calif. He is the deputy lifestyles editor. Contact him at email@example.com