D is for “Democracy”

Make it Plain is exploring Black Radicalism with Kehinde Andrews exploring a new letter each day. All of these are sourced from Back to Black: Retelling Black Radicalism for the 21st Century, proceeds of which go to the Harambee Organisation of Black Unity There are some limited suggested resources below but please send in suggestions for more, these are just a few to start with

One person, one vote. Equal representation before the law. One of the civil rights movements primary goals has always been for us to have access to the decision makers through the vote. Being locked out from voting systems mean that politicians have been free to openly discriminate whether it be in the segregated US South, apartheid South Africa or as colonial subjects in the various colonies. We have therefore struggled and won voting rights, even creating apparently independent nations with our own governments. We have won the battle for access to democracy even in the US, a nation moulded from racism, where Black people are an electoral force; there are a whole host of Black politicians and even a Black president that was unimaginable for many. But one of the greatest successes of the civil rights movements has shown the politics ultimate weakness. We made a mountaintop out a molehill but unfortunately after reaching its summit we are still blinded to the scale of the task in front of us.    

At the time almost seventy percent of African Americans viewed Obama’s election as the ‘fulfilment of Martin Luther King’s dream’, although under eight years of his presidency almost every indicator of racial progress went backwards. The African National Congress in South Africa has completely failed to deliver on the promise of freedom for a quarter of a century, yet they still have an overwhelming majority in parliament. In the UK we are so starved for electoral representation that some of us genuinely believe that getting Black Conservatives elected is a good idea. We are so desperate hold onto the dream of progress through the ballot box because it is more comforting than the reality. The problem was never that we didn’t have access to the system, the issue has always been the system itself. Your vote will never deliver you your freedom. No amount of Black faces in high places, or Black men in White Houses can make the system work for us.   

But we continue to be offered democracy as a magic potion for the ills of the world. Poverty in Africa cannot be solved by so called ‘good governance’. Whilst the rampant corruption by elites is not helpful it is not the root cause of state failure. As many an underdeveloped nation has discovered, when your resources are being plundered by foreign corporations and governments the fact you can vote for your relatively powerless national representatives can only provide a psychological comfort blanket. Those corrupt politicians individually draining wealth are just taking their cut from the system that encourages them to enable the looting of Africa by the rest of the world.

Democracy is a mirage, a trick, a placebo. Something that makes you feel that we are making progress when we are stuck squarely in the same place. It’s time to wake up from the dreams of democracy to face the nightmare of racism head on. After all as Malcolm explained ‘we have experienced no democracy, we have been victims of hypocrisy’.

Resources: 

Derrick Bell Faces at the Bottom of the Well

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation

Malcolm X The Ballot or the Bullet

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