Presidential election is another example of ‘involuntary sacrifice’ of black people
Nov. 8 vote is similar to other ‘whites-first’ compromises that sacrificed well-being of blacks, Native Americans and others
Two presidential candidates, on Nov. 8, had a realistic chance at becoming the next leader of the free world. One campaigned on a domestic program of inclusion and progressive economic policies. The other offered economic nationalism liberally seasoned with an often implicit, but sometimes disturbingly explicit, call for a restoration of a whites-first racial pecking order.
We all entered the voting booths fully aware that the latter candidate pumped fear into the hearts of our fellow Americans who happened to be Asian, or Hispanic, or black, or Muslim, or who cared about any of those groups. Yet, most whites cast their lot with the latter anyway. From its inception, for this democratic experiment to progress, factions of Americans with differing interests have had to compromise and make a deal.
Compromise, inherently, begets sacrifice. I believe these sacrifices, throughout this country’s history, have caused nonwhites the most suffering. Law professor Derrick A. Bell termed this phenomenon involuntary sacrifice, meaning a sacrifice against one’s will. And when whites disproportionately voted for a candidate who frightened the overwhelming majority of nonwhites, they sacrificed us against our will. Yet again.
Bell’s science-fiction story, The Space Traders, provides perhaps the most strikingly vivid interpretation of involuntary sacrifice. Published in 1992, it begins with spaceships descending upon planet Earth carrying aliens who have a proposition for the American citizenry.
Those mammoth vessels carried within their holds treasure of which the United States was in most desperate need: gold, to bail out the almost bankrupt federal, state, and local governments; special chemicals capable of unpolluting the environment, which was becoming daily more toxic, and restoring it to the pristine state it had been before Western explorers set foot on it; and a totally safe nuclear engine and fuel, to relieve the nation’s all-but-depleted supply of fossil fuel. In return, the visitors wanted only one thing — and that was to take back to their home star all the African Americans who lived in the United States.
The jaw of every one of the welcoming officials dropped, not a word of the many speeches they had prepared suitable for the occasion. As the Americans stood in stupefied silence, the visitors’ leader emphasized that the proposed trade was for the Americans freely to accept or not, that no force would be used. Neither then nor subsequently did the leader or any other of the visitors, whom anchorpersons on that evening’s news shows immediately labeled the “Space Traders,” reveal why they wanted only black people or what plans they had for them should the United States be prepared to part with that or any other group of its citizens. The leader only reiterated to his still-dumbfounded audience that, in exchange for the treasure they had brought, they wanted to take away every American categorized as black on birth certificate or other official identification. The Space Traders said they would wait sixteen days for a response to their offer.
Whites accepted, voting overwhelmingly to send black people packing in exchange for valuable commodities. The Space Traders dramatizes how America has mistreated blacks since the first Africans landed on colonial Virginia shores in 1619. We black folk have generally not been co-equal partners in a democratic venture, but rather bargaining chips that are bartered whenever doing so enriches white lives.
This was a fictional involuntary sacrifice. History, though, reveals the phenomenon as heartbreakingly real. “In the resolution of racial issues in America,” Bell wrote in his influential Race, Racism, and American Law legal casebook, “black interests are often sacrificed so that identifiably different groups of whites may settle a dispute and establish or reestablish their relationship.” This holds true, in fact, for all nonwhite people. When Europeans invaded America, pilfered land and rained genocidal vengeance upon the aboriginal population all to erect a white civilization from sea to shining sea, Native Americans too endured involuntary sacrifice.
The drafting of the Constitution precipitated another involuntary sacrifice. The United States of America’s emergence from the smoldering rubble of the Revolutionary War was far from inevitable. A union had to be constructed. To what extent the Constitution would defend the institution of slavery proved to be a major hurdle in merging North and South. Because the South refused to enter a union unless it felt secure in its property rights of its slaves, the two sides had to compromise to craft a Constitution with which both sides could live. White politicians representing whites with differing interests, therefore, made a deal that protected slavery through various clauses in the Constitution and blacks were sacrificed.
Another instance of involuntary sacrifice occurred in the Compromise of 1877. At the beginning of congressional Reconstruction, from 1867 to 1877, the freed slaves, carpetbaggers (northerners who went to the South after the Civil War) and scalawags (southern whites who supported Reconstruction) through membership in the Republican Party controlled southern legislatures. Black men, during this era, exercised their newfound political rights, helping steer democracy at the local, state and federal levels.
Through violence and physical intimidation, however, near the end of Reconstruction, Democrats had taken back all the Southern states besides Florida, Louisiana and South Carolina. After the 1876 presidential election, doubt still remained over who would become the 19th president. Thus, the two parties compromised. The Electoral College selected Republican Rutherford B. Hayes as the president, who then formally ended Reconstruction by removing the last federal troops from the South. The North got its president, and the South received an official end to Reconstruction, which southerners derisively dubbed “Negro rule.” Whites with differing interests made a deal and blacks were sacrificed.
I think we should view the 2016 presidential election as the Racial Compromise of 2016 and another permutation of involuntary sacrifice. The winning coalition nearly totally comprised three blocs of white voters: Whites who endeavored to reclaim a lost sense of white superiority, socially conservative whites, and whites yearning to shake up a system they deemed broken by typical Washington politicians.
Nonwhites, again, were sacrificed and now gloom in a land where a Muslim woman is threatened to take off her hijab or be set on fire, where a white teacher unleashes the N-word against her black middle school students, where white teens chant “build that wall” at Hispanic teens during a high school volleyball match.
I liken this most recent involuntary sacrifice to that which occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Then, southern populist politicians weakened the dominant Democratic Party by siphoning off poor white voters and uniting them with blacks behind an economic message that they both were being exploited by white elites. Democrats recaptured working-class whites by convincing them to prize their racial interests more than their economic interests.
Americans like me, after the election, see this same pattern — that while they completed their ballots, most white Americans only considered themselves. Aliens did not offer gold and other valuable commodities, but many of us feel sold out nonetheless.