During Donald Trump’s closing remarks at last week’s debate – an event noteworthy for Trump’s refusal to say he’d accept the results of the election if he loses – the Republican nominee made his case to minority voters. “Our inner cities are a disaster. You get shot walking to the store. They have no education. They have no jobs. I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos than [Hillary Clinton] can ever do in 10 lifetimes,” he said, echoing his previous “What the hell do you have to lose?” pitch to African-American voters, an important voting bloc this election.
By now, it’s clear Trump doesn’t care about black Americans, and his debate performance last Wednesday solidified that. Because if Trump truly cared about “the blacks,” as he’s called us, he would’ve vigorously walked back his comments about monitoring polling places and would not have further insinuated that the election results might be illegitimate, given our nation’s long history of voter intimidation and election violence targeted at African-Americans.
When it comes to being victimized in the name of voting, no group has suffered such savagery and indignity as the black community. This is, after all, a nation where black folks were pronounced only three-fifths of a person for the sake of proportional representation in the Electoral College for nearly a century before the 15th Amendment prohibited state and federal governments from denying citizens the right to vote based on their race or color. Basically, America’s ruling white majority was telling blacks, We won’t let you interfere with policy decisions since you don’t know what’s best for the rest of us, or yourselves.
In 1865, the Civil War ended and the 13th Amendment was passed, abolishing slavery – and the KKK was formed. During the ensuing years of the Reconstruction Era, black voters were routinely threatened, intimidated, assaulted and murdered by white paramilitary organizations and vigilante groups who believed democracy was threatened by black autonomy. Even after the 15th Amendment passed in 1870, militia groups like the White League, the Red Shirts and the Knights of the White Camelia used bloody insurgency to “protect” democracy against the black vote. Black men and women were beaten, shot and lynched for attempting to exercise their constitutional rights.
These attacks on the legitimization of the black vote eventually evolved into poll taxes and literacy tests – which, along with traditional anti-black intimidation and violence, heavily affected black voter turnout throughout the early 20th century. Law enforcement, the Klan and the White Citizens Council collaborated to prevent blacks from voting. Black activists and those who desired to vote were, still, arrested, beaten and even killed.
Even after the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, significantly increasing black voter registration, these problems didn’t go away. As Michelle Alexander notes in her brilliant book The New Jim Crow, the War on Drugs has created a caste system through mass incarceration, stripping a devastating number of African-Americans of their voting rights. As America’s incarcerated population swells to over 2.3 million people, with black people making up 40 percent of that group, despite being only 13 percent of the overall population, it’s clear America’s long, tragic history of black voter disenfranchisement is still alive today – it’s just become more covert. See also: voter ID laws and other modern efforts that disproportionately target would-be voters of color.
In this context, Trump’s comments about the election being “rigged” are terrifying – they’re a dog-whistle reference to one of the nation’s most longstanding displays of racism. Trump, a man who has condoned and promoted violence against minorities at his rallies, is once again inciting fear among aggrieved white conservatives who see President Obama as representative of everything that’s been taken from them.
Perhaps the only good news here is that Trump’s white supporters aren’t the only ones who’ve heard him loud and clear. Black America has also gotten Trump’s message – and is planning to vote accordingly.