“Vote Blue No Matter Who” and the Generational Divide of the Black Vote

My first lesson on the cultural norms of the two-party political system came when I was 12-years-old. The year was 1992 and Bill Clinton had just been elected president. My mother was excited about the prospect of watching a “lively” inauguration ball on television because as she put it, Democrats were not as stiff as Republicans. It should also be noted that during his campaign run, Clinton made an appearance playing the saxophone on “The Arsenio Hall” show and would later on being culturally revered as “the first Black president,” mainly because of his affinity for Black culture.

History would later inform us that while we were “loving on” Bill, he was introducing a bill of a different kind that would dramatically impact us for generations to come. The bill caused a disproportionate spike in mass incarceration, impacting thousands of primarily Black households. But what my mother saw at the time was Clinton’s “cool factor” and I suppose “down home” relatability. As a woman who turned 40-years-old the year of Clinton’s election and a girl who was a teenager in rural south Louisiana during the tumultuous 60s era of the Civil Rights movement, she like many other middle age Black folks in 1992, likely viewed Clinton as a lighthouse of progress in juxtaposition to the administration of George H.W. Bush.

To Black folks in the early 90s, Bill Clinton was hot water cornbread, collard greens and a bus stop line dance in presidential form. As a culture, we were decades removed from the ideological shift in party positions, courtesy of Franklin D. Roosevelt, therefore the understood cultural agreement was that we should always vote Democrat, no matter their agenda because we didn’t need no stiff neck Republican in the White House furthering our marginalization and subjecting us to boring ass inauguration balls. Because I was 12-years-old at the time of Clinton’s first term, I just assumed my parents had the right idea but was less concerned about their political leanings and more about the drama of WWF wrestling and what would happen on the next episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

By the time I was a sophomore in college, George W. Bush and Al Gore were in a contested race for the presidency. In what is still one of the most controversial finishes in U.S. presidential election history, Bush emerged as the winner. Because I was not necessarily a politically astute young man in college, I was generally disappointed that Gore lost because he was a Democrat. I knew my elders talked about the abysmal policies of H.W. Bush in reference to Black people and just assumed GW Bush would be an extension of that legacy. What was lost on me was that Al Gore, by tradition, was running as a relatively moderate Democrat. There were no sweeping plans for radical change in his agenda so much as there was a plan of policy continuation he helped develop as Clinton’s vice president.

We know that years after George W. ravaged much of the economy and left a population of us to drown in floodwaters, Barack Obama came along to make history as the first guy that looked like us to occupy the Oval Office. My mother, who had passed away seven years prior to Obama’s election, likely would have greatly anticipated a soulful and spirited inauguration ceremony and she would not have been disappointed. At the time the ideology of vote blue no matter who had gained the culture its ultimate prize. An Ivy League educated Black man with an Ivy League educated Black wife and well-mannered Black children had taken the reigns of the most powerful country on earth. His election was a historically iconic argument to always bet on blue.

And then, shit hit the fan. And that fanned shit came by way of Donald John Trump’s ascendance to the White House after plowing through 15 “conventional” candidates in the Republican party. His rise, as author Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote, was essentially an intense white backlash to the nation’s first Black president. For the past four years, the Democratic party has opined and strategized and theorized about how Trump got there and how to remove him. He underwent investigations, was impeached in the House, has seen record-low approval ratings and is still up for re-election. Much of the leftist response to derailing the Trump train this year is the not-so-clever rhyming phrase #VoteBlueNoMatterWho. This seems like a logical resolve for a party desperately trying to remove a highly inept commander-in-chief, but there’s one big problem with said rationale: the Democratic party, much like Blackness itself, is not monolithic. The decision of which blue is most adequate to exile Trump from office as it pertains to Black voters is divided along generational lines.

In the interest of not belaboring a point and at the risk of sounding reductive, I will categorize the present day Black voting bloc into two categories: the Civil Rights generation and the Hip hop generation. Granted, there are several nuances that fall under these huge tents of classification, but when I think of the Civil Rights generation, I think of elders who were primarily in their youth at the start of that movement. When I think of the Hip hop generation, I think torchbearers of that culture and all of its derivatives.

In theory, the political ideologies of members of these generations are not bound by age, as it is totally possible for a Civil Rights generation era voter to have a very modern ideology around voting, just like it’s possible for a Hip hop generation era voter to share the ideals of someone of the Civil Rights era. But when we are talking about the mass numbers of Black voters, we are essentially differentiating between “we shall overcome” ideology and “fight the power” ideology. This is often the distinction between votes that are cast for more moderate Democrats vs. votes cast for more progressive Democrats.

As a culture, our voting history has leaned more moderate, as there is usually a fear about the electability of a candidate who is on the fringes of radicalism, or at least our understanding of it. We have long embraced a historical rationale that suggests we vote for the white man we most likely can get elected that will do the least amount of harm to us. Barack Obama blew that rationale up in 2008 and 2012. Donald Trump came along and completely rewrote the rules of engagement in 2016. We are now at a delicate crossroad in the electoral process where one false move can be the tripwire that blows into four more years of demagogue leadership. And everyone has an opinion on what is the best path forward with regards to leadership.

Here’s what we know: Donald Trump is by no means a conventional politician, leader...or hell, human. He is not here for substantive debates or deep-tissue policy analyses, or any critical thought that extends beyond his own ego that leads him to believe he’s doing a great job. The other thing we know is that when a now all-white field of Democratic candidates’ talks about their plans to service people of color, notably Black people, they are all lobbying for the lion share of our vote that undoubtedly will be the deal breaker in this year’s general election. And many of our homes are divided with regards to who is best equipped to occupy that Dem nomination.

There are issues of rights along the lines of gender/sexual orientation that may not be of much interest to our grandmothers and there are issues of affordable healthcare that may not be a top priority for our younger, physically active cousins. It is true that Blackness is not a monolith, but it is also true that Black American oppression is applicable across age ranges. So we have to be mindful of voting for a candidate who navigates a path beyond as many systemic inequities as possible, irrespective of age demographics. As long as we are disproportionately incarcerated, experience high death rates post-childbirth, are discriminated against in the housing market, are victims of predatory lending, are educated in failing schools and are routinely subjected to mass voter suppression, we have no room to gamble on a candidacy that can only service a portion of us. Furthermore, we have no hope of advancement if we continue a cycle of voting for the “lesser evil” vote.

We do not have to #VoteBlueNoMatterWho. We have the option to get it right for our best interests and to have high expectations of the person we choose to serve us. This democracy owes Black Americans for all the times we have rescued it from itself. There’s no room to select someone who is going to one-night stand us. We need someone who cares deeply about the issues affecting the whole of us, no matter where we exist on the continuum of lived experience.