White America likes to forget Black people are here, and have been here since the founding. Last night Democratic candidate Doug Jones, best known for prosecuting the KKK members responsible for the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing, won secessionist Jeff Session’s old Senate seat over Republican Roy Moore, a child molestor who said America was last great during slavery. White Alabamians voted for the child molester who wanted to bring back slavery. Black Alabamians voted for the former prosecutor who didn’t.
There are over a million Black citizens of Alabama, something most portrayals of that state completely obscures. Despite immense voter suppression efforts, they turned out in force to vote and demand better for themselves, and in the process save us from ourselves. Black voter turnout was higher in Alabama for this special election than the 2008 presidential election, when Barack Obama the first Black presidential candidate was up for a vote.
I’m from the South, so I know most depictions are inaccurate. Hollywood writers don’t know the difference between a redneck, a hick, and a good ol’ boy, and they think “Southern” is a single accent. They also think only the historical South had any Black folks – during slavery or Jim Crow. A lot of that is the same white obsession with Black subservience: white folks out West might think the Confederacy was tacky, but they sure do love casting Black people as slaves and maids. White America forgets Black America, or it gets nostalgic for the antebellum.
New York and Chicago writers visiting the South on assignment for newspapers and magazines to write about the hopes and heartaches, racism and regrets of white Trump voters rarely mention the Black populations in these impoverished towns; if they do it’s often in passing, as a statistic. Even neo Nazis (from Seattle) get in depth profiles in the New York Times which humanize and individualize them far more than press on Black Americans, from any region. What they get is pitying poverty porn, compassion-less condemnation, or simply nothing at all.
The Midwest is not a land of only white corn and pig farmers; Ferguson and St. Louis are there. It’s the most segregated part of the country, with the most police shootings resulting in fatalities. There are Black people in the Midwest and there have been. It’s just unrecognized by white America, which thinks of that region like a John Deere ad. I think Black America is surprised Doug Jones won last night because they know voter suppression, and they know how many extra voters it takes to overcome that corruption. But I think white America is shocked because the ones from out the South didn’t know there still were or ever were a million Black Alabamians.
We need to not forget, and hold other white folks in our circles accountable not to forget. Not just this vote, or last November’s vote. Not all the good things we get from Black people, I fear that plays right into every wrong dynamic. We need to remember that Black people are America, to retrain our minds to include Black people in our mental concept of “everyday Americans”, to look around the rooms we’re in and ask ourselves ” Why aren’t there any Black people here? How is this exclusive or uninviting or inaccessible, and what can we do to change?” Black Alabama just gave the entire United States a viable, incredibly narrow potential path to flipping the Senate in 2018. That would not have been possible without them. The ramifications of last night’s vote may have altered the course of history for the better. Let’s show some gratitude and common decency.