Opinion: Black men, please show up at the polls — for every election

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Credit: JOHN SPINK / AJC

Get Out The Vote: Today, the importance of the Black Vote

With Georgia and its elections fully in the national spotlight, voting patterns and demographics have shed some light on voters’ behavior.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has noted, for example, that 265,000 fewer Black men than Black women were listed on Georgia voter rolls in August.

And The Washington Post reported that one-third of the 1.2 million Black men registered in Georgia hadn’t voted in the past several elections.

That situation is showing signs of improvement. Early voting that began last month saw a 52% rise in voting by Black men, compared to 2018.

These numbers should remind us all – particularly Black men – of the importance of upholding your civic duty by casting your ballot.

The 2016 elections were almost at hand when my wife casually asked one of our son’s visiting friends who he planned to choose at the polls.

His response stunned us: He wasn’t going to vote “because there was no real difference between the candidates anyway.”

Then came the fireworks.

During the next few hours in our living room, this young Black man likely came to regret ever voicing his decision as my wife and I took turns alternately excoriating and attempting to passionately school him on what should have been his near-sacred obligation to vote.

We hammered on time-honored points – voting was an obligation to himself, family, ancestors, community, nation – and, importantly, to those who looked like him.

Credit: TYSON HORNE /TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

Credit: TYSON HORNE /TYSON.HORNE@AJC.COM

The big message: History demands our full participation in democracy’s most powerful citizen ritual.

Support who and what you think best -- but vote!

As I fumed at his uninformed rejection of one of American citizenship’s keystone rights, I silently hoped his sentiments were not widespread.

It seems they are. That’s not surprising, given the murky flood of toxicity that’s inundating this nation’s civic landscape.

One group of voters adversely affected by this civic malaise is Black men. Statistics suggest we have not been engaged in the political process of late in the numbers that we should.

Why focus here on Black men?

For starters, I am one. So is my son.

Anticipating the likely question, too, shouldn’t all eligible people of any color vote regularly? Yes, they should.

Yet, despite assertions by many that we’re now fully a colorblind society, life continues to remind me that this yet remains an idealistic goal and not an omnipresent reality -- when you look like me.

It distresses me that Black men are not as involved as we should be where civics meets politics. That’s bad for us, our communities – and America.

Why?

Well, as the snarky saying goes, “If you aren’t at the table, then you’re likely on the menu.” And that’s no place to exist, let alone work from toward progress.

Black women outnumber Black men by some 265,000 names on Georgia’s voter rolls. Black men comprised 28% of the state’s male voters as of last August; Black women were 31% of female voters.

Yes, reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows Black men have substantially increased their turnout in this year’s early voting as compared to prior years. That’s great.

Still, I believe there’s room for even greater engagement with the ballot screen this month.

To re-frame a statement by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I’ll offer that apathy is the voice of the unheard.

I and others believe some Black men are shunning a current way of politics that is not speaking to needs.

Many don’t see themselves authentically represented nearly enough in political policy platforms. The true breadth and diversity of our experience is not being captured or reflected.

Who is speaking comprehensively and cohesively to our needs – from grocery-basket economic issues to live-or-die matters like public safety?

Silence and benign neglect is too often the answer.

We should not be that hard a demographic to accurately decode and speak to.

Black men, like any other group, worry about finding and keeping good jobs that let them sustain ourselves and our families. That’s no easy task in an uncertain world of inflation, global economic gyrations and job perks that are often less than our parents enjoyed.

Like everyone else, Black men are nervous and dismayed now.

Despite what our detractors think, Black men do care deeply about public safety and rampant crime that often hits hardest the neighborhoods we call home.

We know victims of violence. Too often, they are us. We realize that we’re just as dead whether killed in a carjacking, by an overzealous, scared cop or a delusional, evil vigilante.

Those who think we sit on our hands while our communities implode in criminal disorder don’t know us.

They don’t see the money and hours Black men and Black women contribute to organizations and houses of worship that run programs for at-risk youth working fervently to try and redirect troubled lives. They don’t see the efforts that members of our fraternities, sororities and other groups tirelessly pursue to uplift those in need. My intown church regularly donates truckloads of food to needy families – of all colors and creeds.

Our lives are as complex and sophisticated as anyone else’s. Our politics should be too. That can only happen when we are engaged and show up fully at the polls.

There are reasons why we likely aren’t at tables where we should be.

Black people, especially men, are often judged both from the bottom-up and the top-down.

Overlooked and unheard are often those in the middle layers of this societal cake. Many Black men don’t have college degrees nailed on a wall, but do work important jobs that help make America run. We should recall this lesson from the worst days of the COVID pandemic and our reliance on “essential” workers.

In addition to white-collar pursuits, Black men labor in factories, drive trucks and MARTA trains, own businesses of all sizes, police our streets, guard our jails and do everything else between.

Yet too often we are nearly invisible, especially that great middle – at least when positive contributions are being measured. Or policy needs addressed.

Given all that, the apathy suggested in Black male voter engagement numbers is as understandable as it should be unacceptable.

Changing that is largely up to us Black men.

We must do better. We’ve long made down payments on better outcomes that should be closer than they now are. We’ve served and died in uniform for centuries to earn the right to high expectations.

Black men (and Black women and even Black children) have hauled our share – and more – of the national load that’s made America what it is since its founding.

This in spite of a history so brutal and repressive at times that there’s a backlash now against teaching it fully in public schools, including here in Georgia. This reaction makes me glad that I was reared in a segregated neighborhood and attended all-Black schools K-12. My teachers taught history in its full breadth, including relaying their own personal experiences.

One of the stalwarts of my childhood church’s youth department put on her Sunday best to march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., during the 1960s civil rights movement.

She understood the importance of being an informed – and active – voter too. She never doubted the exceptional potential of this nation either.

In that sense, she was like Henry Highland Garnet, the famed abolitionist who was born a slave. He was the first Black American to address the U.S. House of Representatives. Garnet made things plain in 1848, writing, “America is my home, my country, and I have no other. I love whatever good there may be in her institutions. I hate her sins.” “I love my country’s flag, and I hope that soon it will be cleansed of its stains, and be hailed by all nations as the emblem of freedom and independence.”

I and millions of others await the full arrival of that great day.

Voting will help bring it into being.

Andre Jackson is opinion editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Explore

VOTING IN GEORGIA

Where and when can I vote on Election Day?

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. You can find your polling place on the Georgia secretary of state’s website: mvp.sos.ga.gov

Can I vote early?

Early voting is available in every county in Georgia through Friday, Nov. 4. Check the secretary of state’s website for locations.

Do I need ID?

Georgia law requires photo identification when voting, either in person or absentee. It’s the way your county ensures it’s you casting your ballot and not someone who isn’t eligible to vote.

What IDs are acceptable?

  • Any valid state or federal government-issued photo ID, including a free ID card issued by your county registrar’s office or the Georgia Department of Driver Services.
  • A Georgia driver’s license, even if expired
  • Student ID from a Georgia public college or university
  • Valid employee photo ID from any branch, department, agency, or entity of the U.S. government, Georgia or any county, municipality, board, authority or other entity of this state
  • Valid U.S. passport ID
  • Valid U.S. military photo ID containing a photograph of the voter
  • Valid tribal photo ID containing a photograph of the voter

What if I don’t bring an ID to vote?

If you are unable to provide ID, you will be able to vote a provisional ballot. You will need to provide a copy of your ID within three days after the election to your county Board of Elections and Registration. As long as you do so, your provisional ballot will be counted, as long as you are otherwise eligible to vote.

How can I check the status of my ballot?

That information is on the Georgia secretary of state’s website.

Source: Georgia secretary of state,

OUR VOTER GUIDE

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta Civic Circle teamed up to contact hundreds of candidates to provide voters with a side-by-side look at the candidates for office, their views on issues voters care about most, their party affiliation and their history in elective politics.

On ajc.com, our Georgia Decides voter guide includes basic information on candidates for statewide office, the legislature and candidates for local office throughout metro Atlanta. These include county officials such as county commissioners and school board members.

ABOUT THIS SERIES

Over the next seven days, we’re dedicating this space to a collection of pieces that remind you that, yes, your vote does count, and, yes, our elections are secure.

That means the Atlanta Forward pages will look a little different.

You’ll notice that we are not publishing letters to the editor this week. We’re giving our national columnists, such as George Will and Leonard Pitts, a break. And Mike Luckovich and our From the Right cartoonists will return in a week.

Throughout the week, our hope is to engage in a civil and non-partisan discussion. We’ll experiment with different ways of presenting information. Along the way, you’ll hear a lot from your neighbors about the importance of voting.

To help you cast your ballot, you’ll also notice that we will be providing plenty of useful information, such as how to find your polling place and what you need to bring to the polls to do your part to uphold our Democracy.——