By Isabel Okinedo
It’s time to stop falling into the trap. It’s an old one, so familiar and comfortable that it feels more like a certainty than a trick. But it is a trap, nonetheless.
The notion that red states are chock-full of uneducated rednecks and hillbillies who just don’t know any better than to vote for Donald Trump is not only harmful, but incredibly untrue. People who willingly vote for a racist are, far more often than not, racists themselves. It’s true that the south is home to some of the most poorly educated states in this union, but to say that southerners who voted for Donald Trump did so because they didn’t know any better is wrong. They knew exactly what they were voting for, and they actively endorsed it. I am fully aware of and understand the nuances of many other concerns in this life, but this issue remains starkly black and white. No pun intended.
It becomes an issue of palatability: for many liberals, it’s easier to accept that half the country is just uninformed. The truth is that (more than) half of the country is racist. People voted for Donald Trump because they like him and agree with what he says and does.
It's time to call a spade a spade, not a gardening tool. Pundits around the country have too long dodged the issue of racism by using phrases such as “racially charged” and “racially motivated”, which circumvent the issue of racism by casting the shadow of hate into the corner and highlighting the action rather than the true motivation behind it.
People who live in the South and in red states are no less politically savvy than their Yankee counterparts. Those in blue states would be wise to remember that voter suppression is not just a buzzword, nor is it as cut-and-dry as poll taxes and literacy tests.
Redrawing district lines with the intention of favoring one party is not illegal. It is gerrymandering, and it runs rampant in red states. The difficulty that people face in the process of registering to vote is enough to deter them altogether, contributing to the new and improved tactics of voter suppression. The school-to-prison pipeline contributes to the mass incarceration of Black Americans and ensures that persons convicted of a felony are disenfranchised for life. Black people make up 40% of the prison population in this country and only 13% of the overall population. Add to this the deliberate closing of polling places in Black communities and the opening of polling places in white ones, and the modernization of voter suppression is made whole.
If America elected its leaders by popular vote, then at the very least, gerrymandering would be rendered useless. This leads me to believe that the United States Electoral College is presumably the most sophisticated and inconspicuous voter suppression tactic of all. The suppression inflicted by the Electoral College is especially evident when one examines the value of a single ballot in different states. The value of a vote in New York, a state that routinely votes blue, is diluted to just 1/28th of the value of a vote in Wyoming, a solidly red state. The population of New York is about 19.45 million. The population of Wyoming is around 579,000.
When Florida and Texas went red, people were disappointed. Unfortunately, this disappointment in the democratic process was very quickly translated into a tangible disdain for the south. It is condescending and ignorant for those in blue states to assume that they are superior in terms of morality and intelligence simply because they live in a blue state. This mindset discounts the hard work done by organizers fighting against all odds for liberation. In Georgia, a state whose electors have voted for the Republican candidate in every presidential election since 1996, the tide has turned. President-elect Joe Biden is on track to win Georgia and its sixteen electoral votes. This can be attributed to the work of organizations like New Georgia Project, which aims to register and civically engage the Georgia electorate, and Black Voters Matter, which is dedicated to expanding the engagement of Black voters. The point that needs to be made is one that seems rather obvious: red states aren't always really red. But the blue is often suppressed.
Lastly, I cannot comment on the superiority complex assumed by many who live in blue states without also commenting on classism. Deep within the disdain held for red states by those in blue states lies an air of superiority rooted in classism. Again, it is true that many of the more educated states in this country lie in the north. But a college education is not the sole determinant of one’s intelligence or lack thereof. Treating those in red states as if they are second-class citizens simply because they come from an area that has less educational funding is the very definition of elitism. And make no mistake, the GOP has capitalized on this phenomenon, referring to the Democratic Party as the party of coastal elites.
The reality is, many red states would be blue if it were not for voter suppression.
So, when those in blue states refer to southerners as backwards, they are not only discounting the hard work of those who push for change, but they are choosing not to acknowledge their position of privilege.