voting-here

I’m A 34-year-old Black Man And I Voted For The First Time Yesterday

I’m A 34-year-old Black Man And I Voted For The First Time Yesterday

“Y’all telling me that I need to get out and vote, huh, why?

Ain’t nobody black running but crac-kers, so, why

I got to register? I’m thinking of better shit to do with my time”

– Andre 3000 ‘Git Up, Get Out’

It is not easy admitting that you were wrong and have a different opinion now than you did in years past. But, that is exactly what this post is about. Yesterday, I voted for the first time in my life. Me, as a 34-year old, Black, male, law school student, walked into a voting booth for the first time ever and exercised my right as a citizen of the United States of America. There were a number of reasons and beliefs I held for never voting before yesterday, however, as my experiences and understanding grew, I re-evaluated and challenged each of them before I chose to participate in this country’s election process.

My Reasons For Not Voting

My Reality Growing Up

I grew up in a single-parent household in a working-class, predominantly all-Black, neighborhood in metropolitan Atlanta. My mother always voted, but we never had serious conversations about voting. In school, I learned about the importance of voting and how people that looked like me fought for this right while being subjected to physical beatings and discrimination. I heard it, but honestly, that imagery was so far from my realm of reality and what I had to deal with on a day-to-day basis that I filed it away in my memory bank and didn’t give it much thought. It simply wasn’t high on my priority list of navigating and surviving my Black reality in America. I was more worried about:

a) how do I not get my a** beat by crooked cops?

b) if I trade jeans with my homeboy and wear it tomorrow, will everybody in class notice?

c) how many more late days will the power company give us before they come and cut our service?

Even though my Black mother did her best, I believe that Black men have to navigate their realities in a different manner than our fellow women, so I held the weight of Black male thoughts and opinions as more beneficial to helping me understand and make it through life. My Black male influences came largely from rap/hip-hop – as I’m a part of this culture, and Black men who I could easily connect and relate to by them living nearby, or frequent interactions between us. These Black men in my life were a mixed bag of voters and non-voters, but again, the voters were quiet and little to no conversations were centered around voting and its importance.

Many of the Black men I encountered subscribed to the mindset of, “A real man doesn’t ask, plead, or wait for a politician to come down from their ‘house on the hill’ and save him. A real man finds a way to ‘make it happen’ for him and his family, regardless of what crooked politician is in office.” This male bravado is something that many of us share. We look at politicians, regardless of their race, as “elitist others”. We don’t see or interact with them on a regular basis besides election time when they come out to campaign and ask for our votes, so we don’t believe they are genuine and/or truly care about us. This mistrust was so deeply embedded in me that I didn’t even vote for Barack Obama in 2008.

Most rappers don’t talk about voting and the ones that do have mixed feelings about it. I remember one of my favorite rappers of all time saying a rap lyric that has stuck with me throughout the years:

“Y’all telling me that I need to get out and vote, huh, why?

Ain’t nobody black running but crac-kers, so, why

I got to register? I’m thinking of better shit to do with my time”

– Andre 3000 ‘Git Up, Get Out’

I don’t know if Andre 3000 really believed that or if it was simply an entertaining line for the song. I also don’t know if he still feels the same way. I now acknowledge that the song came out in 1994 when Andre 3000 was the tender age of 19. Unfortunately, this was a song I heard older men in my neighborhood play when I was the impressionable age of 8 years old, so I internalized not only the lyrics but the message, “voting is a waste of time and doesn’t help Black people. Don’t even bother doing it.” As I got older, more theories about why voting was irrelevant reinforced these early beliefs. Theories such as elections are rigged, and “they” already know who “they” want to win. Learning about voter suppression and gerrymandering further reinforced these beliefs that voting was a waste of my time.

Losing My Right To Vote

At the age of 25, I was charged and convicted of a non-violent federal conspiracy and incarcerated. As a Georgia resident, I lost my right to vote by now having a felony and would have to wait until I was released from prison and completed my mandatory supervised release before this right was restored. By this time in my life, losing the right to vote was the last thing I cared about. My life felt as though I lived as an outcast on the margins of society. I was used to making money in the black market, so I never paid taxes or filed a tax return. I did not care about which president was going to give my household tax breaks or increase my taxes. I did not pay taxes. My first tax return I ever filed was at the age of 30.

When I was released from prison, losing the right to travel internationally without written permission, the right to possess a firearm and the right to receive public assistance were all far more important to me than the right to vote. From my perspective, it was inconsequential; it was for other people to fight over and get emotional about. It had no bearing on my life. For a politician to give speeches and make promises to me during campaign time that they would not be responsible for honoring was so unlike the code of how I lived my life, I could care less about the elections. And, if they somehow surprised everyone and did do what they said they were going to do, it would be years before the effect could be felt by people at the bottom like me. Delayed gratification was still not a concept I could invest my hopes and dreams in. This led to me not being invested in the outcome of elections or caring about how they affected me or my community. The result would be the same for me; I would still be a Black man who had to struggle each and every day to find success in White America. Even if there was a Black president, I could not relax; life would be the same as it always has been, a struggle.

I Am Now A Proud Voter!

Voting may not be cool when you’re young, but as an adult it is necessary. It is my right as an American citizen to have the right and to exercise my right to vote. I live in a country where all the policies that are enacted affect me. Whether I pay attention to it or not, the reality is it has a real effect on me. Whether it be national or local elections, all of these have ripple effects that shape my way of life. If you belong to a society, I believe you cannot complain and hold rebel beliefs that stop you from exercising your rights. You must have hope in society and the way it is governed. You must hope that as a collective, we as a society can make it through anything together. We must also have hope that who we elect to lead us has our best interest and safety in mind. They and their family do not live in a bubble, so their actions and experiences are not as different from yours as you may think. If you vote and your candidate loses, at least you participated in the process and fought for your beliefs. And if your candidate wins and fulfills the promises he/she made while campaigning, then it was well worth it! After re-evaluating and challenging my old beliefs about voting, I am proud to say that I am now an active voter, and I never plan on missing another opportunity to exercise my right to vote. I left the voting location yesterday feeling proud to be an American citizen participating in the election process. If you have not tried it yet, I suggest you do. The power remains with the people.

Get Involved

Become a Mentor

RED is always looking for dedicated individuals to help us guide our program participants in a meaningful way.

Become a Mentor
Join the Newsletter

Our Newsletter is a great way to learn more about RED and what is happening in Criminal Justice Reform.

Join the Newsletter
Become a Partner

If you or your organization would like to partner with RED to help increase our impact we would love to hear from you.

Become a Partner
RED_white-vector-1