The recently released reports on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election read like a recitation of the slogans I heard from so-called woke black folks who argued that voting was a waste of time.
“Tactics and Tropes of the Internet Research Agency,” one of two reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee, identified three types of messages the Russian agency used in an effort to suppress the black vote. The first was “malicious misdirection,” which falsely told people they could vote via text message. The second was “candidate support redirection,” which urged blacks to support third-party candidates like Jill Stein. The third was “turnout depression,” which told blacks to stay home on Election Day because their votes didn’t matter.
While I witnessed a few older blacks parroting these harmful messages during the 2016 presidential campaign, the majority of those I saw embracing them were young African Americans who received the bulk of their news from social media. Sadly, the more their elders tried to correct them, the more those millennials dug in.
That struggle between truth and fiction revealed a deep and troubling schism in the black community. In essence, it showed that when social media tells them to do so, too many black millennials are willing to abandon the very rights our ancestors died to give them. The Russians who targeted black voters understood that dark and disturbing dynamic.
The only ones who didn’t seem to get it were the black folks who claim to be woke. The Russians, unfortunately, were shrewd enough to do something with their black targets that they didn’t do with other groups they wanted to influence. According to the report, they were able to mix fake social media accounts with actual posts from real black users. By doing so, they were able to use both new and old voices to tap into the existing mistrust of the system within the black community.
I wish I didn’t understand why black people would believe Russian propaganda about a rigged electoral system. Unfortunately, I understand it very well.
Blacks have every reason to believe that white America would rig the electoral system against them. After all, America was founded on the belief that blacks were not and never would be citizens. American democracy was created based on the notion that blacks were possessions to be bargained over, not people whose rights should be respected.
The Constitution included a compromise that counted each enslaved African as three-fifths of a person so their numbers wouldn’t artificially swell the number of congressional representatives awarded to the South. The compromise of 1877 ended a dispute over a close presidential election by removing federal troops from the South and launched a period of racist violence and terrorism that ushered in the period of Jim Crow.
American politics has always seen black people as convenient tools to be compromised. Our rights have been compromised. Our freedoms have been compromised. Our very humanity has been compromised on the altar of American politics.
In a two-party system, each party has taken turns occupying one of two roles. In the 19th century and in parts of the 20th century, Republicans were seen as the party of Lincoln — the party that freed the slaves. Unfortunately, Republicans were also the party that quickly abandoned the newly freed slaves in the wake of the Civil War. They were the party that took black votes in exchange for virtually nothing. They were the party in power, standing by as a racist Democrat killed a black Philadelphian named Octavius V. Catto for rallying black men to vote on Election Day in 1871.
Now the parties have switched places, and while there has been much progress for blacks in America, systemic racism remains firmly entrenched. Even as Democrats work feverishly to convince us that they will free blacks from a criminal justice system that takes our freedom, and from educational inequities that leave us lagging behind academically, and from economic inequality that leaves us flailing financially, we still trail whites in each of those categories.
American racism is the reason that Russians can so easily persuade blacks to not vote. While black voters must engage one another to face that truth, and while Democrats must produce real change to convince us that the future will be different, neither of those separate efforts will be enough.
America is divided in ways that leave all of us vulnerable to our enemies. If we are to fix that before the next election, all of us must work to come together.