Does White America still want democracy?

by Larry E. Davis

Our country has just experienced the most racially diverse voter participation in its history. Many people of color who have historically been left out of the electoral process are now actively engaged in it. This should be heralded as good news for a democracy. However, the angry, vitriolic response of legions of conservative White voters to the greater participation of non-Whites gives reason to question America’s continued commitment to democracy.

There is a wealth of historical evidence supporting the fact that many White conservatives have never been committed to a true democracy. It is likely the case that these individuals have been committed to the idea of “majority rule” only as long as it was their group which was in the majority. Although Whites still remain the numerical majority in the country, they are no longer the racially hegemonic group that they were once. Indeed, in numerous locales they are now a racial minority. There is little doubt that many Whites recognize that, as greater numbers of non-Whites participate in the electoral process, their complete political dominance is lessened. Subsequently, for them, “democracy as we now know it” has begun to attenuate returns on their social, political and economic interests. Not surprisingly, significant numbers of White people believe that something needs to be done to halt what they perceive as diminishing returns from our present democracy.

Prior to our most recent election, Americans had never witnessed such a manifestly blatant and unapologetic effort by a major political party to disenfranchise millions of voters.

As would be expected, these attempts to undermine democracy served to immediately outrage Black people, whose votes were specifically targeted for disenfranchisement. But since Reconstruction, efforts to suppress the Black vote have been an ever-present feature of American politics. Noteworthy is that many liberal Whites expressed “embarrassment” by the readiness of such a large number of White Americans who seem only too eager to abandon their adherence to democracy. Being “embarrassed” is perhaps the politically correct expression, but I believe that many Whites, like most Blacks, were not just embarrassed but also filled with considerable trepidation. Indeed, it has been frightening to witness so many Americans willing to flirt with abandoning democracy.

So where do we go from here? I believe that the majority of White people still do want a democracy, but witnessing so many who appear not to accept its outcome is disillusioning, and clearly cause for concern. It would be naïve to believe, after this most recent election, that the efforts to disenfranchise people of color will simply fade away. On the contrary, given the closeness of so many elections, we can expect that there will be heightened efforts to truncate, in particular, the influence of Black people at the ballot box. Hence, the effort to sustain even the limited political gains which Blacks and other minority groups have thus far achieved will require continued engagement in what is an unyielding commitment to insuring greater voter participation—an effort perhaps best characterized as “Stacey Abramsism.” Part of this effort must include establishing and strengthening alliances with greater numbers of diverse constituents. Too often progressives have written off potential allies as being adversaries when it is possible that they might become political supporters. It is abundantly clear that if we are to sustain democracy there must be more deliberate efforts to garner greater political support for it.

Finally, the concerns which I have noted here are obviously cautionary. But not since Reconstruction has the political disenfranchisement of so many Americans been at greater risk. Our country is presently experiencing a racial reckoning, and perhaps as part of this difficult process it is also experiencing a reckoning with its commitment to democracy. As citizens, regardless of color or ethnicity, we must give serious consideration to how things might be if America’s commitment to democracy continues to be undermined.

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