POLITICS + RACISM
Why Do Some White People Enjoy Using Black People as Political Props?
They think tokenism is poetic justice, and it’s not
Throughout American history, White people have often taken great pleasure in using Black people as political props to promote racist policies. In Fredrick Douglass’s memoir, The Myth of the Happy Slave, he pushed back against the vicious lie that Black people enjoyed life as slaves. White enslavers insisted Black people were happy toiling in the fields, that it was better for everyone involved. A White pseudoscientist, Samuel A. Cartwright, coined the term “drapetomania” to describe the mental state of those who ran away. According to Cartwright, a Black person would have to be insane to want freedom. Approximately 70,000 enslaved Africans successfully escaped, shattering the myth. The trend is clear, that when politicians want to promote racist policies, they use Black people as props to justify the unthinkable.
In American Slavery As It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses, one northerner described Black people singing as they labored throughout the day. While White Southerners often insisted Black people’s singing indicated they were happy, one witness said, “their singing proves that they want to be happy not that they are so.” Dr. Rush of Philadelphia wrote, “instead of considering the songs and dances as marks of their happiness, I have long considered them as physical symptoms of melancholy, as a certain proofs of their misery.” You may ask yourself, how is the slavery-era propaganda relevant to today’s culture. Well, we don’t have to look very far because White people are still using Black people as political props to promote anti-Black policies.
In a 2016 speech, Donald Trump pointed at one of his supporters, saying, “Look at my African American over here,” using the man as a prop to promote the big lie that Black people supported him. And sometimes, a few Black people enjoy tokenism and run with it. For example, you’ve likely heard about Candace Owens, a conservative Black woman who insists Black people should ditch the Democratic Party. But, since 88% of Black Americans voted for Joe Biden in the last presidential election, Owens represents a slim minority.