RUTH BADER GINSBURG COULD’VE DIED IN PEACE IF WHITE PEOPLE WERE BETTER PEOPLE. Propped on the pavement, planted in yards, and sitting on stoops in every block in my neighborhood this morning are kaleidoscopic signs encouraging people to register to vote and reminding us, of course, that Black Lives Matter. I do not know which organization created them. Definitely one of the dozens (hundreds?) targeting Black, and Latino, and Black-ish communities, with the (accurate) presumption that the more of us who vote, the less likely Donald Trump wins a second term.
The push to get more of us to vote is everywhere now: In our mailboxes, on the commercials airing during NBA playoff games, within every social media platform, accompanying Emmy acceptance speeches, likely in an ad above this essay, and, most notably, embedded in progressive media’s election narrative framing. If Trump wins, it’ll be because enough of us didn’t vote. If he loses, it’ll be because we saved the country. This is how the flaccid campaign of a rapper who really should just be on a porch somewhere playing with his kids instead of running for president, merits a New York Times profile. He might siphon enough Black votes from Biden to swing the election, the narrative holds, so we must take him seriously. (He won’t. But knowing that would require knowing actual Black people.)
This hum reached a fever pitch Friday evening, after Ruth Bader Ginsburg—a woman who was considered, by white liberals, as less of a human being and more of a fascism-blocking levee—died. And the statement dictated to her granddaughter (“My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed”) amplified the din.
Altogether, this just reminds me, again, that we (Black people) are expected to carry this weight because white people are too reliably bad at American citizenship—either too racist or too inert to prevent their friends and family members from being too racist—to be trusted with it. So we must vote because 90 percent of us can be trusted to hold our noses and make a republic-saving decision, while 55 percent of white voters can’t. Perhaps my math ain’t mathing right, but I think Trump loses if just 5.2 out of 10 white voters were white supremacists instead of 5.5.
So yeah, we need to vote and shit—and we will—but this is on white people. The millions of white people who prefer the preservation of whiteness’ status to their own livelihoods. And the millions of white people who allowed—either through apathy or vanity or sheer uselessness—the other millions to be that way. And this includes the white people so distraught over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death. Imagine how peacefully that woman could’ve died if the energy and bandwidth and money exhausted being sad and mad today was spent being less racist yesterday.
Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of Very Smart Brother, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)