Commentary: A dark horse emerges victorious in Alabama’s election: the black voter

  |  Source: Religion News Service

In the wake of Doug Jones' election to the Alabama Senate seat, "it turns out that black Christians, not white evangelicals, are the story."

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A supporter of Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Doug Jones reacts during an election-night watch party Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2017, in Birmingham, Ala. Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore. (AP Photo/John Bazemore; caption amended by RNS)

(RNS) — The question that pundits and pollsters tried to answer in the run-up to the Alabama special election was what white evangelical Christians would do for Roy Moore at the voting booth.

Since I write and teach about race, religion and politics, I have also gnawed at the Gordian knot of contemporary politics: Why did 81 percent of white evangelicals cast their votes in favor of Donald Trump, in defiance of the moral, cultural and familial values that James Dobson and Jerry Falwell and others touted for years as definitive of the Christian right?

For eight and a half years, I observed the ascendance of the Trump phenomenon from the perspective of a black Christian woman with a perch on the inside of the evangelical hurricane — as a professor at Wheaton College.

In 2013, I became the first black woman tenured in the history of the elite liberal arts institution founded by abolitionists just a stone’s throw from Chicago. In 2016, the university and I “parted ways” following my wearing of the hijab, a Muslim headscarf, in what I term “embodied solidarity” with Muslim women.

So as the precinct numbers rolled in Tuesday night, they did not surprise me. Sure, evangelical turnout was down, but much research shows that this can be the case where negative campaigning prevails. And off-year and special elections typically draw fewer voters. Predictably, 80 percent of white evangelical voters cast their ballots for Judge Roy Moore.

White evangelicals constitute the largest American religious grouping, so our curiosity about their voting behavior is warranted. But I also study another curiosity: black Christian voters. Black Americans maintain the highest rate of adherence to Christianity of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S., and the varieties of black Christian expression range from Pentecostal to Catholic. Invariably in conversations about religion and politics, when my students referred to Christians, they meant white evangelical Christians, not Catholics or Orthodox or Copts or black Protestants who are descendants of slaves.

But according to CNN, 96 percent of black voters backed Jones. Among black women, the figure was 98 percent.

So in a moment where the foundational fault lines of the American creed have been laid bare by the spilled blood and suffering of my black brothers and sisters at the hands of law enforcement, it turns out that black Christians, not white evangelicals, are the story.

The black voter, not Doug Jones, is the dark horse that emerged victorious in the Alabama senatorial election. Black Americans vote according to the needs of blacks as a whole, not according to their own economic interests. Political scientists call this “linked fate.” But for linked fate to work, there must be solidarity with the oppressed.

For black Christians, the perspective of the oppressed that we emulate was exemplified by Jesus who said Christians must become like the least among us — the poor, the foreigner, the vulnerable — in the kingdom of earth in order to enter the kingdom of heaven. It’s a perspective that says, in spite of your new gerrymandering and new poll taxes, our black bodies will not retreat from the ballot box. The KKK can ride on their white horses into Charlottesville and we will stand steadfast.

Black Christians were the dark horse. And they, like the black horse of the apocalypse, with the scales of justice in hand said, “Not on our watch, Roy Moore.” Justice says no to the princes who are thieves of the poor. The black horse of the apocalypse said hell no to rolling back health care for the poor and oppressed.

Ride your horse home, judge. Black justice has been rendered.

Larycia Hawkins is a visiting faculty fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service or the Baptist Standard.

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