© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Professor Weighs In On Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Uninformed Voter Comment


Let's talk about a modest proposal by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The former NBA star was on the program last week and made a suggestion in this election year. In a new book, he says many American voters have not really looked into the issues, and he went on to suggest a solution. Stop encouraging people who don't want to vote to vote.


KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Ignorance is not something that lends itself to a meaningful discussion. Some of these people really shouldn't vote because they don't know what the issues are, and I think people that are, you know, voting in the blind are doing a disservice to our country by not being better informed.

INSKEEP: The many people who responded include Marc Lamont Hill. He's a writer and a professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, and he was on social media saying he was dismayed, if that's the right word. Professor Hill, why is that?

MARC LAMONT HILL: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. And let me say from the beginning that, you know, I love Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and I appreciate the spirit of his comment. But I'm very concerned whenever we begin a conversation about who should and shouldn't vote. The reason why I'm concerned is because there's a long history of saying certain people shouldn't be voting. And, unfortunately, the people who are often left out of these conversations are people who are black and brown.

INSKEEP: You're pointing out the fact that in past generations, there had been poll taxes, for example, which kept people who were poor from voting, and they tended to be African-American or literacy tests and other things that supposedly got to the knowledge of the voters, but really was a racial test in your view.

HILL: Yes. That's a fact. I mean, if you look at literacy tests in the South, for example, they were absurdly difficult and didn't measure literacy. They were simply measuring whether or not you were black. So at every moment when we've said, hey, we don't want certain people to vote because they are not educated enough, it is often simply become a way of excluding black and brown people. And when we look at the Trump candidacy or we look at any Republican candidacy for the presidency that's been successful, they tend to win by the margin of black and brown and poor people and immigrants who do not vote.

And, again, I understand Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's point. He's speaking to a history of white Americans, I believe, who have often voted against their interests. They're voting for races, and they're voting for a certain kind of nationalism that doesn't help them. And if they were more informed, they would be in a better position. I agree with that.

INSKEEP: Now, this is really interesting. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar - he didn't explicitly talk about Trump voters, but it sounds like that's what you are hearing. The frustration that some people are expressing is they think that Trump voters aren't really thinking through the issues.

HILL: Right. Because part of the narrative which is sort of supported by the data is that Trump voters are the least educated, and they're voting for Trump out of white solidarity or out of frustration that they're, quote, unquote, "losing their country." And my concern with that is that it sort of reduces the condition of the Trump voter to one of pure ignorance. And I think it's far more complicated. The Trump voter isn't just an ignorant white guy in the South that if he were more educated would vote differently. The Trump voter is also someone who is dealing with an entirely new economy that his father, grandfather or grandmother didn't have to face 30, 40, 50, 60 years ago.

And so part of what we have to do is not just keep ignorant people away from the polls. We have to actually change the structural realities that make people make bad choices beyond their ignorance or what have you. And the truth is there are people who are quite informed who still vote against their interests. I would argue that, as a Green Party supporter, I would argue that middle-class black people are voting against their interests oftentimes.

INSKEEP: Well, now, this is interesting. You mentioned you're a Green Party supporter. You support Jill Stein, one of the third-party candidates who is out there getting some attention. And yet, it sounds like you are defending the Trump voter to an extent. You're saying, look, maybe there's something real here.

HILL: I'm not defending the Trump vote. I think they're making a bad choice. But I'm saying the bad choice isn't one out of pure ignorance, and I think it's too easy. And it plays into cliches about, you know, elitist liberals to say, oh, these Trump voters - if they knew more, they would do better. And it's like, well, maybe they would do better if we had a legitimate set of policies in place that doesn't encourage the kind of gross radicalization that has happened under the Trump candidacy. So for me, it's all about developing a richer conversation.

INSKEEP: Are you entirely comfortable if Americans make their sovereign choice, and it is Donald Trump, a candidate you oppose?

HILL: I'm not comfortable with it. I'm not comfortable if they choose Hillary Clinton, though. The answer is political education and more importantly class solidarity. We have to convince the white worker that they have something to gain by forming a solidarity politics with black workers because everything that's happened over the last three to 400 years in America has divided the white and the black worker.

But, again, if we begin by the conversation that some people shouldn't be encouraged to come to the polls, that does nothing to help us. And just as a practical matter, when we don't encourage voters to come out to the polls, the people who stay home quickest are black and brown folk. You're thinking of keeping Bubba in South Carolina away, but you might be keeping Keesha (ph) and Shaniqua (ph) and Rasheed (ph) away. And when you do that, you almost certify a Trump presidency, particularly in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and so on down the list.

INSKEEP: Marc Lamont Hill is a professor at Morehouse and also the author of "Nobody: Casualties Of America's War On The Vulnerable From Ferguson To Flint And Beyond." Thanks for joining us.

HILL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.