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The election was coming down to the winner of Florida. The polls closed, and before long we sawAl Gore’s winning face flash on the screen. Game over. We rejoiced. I joined a joyful exodus out ofthe television room. We marched to our dorm rooms like fans streaming from the stadium when theMarching 100’s halftime show ended. The people had come to see what the people had come to see.The next morning, I awoke to learn that George W. Bush somehow held a narrow lead in Florida of1,784 votes. Too close to call, and Jeb Bush’s appointees were overseeing the recount.
The unfairness of it all crashed on me that November. My anti-Black racist ideas were noconsolation. I walked out of my dorm room that morning into a world of anguish. In the weeks thatfollowed, I heard and overheard, read and reread, angry, tearful, first- and secondhand stories ofFAMU students and their families back home not being able to vote. Complaints from Black citizenswho’d registered but never received their registration cards. Or their voting location had beenchanged. Or they were unlawfully denied a ballot without a registration card or ordered to leave thelong line when polls closed. Or they were told that as convicted felons they could not vote. Earlier inthe year, Florida purged fifty-eight thousand alleged felons from the voting rolls. Black people wereonly 11 percent of registered voters but comprised 44 percent of the purge list. And about twelvethousand of those people purged were not convicted felons.Reporters and campaign officials seemed more focused on Floridians whose votes were not countedor counted the wrong way. Palm Beach County used confusing ballots that caused about nineteenthousand spoiled ballots and perhaps three thousand Gore voters to mistakenly vote for Pat Buchanan.Gadsden County, next to Tallahassee, had Florida’s highest percentage of Black voters and the highestspoilage rate. Blacks were ten times more likely than Whites to have their ballots rejected. The racialinequity could not be explained by income or educational levels or bad ballot design, according to aNew York Timesstatistical analysis. That left one explanation, one that at first I could not readilyadmit: racism. A total of 179,855 ballots were invalidated by Florida election officials in a raceultimately won by 537 votes.A twenty-nine-year-old Ted Cruz served on Bush’s legal team that resisted efforts at manualrecounts in Democratic counties that could have netted Gore tens of thousands of votes while pushingfor manual recounts in Republican counties that netted Bush 185 additional votes.Watching this horror flick unfold, I recoiled in fear for days after the election. But not some of mypeers at FAMU. They amassed the courage I did not have, that all antiracists must have. “Courage isnot the absence of fear, but the strength to do what is right in the face of it,” as the anonymousphilosopher tells us. Some of us are restrained by fear of what could happen to us if we resist. In our