Ahead of the US presidential election, a group of dancers are urging Black men – a demographic seen as key to winning – to get out and vote
With just days to go until the US presidential election, all eyes are on the key demographics and battleground states that could sway the result in unexpected ways. One of these demographics is Black men, who are deemed the coveted voters of the 2020 election.
“There’s a clear understanding that a growing, energised bloc of African American voters can be a tipping point for any electorate,” demographer Bill Frey recently told The Guardian. According to statistics, just 54 per cent of eligible Black men voted in 2016, and, while Black women overwhelmingly favour the Democrats, Black men are less likely to – in fact, in the last election, 13 per cent of them voted for Donald Trump.
But, 2020 has seen the ongoing coronavirus pandemic disproportionately impact Black Americans, while a summer of Black Lives Matter protests – which saw the president disregard demonstrators as “thugs” – has placed renewed importance on local elections, owing to a focus on issues like police reform.
This, along with their previous voting records, has made Black men a key target for both Trump and the Democratic nominee Joe Biden, particularly because they make up a relatively large proportion of the electorate in a number of swing states, including Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida.
Now, the group is also the target of a handful of exotic dancers in Atlanta, who are hoping to galvanise Black male voters with their non-partisan campaign, Get Your Booty to the Poll. The ad campaign primarily comprises video PSAs, which see dancers discuss the importance of voting, while also showing off their pole skills.
“You know it’s more than just the president on the ballot, right?” asks one dancer in the group’s first video. “A district attorney decides who to prosecute, including whether or not to go after dirty cops,” say two more, before a third adds: “Do you know who elects the DA? We do!”
The video concludes: “It’s clear Black lives don’t matter to some our current elected officials. If they matter to you, then don’t let other people decide who’s going to run your community. Get your booty to the poll!”
“The government has shown that it doesn’t care about Black men,” Coy Malone, a dancer and member of the campaign, tells Dazed. “So, often, (Black men’s) thoughts on voting are that their ideas and concerns won’t be heard and their votes won’t be counted.” Malone hopes that because Atlanta’s exotic dancers “have influenced an entire culture”, that they can encourage Black men to have their voices heard.
The campaign hasn’t been without its controversies though, with some criticising it as enforcing stereotypes about Black men, and placing the blame on them for feeling apathetic about voting. Speaking to Dazed, Atlanta-based director Angela Barnes addressed these concerns. “Black people are not a monolith and not all Black men like strip clubs,” she says. “Strip club culture is a big part of Atlanta and hip-hop culture, so I wanted to reach the Black men who were into that culture by meeting them where they are.”
Here, Dazed speaks to Barnes and Malone about Get Your Booty to the Poll, why exotic dancers are the perfect subject for the campaign, and why it’s vital for Black men to have a voice in this election.
How did you come up with the idea for Get Your Booty to the Poll?
Angela Barnes: I was brainstorming with some other directors and it just popped into my head. I knew I wanted to do something cheeky, something people would want to share, and something that was quintessentially Atlanta.
Why did you want to utilise exotic dancers – and particularly Atlanta-based women of colour – for the campaign? To what extent are you hoping to dismantle negative, two-dimensional stereotypes of sex workers?
Angela Barnes: When most people think of Atlanta, they think Coca Cola and Magic City, so I thought exotic dancers would be great ambassadors for the message. I’ll be honest, I sometimes forget that most people aren’t as progressive as I am in terms of views on sex work, so I didn’t think about wanting to portray them a certain way to dismantle stereotypes. To me, using your body for money is the same if you’re a dancer, massage therapist, football player, or coal miner. I’m excited that in addition to our original talking points of the importance of down-ballot voting, conversations on respectability and whose voice deserves to be heard are also being had.
Coy Malone: Atlanta strippers are trendsetters and have influenced an entire culture. To hear our views about the urgency to vote while we’re in our dance attire is an attention-grabber for sure.
“Atlanta strippers are trendsetters and have influenced an entire culture. To hear our views about the urgency to vote while we’re in our dance attire is an attention-grabber for sure” – Coy Malone
Why is it important to target Black voters, especially Black men? Angela, why did you think this was a good way to reach them?
Angela Barnes: I spoke to lots of folks before deciding what to do, and Mondale Robinson from the Black Male Voter had a lot of interesting things to say about how Black men are pretty much ignored in the political process. Black women are one of the largest voting blocks out there, second only to white men, so I figured what little resources we had should be as specific as possible in order to make an impact. I never intended to target all Black men. Black people are not a monolith and not all Black men like strip clubs. Strip club culture is a big part of Atlanta and hip-hop culture, so I wanted to reach the Black men who were into that culture by meeting them where they are.
Coy Malone: Black men have the lowest voter turnout in the country. Often, their thoughts on voting are that their ideas and concerns won’t be heard and their votes won’t be counted. Many have also fallen victim to our disproportionate criminal justice system, and either have no access to information on reinstating their voting rights or simply don’t care because the government has shown that it doesn’t care about Black men.
How did you create the video ad?
Angela Barnes: I put out a Facebook blast saying what I planned to do and asking if anyone wanted to help. I had so many folks saying they wanted to help that I had to turn people away. The entire crew volunteered, but we ended up making a GoFundMe because people wanted to donate money and we needed somewhere for them to put it!
What has the response been like?
Angela Barnes: The response has been overwhelmingly positive, but not everybody loved it. There were even a few folks who tracked me down on my personal Instagram to let me know they weren’t feeling it. To them, my answer is always the same: I hope they are putting as much energy into holding their elected officials accountable as they are into policing what is and isn’t acceptable for grown women to do with their bodies.
Coy Malone: We’ve had some backlash (which accuses us of) degrading ourselves and Black America – but what we’ve done is highlight a group of people who are overlooked, forgotten, and sometimes shunned for expressing their views. This group of people also includes strippers. We are citizens just like everyone else, and we have concerns to voice and needs to be fulfilled that will make our communities better.
Why is it vital for Black men to have a voice in this election?
Angela Barnes: Black lives matter, and we need to make sure the people we elect feel the same way. I’m excited to see that the country is already breaking early voting records, so I’m hopeful that Black voter turnout will break records as well. Politicians work for us, and if we can get enough of us to the polls, they won’t be able to ignore us anymore.