John Arthur in his work, Race, Equality and the Burdens of History (2007), wrote that racial relations and racism had “scarred American history”, and they continue to shape America’s quest for understanding itself. In recent times, violence and discrimination against the African-American community across the United States shook the fundamental basis on which the new the nation was founded after it was liberated from British colonialism. The George Floyd’s tragic chokehold-death in the hands of law authorities has not only propelled the famous Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement across the U.S. but also exposed America’s untreated old wounds of complicated race relations. This has resulted in a polarized American politics marked by debates on the racialization process, racial prejudice, police defund, police reform, and how the two primary mainstream parties fair when it comes to policies for genuine upliftment of the African-American community.
How Black Lives Matter changed America’s View on Race
From a mere slogan in the aftermath of 2012 Trayvon Martin’s death in the hands of a policeman to a mass movement having more than 30 chapters, the BLM has come a long way to forge its mission of challenging ‘white supremacy’ and work for positive changes in the lives of ‘black’ people. The BLM Global Network Foundation, as it is officially called, spearheaded the national movement against systemic racism, racial injustice, police brutality, and prevailing history of mass incarceration of African-Americans. It links mass incarceration to voter disfranchisement in the community.
The visibility of the BLM on social media such as Facebook and Twitter became unprecedentedly high in the immediate month of Floyd’s killing. The movement’s hashtag (#BlackLivesMatter) was shared over 100 million times on Twitter. At least 62 Fortune 500 companies used the BLM related posts to reach out to their followers. Many politicians, activists, and academics across the U.S. reached out to the organizers of the movement to show solidarity and commitment to the movement. The technology was used as a medium to spread awareness, sustain conversations, and kick-start debates on structural racial issues, and social inequality faced by the African-American community and other minorities in the U.S. Hence, race becomes an intergenerational issue to converse across the country.
An Analysis of the 2020 Presidential Campaigns: Polarized and Vitriolic
The George Floyd protests have been called the broadest in the nation’s past 50 years and are known for their widest media coverage. The BLM movement sustains as much as its popularity throughout the election campaign period. At its peak in June 2020, the white support across all age-groups reached more than sixty-two percent. This coincides with a new wave of counter-protests by far-right extremist groups such as the Proud Boys.
The United States saw a deep polarization in election campaign strategy. Trump had called the BLM movement a ‘symbol of hate’ and was reluctant to condemn far-right extremists. At the beginning of June 2020, President Trump threatened to use National Guards against citizens protesting against racism and police violence in the streets with a law that fought segregation. The same month, the American president announced a controversial decision to use excessive force including the use of the military to quell protestors across the United States. The decision had two unintended impacts on his administrative legacy. Later on, it affected his campaign strategy to aggressively brand him as a decisive and able President whose priority was on law enforcement goals.
The President’s unsympathetic attitude towards the ‘black’ community’s cause and his decision to use maximum force against protesting citizens fueled the movement into a gigantic fireball and it spread wide and far eliciting international attention. Second, the decision solidifies the foundation of the mass protest-movement forging unprecedented solidarity among African-American, Latino, and other minority communities in the U.S. These two consequences seemed to have been wished away by Trump campaign strategists. The Trump campaign seemed to have underplayed the two critical facts about the country. First, one-third of American voters are non-white; and, second, sixty-three percent of Americans support the BLM movement according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll.
Whereas, the Biden campaign seems to be well aware of the consequences of the mass protests in the November elections. Considered as a ‘moderate’ Democrat candidate by many liberals, the DNC was quick to quote him as the most ‘progressive’ presidential candidate in the entire party’s history. Biden was lauded by Democrats, white-liberals, African-Americans, and other minority groups for his recognition of the existence of ‘systemic racism’ in America during his speeches. But that was just the beginning. He won potential voters in big cities such as Atlanta, Houston, and Philadelphia for his open support to the causes of Blacks and Latinos.
Ravaged by the pandemic, 2020 was the worst year for common Americans in a decade. While Trump saw this as an opportunity to brand himself as the greatest in the U.S. presidential history, Biden made explicit remarks in support of Black power. He effectively consolidated black support nationwide in his campaign.
Nine out of 10 Black voters nationwide supported Biden’s campaign for his explicit support to the movement according to AP VoteCast survey in November. The same poll suggests that 65 percent of Latinos votes went with Biden against 35 percent for Trump. In the crucial states of Wisconsin, Georgia, and Michigan, the BLM and grass-root black support powered Biden’s campaign to win in these states.
Bottom Line Matters
The power of race is such that a significant part of United States history is occupied by race relations history. According to a comprehensive survey by the University of Chicago, “roughly a fifth of all voters said the racial justice protests were the single most important factor when voting in the election.” Although looting and violence did affect the movement’s overall brand, progressives and first-time voters were inspired by the movement. In fact, the gain Trump elicited from rural and white-voter concentration areas were offset by Biden’s significant gains in the suburbs and metropolitan areas. The bottom line is that Trump turns out to be the major factor for high voter turn-outs in 2020 – both for and against him.
However, the new feature we have seen in this election could not remain a permanent one in the future. Of the 70 million votes that Trump garnered, a major percentage of votes were cast because the voters, joyously, agreed with Trump’s rhetoric and his personal views on race. Nonetheless, it will remain a pertinent question of whether anti-Black racism would thrive in the post-Trump administration. The next four years of Biden-Harris administration would be an interesting period in American history where racism and racialization have deeply shaped the law, culture, and politics of the larger American society.
** The author is a former civil servant & Doctoral Candidate, American Studies Division, JNU. He is interested in analysing domestic and foreign policy of the U.S. He can be reached at [email protected]**