by Glenn Nelson
If you are BIPOC in America, it’s difficult to celebrate the 2020 elections too robustly. A fist bump, for sure, for Kamala Harris — and a middle finger for Donald Trump. But there surely must be more.
Because if you are BIPOC in America, you’ve been:
Had, took, hoodwinked, bamboozled. Run astray, run amok, profiled, defiled, erased.
Depressed, oppressed, suppressed, disenfranchised. Batoned, gassed, gaslighted.
Maimed, massacred, mass incarcerated, rounded up. Gunned down, jacked up, held back.
We don’t have to channel our inner Malcolm X to know all that. We’ve had a knee on our necks, not for just a roller-coaster election week, or the past four years. It’s been centuries.
Making it so impossible to breathe.
We answered the bell last week. All across the nation. Pointedly, the Black vote came to the rescue of the Biden candidacy in places like Atlanta, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Philadelphia, and the Native vote came through in Arizona, like Russell Wilson, down six, in a two-minute drill.
After what seems like a forever pandemic, taking more of us than them. After a summer of marching the streets while they read Robin DiAngelo and shot Breonna Taylor. After standing in line since 1965, challenged ballot in hand, then having to chant “Count Every Vote” to drown out “Stop the Steal.”
After all that and more, what’s really changed? Is income any less unequal? Are our neighborhoods going to stay ours? Are the police any more defunded or de-escalated? Is there more justice for the environment? Is voting really a right? Is the safety net still unfurled?
After all it required to just vote one bum out of office, it sure feels like a lot of unfinished business remains. Consider all that happened and, still, more than 70 million people in a record 2020 turnout voted for him – and against us. More than 60 million voted against us in 2016.
Yes, us. Much as the 2020 presidential election was framed as a referendum on Donald Trump, it obviously was a referendum on the BIPOC nation, our people and allies. Staying the course (white supremacy) vs. changing course (true equity and inclusion). Trump was, after all, the Obama backlash. And this wasn’t exactly a backlash against the backlash.
Democrats vs. Republicans was a sideshow. Party affiliation was just a label affixed to almost equally uninspiring candidates. Smashing the stained-glass ceiling with Kamala Harris as our first female and Black and Asian American vice-president almost was lost in all the hubbub. Otherwise, sure, things may revert back to “normal” under an average Joe Biden presidency, but isn’t “normal” just slightly less white supremacist? John Lewis and our other heroes didn’t fight for a few degrees of social justice and racial equality.
I once was enthusiastic about staying mobilized to vote the Republicans and their 1950s reference points into oblivion, over multiple elections. But it’s parity we’re after, not extinguishing a party that’s hardly a collection of policy ideas. Conservatives have long been cast as simply voting their considerable pocketbooks. But the Trump administration, like a kitchen light scattering the cockroaches of the American psyche, exposed the zero-summed truth that we are the line-cutters, the aliens, “illegal” immigrants, formerly enslaved, invisibly indigenous, and dispossessed where the right draws the line.
Trump’s indifference to COVID-19’s excessive death tolls and their disproportionate impact on communities of color is just a continuation of thinly disguised Republican racial hostility, from Reagan and AIDS to Bush and Hurricane Katrina. Republican-led national “unity” came during 9/11 where the primary target was the American financial system and the “enemies” were brown and non-Christian, and the common driver of judgment then and now is Rudy Giuliani.
Nationally, I wish the Democrats were more than just a slightly less objectionable alternative. They aren’t the party of the “left” and hardly the “left out” with whom many of us identify. In any other context, ideas like health care for all, environmental justice, and livable wages are barely progressive. Yet folks like Congress member Pramila Jayapal are pilloried as “radical” or “socialist” for suggesting such. Consider that California, one of our bluest and most forward-thinking states, just voted down affirmative action, rent control, and labor protections. Progression stalled is regression. And, Harris notwithstanding, this party’s leadership feels like so many other slices of our society – old, tired, way too white and still too male. The Dems are a big house, but one so very divided and the internal discord sliced into their House majority, may cost them control of the Senate, and nearly cost them the White House.
Without a cohesive federal firewall, we will be pressed (again) to mount a local defense. On the state level, we know re-elected Gov. Jay Inslee and attorney general Bob Ferguson are prepared to sue and beat the crap out of anyone who tries to come for us. On the other hand, it’s disheartening to know that if she wins, T’wina Nobles will be the first Black state senator elected in a decade.
There needs to be a straighter line to leadership from the people and communities impacted and the change that we seek. That debt first comes due in only a year, on the civic level, when we must once again brace for whatever the city’s power elite will unleash against our priorities on corporate accountability, homelessness, gentrification, equitable funding, and policing alternatives. These are acute issues here in South Seattle, but barely blips in the Great White North. We could use leadership unattached to the puppet strings of downtown interests that can work with a city council that gets clowned for reflecting the will of real people.
Can we rally around one of our own and fend off the withering forces that would deny Seattle a mayoral candidate of color? So far, our lone play is Lance Randall, the interim director of Southeast Seattle Effective Development (SEED). Many still hold out hope that activist attorney Nikkita Oliver will reconsider and reprise their strong challenge in 2017. There is also speculation that council president Lorena González will be a contender.
But do we have a collective identity that even remotely translates into the conservative bugaboo known as “identity politics”? BIPOC people of course are not monolithic, just as individual racial or ethnic components are not. We can’t agree if Asian Americans like myself are non-white, even though the default society sees us as yellow and eminently excludable. Asians, for that matter, are an enormous tent, encompassing massive geographic and cultural deviation and whose political outlook can fluctuate according to generational immigration. The Latinx community runs the geographical, melanin, and political gamut from brown, border- and immigration-impacted Mexican Americans in California to anti-socialist and conservative white Cuban Americans in Florida. The Black community is an amalgam of American descendants of slavery and immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
We don’t agree on everything, and don’t need to. But we do have the absolute common ground of the othering that we all continue to endure. And we have a shared journey to the collective demographic majority of this country. We don’t and won’t have numbers on our own. Only together can we realize the true American promise of celebrating our differences, thus fending off the notion of assimilation into a colorless, miasmic melting pot, erasing ourselves to preserve the white supremacist status quo.
If nothing else, this is the mission to which this exacting 2020 election should have imbued with crystal clarity. To channel Malcolm once more, let’s recognize that the chickens have come home to roost. The unfinished business of future elections is fulfilling our destiny as the foxes that turn this henhouse out.
Glenn Nelson is a Japanese American journalist who founded trailposse.com and has won numerous national and regional awards for his writings about race. Follow @trailposse or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.