I Know Why The Miner’s Bird Sings

By Kwame P. Dean

Posted November 30, 2020


I’m sure some are still wondering why there were so many tears of joy among black people as the election was called for Joe Biden. Certainly, some of my more progressive to far-left colleagues, including young, black activists, have asked the question. After all, the election result isn’t likely to usher in the systemic changes needed to open the door to equity for black people in the US. The president-elect is a centrist on a playing field that has been systematically shifted to the right since Johnson’s “Great Society”. 

The redistribution of wealth to the upper class has continued unabated over the past 40 years, no matter the party or the race of the president, as the rising tide lifted only the largest yachts while sinking the economic dinghies most of us were in. As the money flowed upwards, so too the political influence, further locking us into policy choices benefiting the haves at the expense of the have-nots. Even pandemic fueled state spending hasn’t changed the equation as hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed directly to the boardrooms of the already super wealthy. As all of this continues, the scope of material, political possibility seems to shrink with each political cycle as social identity and moral issues replace the conversation about “Who has what and why?” to “Who is whom and what do you think about them?”

So following his election, Biden spoke of saving souls and healing more than changing tax codes and cutting military spending. He spoke of restoration rather than freeing up resources to transform our neglected social safety net, one that wasn’t good to begin with. He spoke of addressing climate change without mentioning the necessity of breaking the hold of big energy money on republicans and democrats alike. He has no incentives to offer politicians from either party to counter their interests in maintaining their positions and increasing their personal power and influence.

So again, why the tears when so many have said that there was no real policy choice for blacks in this election? The answer is simple. We smelled gas filling the room and the election of Biden/Harris opened a window.

The vote against Trump was a vote for a future free of a system willing to throw dissenters under-the-bus. Having been under-the-bus for most of our history in the US, we knew exactly what was at stake as a people united in our otherness and historically alien status. Trump’s dehumanized Black Lives Matter protests and majority black cities rhetorically. He employed secret police on-the-street. He supported the ongoing system of a lack of accountability for police killings. All of that exists in a social context. 

The recognition of the humanity of black people in the US was a result of the political actions of war and legislation. Political processes, largely beyond our control, determined our standards of living and right to live, with the law being a poor substitute for general acceptance in a society disproportionately influenced by our presence in it. The laws themselves have needed to include deterrents to curb the exclusionary and genocidal tendencies of some of our fellow citizens. That, in general, is not the white experience in America. Freedom from automatic suspicion, control and “otherness” is a primary feature of the social construct of whiteness itself.

Many blacks in the US recognize existential threats because those threats have been our constant companions in a country where the question of what to do with us has been a recurring theme since before slavery ended. Our recognition of the threat Trumpism poses is more than paranoia, it is cultural memory. While some dismissed the talk of blacks voting for our survival as hyperbole during the campaign, the Trump administration and its Senate allies continue to do nothing to abate the public health crisis of the century that disproportionately affects poor and black people, people both essential and disposable. Trump supporters idea of freedom and short term economic interests are more important than the health of others, especially if those others have no social cache in their world.

So yes, there were tears of joy shed from eyes open to the historic indifference and enmity of people who would support the likes of a nativist demagogue. Despite 4 years of a pro-Trump evangelical campaign, a lackluster candidate in Joe Biden who needed rescuing during the primaries, the late support of high profile wealthy black people, and a general incumbent bias in the electorate, an estimated 90% of black people voted against Trump, Trumpism and republican policies with historic levels of voter turnout. Maybe now with Trump’s defeat we can focus on transformation rather than once again defending our right to exist…until the next Trump comes along.

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