Black Lives Matter, not just black votes

29th August 2020

Protesters in Washington, 28th August 2020

No one thinks Joe Biden is a radical.  He certainly does not.  His address to the Democratic Convention last week was all Mr Middle America.  Mr Don’t Rock the Boat.  Mr Mainstream American Dream.  Nowhere did he suggest, or even hint, that he was Mr Radical.  He got the Democratic nomination precisely because of his lack of radical credentials.  In short, he was not Bernie Sanders.

The Republicans for their part are doing their best to portray Biden as a radical.  A vote for Biden, they claim, is a vote to open the floodgates to a socialist America, an America of conflict, an America in which opportunity is trashed and the State steps in to make every decision for you.

Any reasonable person will of course see this as arrant nonsense but that is not the audience to whom the Trump team are playing.  Trump is playing to an audience he expects to believe when he says,

“I say very modestly that I have done more for the African-American community than any president since Abraham Lincoln.”

To be fair, that is not a very high bar, given the record of successive US Presidents on the race question but it is still a bold claim, especially in the context of recent events and the growing momentum behind the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trump is also bold enough to claim that he took “swift action” to control COVID-19, in spite of the US death toll now being at 181,000 with more than 1,000 people dying every day.  However, in a world where your target vote gets its news diet from Fox News and Breitbart any relationship with reality is at best tangential.

The campaign to mobilise against  racism and for reform of policing in the United States continued yesterday with the Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March, timed to coincide with the 57th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, which culminated with Martin Luther King’s famous, ‘I have a dream…’ speech.

Organised through the National Action Network under the slogan ‘No justice, no peace’ the march mobilised a powerful lobby of speakers from the families of those who have most recently been victims of racist policing methods in the US.  Many moving declarations and expressions of solidarity followed but little in the way of political analysis or any explanation that systematic racism is endemic to capitalism in the US, as it is elsewhere in the world.

The suffocation of George Floyd on 25th May brought the Black Lives Matter movement front and centre into America’s homes. However, black people are dying quite unnecessarily in the United States in other ways.

Life expectancy is far shorter and infant mortality far greater for U.S. blacks, for example, than for white people.  The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact upon the black community as more people from ethnic minority backgrounds play key roles in frontline health and care services.

W.T Whitney, writing recently in the US People’s World observed that,

“Racism serves as an adjunct to classed-based oppression. Causing pain, racism works for maintaining social-class boundaries. The combination of the two has resulted in Black people being relegated to a generally precarious role within U.S. society and remaining vulnerable to lethal violence.”

This is the reality which the Black Lives Matter movement ultimately has to come to terms with if it is to make progress and really make an impact upon the shape of society in the United States. 

In the short term the exhortation is to get the black community to register and then to vote on 3rd November to get Donald Trump out.  The Trump camp are already preparing their response.  Wheeling out conservative blacks who applaud the United States as the land of opportunity, while condemning violence in black communities, thus portraying victims as perpetrators, is one tactic.  Portraying a Joe Biden presidency as the gateway for an unleashing of all the evils of the world is another.

Getting Trump out would undoubtedly be a step forward.  Whether Biden can make any great strides in terms of tackling racism and inequality in the United States, even if he really has the inclination, will depend upon the momentum the Black Lives Matter movement can continue to build.

The extent of change that Black Lives Matter can affect will in turn be dependant upon the extent to which that movement becomes class conscious, recognising the need for the unity of the black and white working class if progress is to be made.

The Democrats will embrace Black Lives Matter to the extent that it serves their purpose, to get rid of Trump.  History shows however that it is not so much black lives as black votes that matter in US elections.  It will certainly take a movement more radical than anything Joe Biden is likely to acknowledge to move on from that position.     

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