Michael Meeropol: In Praise Of Black And Brown Voters | WAMC

Michael Meeropol: In Praise Of Black And Brown Voters

Nov 6, 2020

So I watched hours and hours of coverage of the election between 6:00 PM on Tuesday, November 3 and 4:30 PM on Wednesday, November 4.   I got about 2 and a half hours sleep over night on Tuesday and woke up early enough (at 4:15 AM)  to see the counting of votes from Milwaukee Wisconsin flip that state from a Trump to a Biden majority giving Wisconsin’s electoral votes to Biden.  By then I had endured the loss of Florida, North Carolina and (I feared) Georgia.  I also saw the apparent re-election of Thom Tillis in North Carolina, John Cornyn in Texas, Joni Ernst in Iowa and the loss of the Democrat Doug Jones in Alabama.   These early results dashed my hopes for a Senate majority and with it hopes for judicial reform and a whole series of hoped for progressive legislation.

By 4:00 PM on Wednesday the 4th, the networks had called Michigan for Biden.   As I write this on Friday morning, November 6, Georgia and Pennsylvania have already flipped to a Biden majority, courtesy of black voters in and around Atlanta, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.   With Arizona and Nevada aiming towards a Biden victory (there is of course a chance that Arizona will flip to Trump, as I write so that’s uncertain) the 270 electoral vote goal appears to have been surpassed (if Biden wins Arizona and Nevada, he will end up with 306 electoral votes).   I can breathe a sigh of relief that Trump will be gone but I also experienced a profound shock and disappointment in many too many of my fellow Americans.  

I apologize to those who listened to this broadcast on Friday, November 6 who believe Trump’s lies.   I apologize to those who supported President-elect Biden and Vice-President elect Harris who believe now is the time for healing not recriminations.

I totally disagree.   The election returns have revealed us as a profoundly damaged people.   Yes, the majority of American see through Donald Trump.  From polling data it appears that a significant majority of Americans know that he lies virtually whenever his lips move.   But the minority who believe him is much too large.  I hear individuals (even at least one new member of Congress) spouting Q-anon conspiracy theories.    I saw someone on TV when asked about CDC director Redfield’s argument that wearing a mask is even a better way to protect oneself from Coronavirus than a vaccine assert “He didn’t say that!”  Much worse, I see many millions of Americans becoming convinced by Trump’s lies that he lost the election because of hundreds of thousands of fraudulent votes.   (I myself heard someone in my Physical Therapy venue repeating Trump’s lies that the counting of votes after election day involves illegally creating ballots to steal the election for Democrats.)  This willingness to believe nonsense should not be surprising because even though Trump repudiated – during the 2016 Presidential campaign -- his assertions that President Obama had not been born in Hawaii, there are still a (small) group of people who still believe that.

But it gets worse.   Among those who would admit that Trump is a lying, racist, misogynist --- whose failures of leadership on the Coronavirus has cost tens of thousands of lives ---  there are many too many willing to give him four more years anyway because he improved their personal economic positions.

We white Americans (and I am ashamed to be one of them) have revealed ourselves as profoundly infected by America’s original sin ---- racism.  

[This assertion needs development.   I am NOT saying that every white person is a racist.   I am saying that every white person is infected by racism by virtue of  living in the United States.   That means that racist institutions and racist memes are all around us and it is very difficult not to be affected by them.  When one is infected by a disease it is possible to fight it ---with one’s own antibodies and/or with medical intervention.   But if one does not fight the infection, it can kill you or leave you debilitated.   So it is with racism.  Racism can be right on the surface --- one can hate and/or fear people who are different based on the color of their skin.   But one can also be totally unaware of the way inequality affects black and brown Americans and in fact willfully refuse to believe the evidence of systematic racism in America.   Thus --- to those deniers, the disproportional killing of black men by police in the United States is explained away by the fact that blacks are disproportionally criminal.  The fact that blacks and Hispanics are suffering disproportional death from the Coronavirus pandemic is explained away with reference to failures to practice personal hygiene.   The ability to “explain away” disproportional impacts on black and brown Americans of disease, police misconduct, educational deficiencies, incarceration rates arises because too many of us white folks have been succumbed to the racism infection.   This is unfortunately true even for those who would never call a black person the N word, nor knowingly as individuals practice discrimination.   And how does the original sin of racism apply today?   After all, as many of my students would defensively tell me “I had nothing to do with slavery.”   Yes, that’s true but slavery was followed by over 100 years of Jim Crow and even in the North where blacks had the right to vote, they were subjected to de facto segregation in housing and education leaving them with an extraordinary deficiency in terms of accumulated wealth, even to this day.  (In 2016, the typical white family had TEN TIMES the wealth of the typical white family.   That gap has surely widened as a result of the pandemic.)   For a really good journalistic analysis of the enduring legacy of the hundreds of years of racism and discrimination up to the 21st century, see Ta-Nahesi Coates, “The Case for Reparations,” The Atlantic  (2014) ]

When I was growing up, racism was all about white supremacy over black Americans.  Racism was simple --- it was a black and white thing.   Some of it was vicious --- the Ku Klux Klan, the murder of Emmett Till in 1956, the brutality of Bull Connor on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Alabama.   However, some of it was more genteel --- at least in speech if not action.   I was hitch-hiking through Texas in 1963 and the young man who gave me a ride stated that he believed black folks “should know their place” (he used a word halfway between Negro and the N word!) but, he assured me, “I don’t go for all this hating!”

Today it’s more complicated.  White folks are not just worried about black Americans asserting their rights --- even (God forbid!) electing a President.  They are worried about the “browning” of America due to increased immigration and significant Latino and Asian birthrates.   Pressed by the danger of a loss of privileged status (it wasn’t just Obama’s election but long run demographic trends promising the US will become a “majority minority nation” within 30 years), too many have responded with fear (hence the massive gun purchases during Obama’s years in the White House) and anger.  It is that anger over loss of white privilege that has driven the cult-like worship of Donald J. Trump, the worst President in the history of our country.

The great intellectual critic of the US, Noam Chomsky has asked rhetorically, “Can you think of anyone in human history who has dedicated his efforts to undermining the prospects for survival of organized human life on earth?”   This of course relates to Trump’s rolling back of environmental regulations in order to raise the profits of fossil fuel and other businesses.   Yet millions of Americans voted for Donald Trump --- not just once in 2016 when he was an outsider promising to shake things up but twice --- after he had demonstrated how dangerous he was to the public health, the basic rules of American democracy and to the survival of human life on the planet.

[For a detailed interview with Chomsky, see  Isaac Chotiner, “Noam Chomsky believes Trump is the worst criminal in human history.”  The New Yorker, (October 30, 2020.]

The “worship” of Trump has led too many of my fellow (white) Americans to join what can only be described as a DEATH CULT.   Their membership is demonstrated when they willfully attend rallies for Trump without masks, or strap on their machine guns and enter the Michigan state house to demonstrate for the “freedom” not be take necessary precautions to save themselves and their families from the deadly Coronavirus.  By their actions they are supporting a pattern of behavior GUARANTEED to wreak more death and disease on tens of thousands of our fellow citizens.  Please remember these deaths fall disproportionately on our fellow black and brown citizens --- many of whom are in essential jobs and unable to work from home.

To return to my strong disagreement with the need for all of us to come together and “heal,” I think some people need to be fought not coddled.   The people who created a caravan of Trump trucks in Texas harassing a Biden campaign bus, the vigilante who murdered two demonstrators in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the individuals who conceived of the inhuman child separation policy at the border and those who carried it out, the Police Union members who (even if they themselves would never shoot an unarmed black man out of racist fear or hatred) continue to shield the racist murderers among them --- all of these are indeed the enemies of all that is good and decent about America.  If there is going to be reconciliation, it is these victims of the Trump cult who must “reconcile” with full black citizenship and the rising percentage of immigrants in our society --- The rest of us should make no effort to “reconcile” with racist America.

Ironically – the damaged white people of America  (and there are too damn many of them --- let us not forget that in both 2016 and 2020, Trump won a majority of white voters!)  had their long term health saved by courageous and patriotic Black Americans in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Detroit Michigan, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the Latino voters of Arizona and Nevada who voted in just enough numbers to guarantee that Trump would not have four more years to kill Americans with COVID and destroy the planet with his policies. Even faced with a Republican Senate, President Biden will definitely be able to engage in a sane, science-based, strategy to combat COVID-19 --- saving the lives of even the people who routinely take action designed to put themselves and their loved ones at risk.

By coming out and voting in large numbers, these courageous black and brown Americans have proved once again that they love America.   I join the great NBA coach Doc Rivers in wishing OH SO MUCH --- that America would finally start loving them back.

Michael Meeropol is professor emeritus of Economics at Western New England University. He is the author with Howard and Paul Sherman of the recently published second edition of Principles of Macroeconomics: Activist vs. Austerity Policies

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