today in black history

May 27, 2024

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, founded by the Quakers, established in 1837, is the oldest historically Black college.

Have We Learned our Lesson?

POSTED: December 03, 2020, 2:00 pm

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Too often political conversations in the Black community take a turn toward the hypothetical, conspiratorial or premised on a faux culturalism that misses the reality of present-day, real life politics in the context of our admittedly flawed democratic system of governance. We too often miss the point because we expend so much energy on the what ifs and ignore the reality of what is. While there nothing wrong with taking a prospective point of view, our fate is tied to the present day policymaking, jurisprudence and agenda setting that impacts Black people every day.

If nothing else, after 4 years under the Trump administration and at the mercy of a maniacal president, there are some lessons we should have learned. The first, in my mind, is that we should never underestimate again the ignorance of the American electorate. The Trump presidency has exposed the depths of that ignorance and how a large swath of White Americans is willing to vote against their economic self-interest for the sake of preserving some semblance of White privilege. The collateral damage of American slavery was in full view during the Trump presidency as many southern Whites, who were denied a quality education themselves, embraced an individual who viewed them as expendable. It was classic ‘bait and switch.’ Trump appealed to their whiteness to secure the vote but never had any intention of addressing their concerns or needs from a policy perspective. His appeal was simple, play to White’s racial resentment and fears, and demonize people of color as enemies of America. That appeal will have limited utility in the decades ahead as generations of Whites with the institutional memory of racism and race-baiting will die. What’s more, there are signs that the generational transfer of hate is being broken. It was evident throughout the summer of 2020 in demonstrations and protests across the country, perhaps with no better example than Portland, Oregon where the Black population is minimal.

The next lesson we should gather from Trumpian politics is that the United States is becoming remarkably diverse and so-called progressive politics is not monolithic. The angst expressed over the apparent absence of a unified progressive voice was misplaced. There are divergent points of views on the political left, and absence of sameness is a strength and simply represents who we are as a nation. The stereotypical American is an artifact of the past. There is no singular point of view that represents this nation, as if there ever was, but the White-centric narrative of the United States is dead. The political maturity of the Black and indigenous electorate and the emerging Latino majority and Asian presence represent a cultural shift in America that is irreversible. White male dominance in politics in the United States is at its sunset, and in many ways Donald Trump is synonymous with the fate of dinosaurs in the tar pits. Sooner or later, time will override antiquated thinking.

We should also now be cognizant of the power of social media and have a better understanding of why we must exercise discernment as consumers of online content. It is why Russia targeted Black voters in its effort to manipulate the 2016 election. We tend to be non-discriminating consumers of online content, and judging by many comments I read on several popular social media platforms over the last year, we also tend to fall prey to conspiracy theories and lack sophistication when analyzing American politics. Too often over the last year, online debates between Blacks focused on the presidential election fell into the ‘lesser of two evils’ or ‘she [Kamala Harris] isn’t really Black’ context and failed to consider the myriad of issues that a president can actually affect. Even online exchanges on reparations were often misplaced and demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the limits of presidential power and the nature of our federal system.

Blacks should also come to respect the power of our vote. It is clear that despite gains by Joe Biden among suburban voters and White women, it was an incredible and focused turnout by Black voters that buoyed the Biden-Harris ticket. This was particularly true in Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin, states that were either forecast early as difficult for Democrats to win or had been miscalculated in 2016 by the Clinton campaign. There can also be no doubt of the impact of Senator Kamala Harris on the ticket, as Black women, alumni of historically Black colleges and members of the ‘Divine 9’ Black Greek-letter National Panhellenic Council organizations made it their mission to vote. The excitement over Harris’ selection as the Democrats vice presidential candidate was palpable in the Black community and in stark contrast with the malaise of 2016. What’s more, even in South Carolina, a Black candidate, Jaime Harrison, set fundraising records in putting forth a monumental effort against Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. As the south becomes more diverse and is impacted by Blacks’ reverse migration and the steady influx of northerners, the so-called Republican ‘solid south’ is being dismantled.

One of the biggest lessons we should learn from the Trump era and this election cycle is that Generation Z is poised to permanently shift the political landscape in America. Teenagers and college age young adults have been at the forefront of Black Lives Matter protests this year and have been prominent in the fight over climate change. Teenagers, many of them ineligible to vote, filled in as poll workers on Election Day to replace older poll workers who chose not to fill their normal roles due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The energy that young people brought to this election and their determination to be heard should be viewed as the ushering in of a new political class in America. As the Baby Boom generation reaches its sunset, and Millennials are consumed with achieving some degree of economic security, Generation Z will become a powerful force in the next presidential election cycle and elections to come. For the Black community, we must embrace this change and invest in the civic learning of high school and college students. They are not our future. They are our today.

Walter Fields is the Executive Editor of


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