America isn’t a monarchy, but Trump seemed to wish to become the first tyrant king, repeatedly expressing his wish to rule for longer than eight years, and inciting a horde of white supremacists to stage a violent insurrection at the Capitol to keep this Inauguration Day from happening.
Trump’s love affair with fascism threw us into a topsy-turvy world that many Americans thought they’d never experience, despite the endless oppression of Black and Indigenous people right here, in America. People thought it could never happen here, because many chose to believe this country – despite almost all evidence to the contrary – has a glorious democracy and a noble past. And with the Inauguration of Biden and Harris, many believe we have a bright future.
But how can we truly believe this, so long as there is rampant voter suppression and human rights violations against Black people, Indigenous people, and immigrants? How can we, when Black Lives Matter protesters are assaulted and arrested by police for trying to bring about a world in which cops can’t kill us, or shackle us in plantations called prisons? How can we, when 1 in 1000 Black people have died from Covid-19, or when Black and Indigenous people are the ones hit hardest by the climate crisis, because our government uses them as human shields against the toxic waste they created for profit?
How can we, when Biden and Harris have repeatedly rejected Black Lives Matter organizers’ demands, or watered them down? Biden’s response to the world rising up in protest of murderous cops was to call for more funding, and make milquetoast promises of “reform”.
This country doesn’t have a glorious democracy or a noble past. And as Black people, we barely have a tolerable present. However, we may have a bright future. That future rests in the hands of passionate organizers, like those who have pushed the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront for almost a decade.
As Black people, we cannot let representational politics persuade us that our hopes are on the Inauguration Dais, holding their hands to their hearts and swearing to serve this country. Our hope is with the people below, those who may feel relief that Trump is no longer president, but who are already preparing to fight a Biden administration, because Black lives depend on it.
It may feel like cognitive dissonance, mainly because of Kamala Harris’ identity as a Black and Asian woman, but the Biden administration is not a victory for the Black Lives Matter movement. It brings us closer to survival than a Trump dictatorship would have, but this administration has made no commitments that will radically change the state of Black people in America.
Angela Davis, renowned scholar and freedom fighter, expressed similar thoughts during an 18 January keynote discussion about the upcoming Biden-Harris administration. “I’ve pointed out many times that the electoral arena is not, by itself, going to bring about change,” she said. Davis cautioned listeners not to repeat the same mistakes with Biden and Harris as they did with former president Barack Obama.
“It was a world-historical change. But then people didn’t continue to make demands. There were those who assumed that because a black man was elected, all we had to do was sit back and let him move the world forward,” Davis said.
“And of course we should have been out in the streets demonstrating from the moment of his inauguration. And then things might’ve turned out differently.”
It’s a grave mistake to assume that the Biden administration will have Black peoples’ best interests in mind. We must save ourselves, and we must do that by taking Davis’ advice and demanding things of our governments, digital organizing, and staying out in the streets if we must.
This may all sound too bleak and serious, on a day when so many are longing to feel happy. But we live in a bleak world, in a cruel country led by sometimes cruel people. Trump was a bombastic, fascist iteration of that cruelty. But with him gone, it will probably still be present. It might just look more polite. It might have more class. It might recite Dr. Martin Luther King more and occasionally don a rainbow flag.
We cannot let the relief we rightfully feel upon the (hopeful) end of the Trump era numb us to the reality of all that we have lost, all that this government – yes, even the new one – is probably chomping at the bit to take from us. Today is not a celebration for Black Lives Matter, but merely a new chapter in our seemingly never-ending fight.