Finally, the election season is over. The historic elections we saw in this cycle were intriguing. The runoff elections for the U.S. Senate in Georgia put a cap on the campaign season. For many people this could be described as a COVID-19 election. I would argue that this was an election influenced by a pandemic but determined by the killing of unarmed Black people with no adequate justice for the Black community. Losing a job and losing a life is not a fair exchange.
Remarkably this is only the second time in modern history when the white vote went overwhelming to a presidential candidate that lost the election. The first time that happened was as a response to four years of President Barack Obama. This was done with a degree of frustration, mixed with pride to help a Black man who it was felt was not given a fair opportunity to be as successful as his abilities would warrant. The echoes of a white Republican leader boasting to make Obama a one- term president at the very start of his presidency underscored this perception for many. Blacks had to “have Obama’s back” which was encouraged by the Obama-Biden team that utilized this tactic during their re-election campaign.
The results were astounding on many levels. It was highlighted by a landslide loss of the white vote by 21 points and especially crushed by the vote of white males. Even more astounding was how the Black vote participation eclipsed the white vote participation percentage for the first time in America’s history. More that 1.7 million more Blacks voted in 2012 than even 2008.
Blacks responded loudly and in an unprecedented manner. Obama received 95/97% of the Black vote and together with the statistic on turnout he was able to win a second term as President.
What followed was a rapid increase in the deaths of dozens of unarmed Black men by white police officers which would parallel the resurgent deaths of unarmed Black people by white police officers that we see today. Even prior to the Senate race in Georgia, another unarmed Black man was killed by a white police office, Andre Hall.
Note I said earlier that this was the first time to see this phenomenon in modern history. We saw it post slavery during Reconstruction. It is quoted in Booker T. Washington’s autobiography – ‘Up From Slavery’ – that back then “Blacks would know who to vote for by listening to white people talk in the stores. Whomever the white man was for, they would be against.”
This did not work well for Black Americans, however. The killing of unarmed Black men by white people enforcing their form of law and order and justice resulted in more than 4,000 lynchings alone and nearly no arrests. The acts of terrorism led to a reformation/migration of the Black population from the South.
So, what did we witness this election cycle? Contrary to what the mainstream media was telling us prior to the election, white women supported Donald Trump and white men did so in a landslide. The white vote went overwhelmingly to Trump. Sounds familiar. But this time the reason for the occurrence was not so much due to Black pride, despite Kamala Harris being on the ticket. The reason was the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the many examples of similar incidents with no sign of meaningful constructive change.
The wheels of justice can move slowly, if at all. For 87% of Black Americans, the trust in this vital institution is lacking. And, when you can be shot seven times in the back and there is no indictment, that 87% can only increase.
The record Black vote in 2020 was a direct response. Blacks cannot control or influence the justice system despite the number of Black elected officials. The loss has been extremely painful for the Black community and an embarrassment for the vast majority of the white community. Most Blacks recognize that tactics of the 1960s – protests and riots can be ignored or met with punitive repercussions. Thus, the best immediate way to address this feeling of pain from the loss was to make others lose something they also valued, their political status.
President-Elect Biden and Vice-President-Elect Harris have been given everything they have sought – House, Senate and White House. Let us pray that we can all work together as Americans to fix what is broken.
Gary A. Franks served three terms as U.S. representative for Connecticut’s 5th District. He was the first Black Republican elected to the House in nearly 60 years and New England’s first Black Member of the House.