- 24 Nov 20
In the euphoria of Joe Biden’s victory, his record on race can’t be overlooked.
Now that top turd Trump has been turfed out of the presidency – if not yet, at the time of writing, out of the White House – we can all snuggle down and look forward to four years at ease with ourselves and at peace with the world.
Only a churl would choose to disrupt this longed-for serenity by venturing a vice-versa word about Joe Biden. If Trump is evil incarnate, Joe must be god’s gift. Not to mention the fact that sure isn’t he one of our own? And there’s a non-white woman next to him in line.
Biden’s team will have a formidable task hosing down the Oval Office. But given how they’ve managed to white-wash their own record on race and much else, I’m optimistic they’re up to the job.
Remember Michael Brown, an 18-year old unarmed black man shot and killed by a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014? His name was inscribed on thousands of placards on hundreds of thousands of protests around the US.
Speaking at Michael’s funeral, civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton proclaimed that, “The name of Michael Brown will never be forgotten.”
Michael’s murder generated the emergence of Black Lives Matter as a mass movement. But the killer cop hasn’t had to pay any price.
Or Eric Garner, held to the ground on a pavement in New York in December 2014 and choked to death by a white policeman while other cops stood around, watching. Eric repeated the phrase “I can’t breathe” eleven times before his body went limp as he died. A grand jury decided no charges need be brought.
Unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white vigilante, George Zimmerman, in Florida in July 2013. A jury of six white women found him not guilty of murder, not guilty of manslaughter.
In February 2015, the US Department of Justice ruled that there was no basis for charging Zimmerman with violating Trayvon’s civil rights.
These incidents – and there are scores of others equally egregious – happened under Obama and Biden.
The phrase “I can’t breathe” was to be repeated by George Floyd six months ago in Minneapolis as he was held to the ground with a cop’s knee on his throat for eight minutes and 46 seconds.
None of us had any difficulty relating that killing to the racist rhetoric blaring from the White House.
How, then, to contextualise Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin?
My friend Emory Douglas can shed wisdom on this subject.
When I first met him half a century ago, Emory was editor of the Black Panther Party newspaper. His savage caricatures of white politicians, Democrat and Republican, and cops and judges and bankers and the rest of such riff-raff, frequently filled the front page.
There was a sarcastic article in the San Francisco Chronicle asking why, if Emory insisted on calling himself an artist, he never seemed to paint landscapes.
But I do paint landscapes, Emory responded. “It’s just that in my landscapes, the pigs are swinging from the trees.”
I spoke with Emory on November 4th 2008 – the night Obama was elected. He and his fellow veteran Billy X, the party’s archivist, were on this side of the ocean speaking at a string of solidarity meetings. I had the deep pleasure of chairing one of these events, in the Main Room in Sandino’s.
After the speechifying, Emory, Billy and myself dandered out for a smoke. I asked them for a couple of quotes, to include in press statements following up on the meeting.
Emory said: “It’s a wonderful night, full of hope, and we have to hold onto the hope, so we can push for the things he (Obama) promised would come when he fails to deliver, as he will. Real change, if it comes, will come from below, just like here (Derry), just like anywhere.”
Billy said: “Wall Street will still be there. The Israeli lobby will still be there. The chiefs of staff and the CIA, the industrialists, oil barons, the owners of the media, all of them still there. All Obama has won is the presidency.”
The US electorate giving Trump the bum’s rush is a sweet moment which we all can savour. But in light of all of the above, the best commentary has come from Stan.
There’s only one black kid at South Park Elementary, Token. Distressed by the spate of racist killings, Stan accosts Token in the corridor: “Token, I believe all racism is evil. I want to be your friend. Can we hang out?”
“You don’t get it,” Token answers, stony-faced, and walks away.
Next day, Stan button-holes Token again: “Token, Token, I acknowledge my white privilege. I feel my guilt for the oppression your people have suffered for centuries. Can we be friends now?”
“You don’t get it,” says Token, sternly, and walks off.
Day after that, Stan rushes to meet Token again. “Token, Token, I don’t get it.”
“Now you got it,” says Token.