So long, 2019; welcome, 2020, maybe.
Looking back on 2019, I am reminded of Gil Scott-Heron’s rap poem, “Pardon Our Analysis (We Beg Your Pardon).” I share some of the sentiment the African American griot expresses in his poetic critique of President Gerald Ford’s 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon. Scott-Heron raps, “And we beg your pardon for all the lies and all the people who’ve been ruined and who look forward to next year because they can’t stand to look at this one.” Where I depart from the radical griot is that I’m not sure I look forward to 2020.
In 2019, black people made a modicum of “progress” in a few social indicators; some stagnated, while others regressed. In 1962, the average white household held seven times the wealth of a black household. Fifty-seven years later, in 2019, the average white household’s mean wealth is $933,700, or nearly seven times the mean wealth of the average black household’s $138,200. This slight improvement is representative.
Black people have advanced the most in political representation. In 1960, even though 19 million black people composed 11 percent of the U.S. population, there were only about 100 black elected officials, including only five in the U.S. House of Representatives. Currently, over 10,000 black people hold elected office, including 52 in Congress — 49 representatives and three senators. The 49 representatives constitute more than 11 percent of that body. Thus, for the first-time, congressional black representation nearly matches the percentage of the black population.
This is decidedly not the case in the Senate and the nation at large. While black folks comprise more than 13 percent of the population, they make up less than 1 percent of elected officials.
Police killings of black people, overwhelmingly men, while still excessive, continued to marginally decrease in both number and percentage. In 2018, police officers killed 215 black people, representing 26.7 percent of police killings that year. The 205 black folks killed by police in 2019 comprised 23 percent of police killings. However, in both years, police killed black folks at three times the rate they killed white people.
In terms of black national consciousness, some mental chains were shattered in 2019. A 2016 Marist poll found that 73 percent of African Americans considered “slavery and discrimination” a “major factor” in contemporary racial disparities. By Pew’s April 2019 poll, the figure had grown to 84 percent. A June 2016 Pew survey discovered that 70 percent of black people believed “racial discrimination” handcuffed them. However, 84 percent cited it as a major fetter holding them down in the April 2019 poll. In the 2016 study, 66 percent of black folks saw less access to good jobs as working against them; by 2019, that figure was 76 percent.
The most impressive transformation in black national consciousness, however, occurred in the repudiation of white-supremacist rationales. By 2019, African American acceptance of spurious explanations of their social condition had sharply decreased. In 2016, a full 43 percent cited “lack of motivation to work hard” as a rationale for black folks’ poverty. However, only 22 percent supported that mystification in 2019. In 2016, 57 and 51 percent of black people surveyed agreed that “family instability” and “lack of good role models” were sensible explanations for their struggles. Three years later, “family instability” had declined 17 percentage points to 42 percent and “lack of good role models” by 20 percentage points to 31 percent!
2019 was characterized by President Donald Trump’s public white-nationalist rhetoric and his neo-fascist regime’s crude murderous polices. For me, Trump and his regime’s words and deeds make 2019 a ghastly memory. Conversely, in 2019, black people made significant progress in breaking away from conservative individualistic attributions of their plight.
Looking forward, 2020 promises to be a defining moment. If Trump is re-elected, then it’s a procession toward full-blown fascism. Black people can expect to be snowed under by an avalanche of violence unleashed by both the state and private citizens. Another Trump regime will move to eliminate the remnants of America’s social safety net and abolish lingering democratic traditions. The regime will sanction unprecedented levels of state-sponsored police killing. Additionally, it will greenlight a reign of terror reminiscent of 1919 by private white terrorists.
Should the capitalists controlling the Democrats succeed in imposing Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg or the dreaded Pete Buttigieg (the Killer B’s) upon the party’s electorate, then look for a return to Clintonianism, sans his cool. And as assuredly as Clinton’s neoliberal policies were a softer and slower continuation of Reagan’s agenda; look for the killer B’s to replace Trump’s offensive rhetoric but maintain his milder neoliberal policies. The election of any of the Killer B’s would amount to a return to “normalcy,” to a more covert form of racial oppression.
In the event that the will of the Democratic base prevails, and Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren ascends to the presidency, it will likely spark a fanatical response by Trump’s white-nationalist minions. Deprived of the state’s repressive apparatuses, they would pursue a private terrorist agenda aimed at nullifying the federal government. A white-nationalist revolt would test the thin racial-equalitarian credentials of universalists like Sanders and Warren.
From this vantage point, all 2020 scenarios bode ill for black people. 2020 promises to be exciting — exhilarating, mundane or terrifying.