For Trump, Black Lives only Matter in the context of what white voters want, says Dr Andrew Moran, Head of International Relations and Politics.
Date: 09 June 2020
For Trump, the death of George Floyd and the demonstrations that have followed are nothing but an opportunity to reach out to his own base. The widely condemned photo opportunity in Washington outside the St. John’s Episcopal Church saw Trump reach out to evangelicals by uncomfortably holding a bible, appeal to gun owners by promising to protect Second Amendment rights in a speech about restoring order (thereby suggesting white folks should hold on to their guns just in case) and comfort traditional conservatives by portraying himself as a law and order president (not unlike Nixon, but even Nixon had the guts to meet demonstrators, which Trump does not).
Trump may claim he has done more for black Americans than any other president, which is simply not true (ask Lincoln, Roosevelt, Truman, Johnson or Obama), and his only evidence appears to be falling black unemployment levels – something which had begun under Obama.
What is clear is that for Trump Black Lives only Matter in the context of what white voters want, and for that reason his administration is likely to continue to ignore people of colour and pander to the slim base of supporters that might vote for him in the November election. An election that will see many voters in minority communities disenfranchised because of local laws which are enforcing tough restrictions on voter registration and limiting the opportunities to vote on election day.
Whether Trump’s approach will work remains to be seen. What it does allow him to do is shift the agenda away from his incompetent handling of Covid-19 which has led to over one hundred thousand Americans dying, a disproportionate number of whom, like Britain, are from the BAME community.
Watching the funeral of George Floyd reminded me of the death of Emmett Till, some 65 years earlier. A fourteen-year-old African American who was brutally murdered by Southern racists. At his funeral his mother ensured her son’s mangled body could be seen around the world. That year, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, which sparked a year-long bus boycott, led by Martin Luther King, that would end segregation of the buses in the town and give added impetus to a movement that would lead to the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
In a popular song of the time, Sam Cooke proclaimed that ‘a change is gonna come’. But it has not come fast enough. Black Lives do Matter – and if Americans, and people in the UK, mean that, whatever their background, they must not only protest but vote out those who stand in the way of change. Rosa Parks made a difference by sitting down. We all have to make a difference by standing up.