The Reed Report

5 Things We Can’t Forget About Our Post-Trump Reality

Dismantling injustice is a marathon, not a sprint

Photo: Alex Edelman/AFP/Getty Images

Six days into the presidency, Joe Biden made a promise unlike any previous U.S. head of state: Under his administration, every branch of the federal government would work toward achieving racial equity in the country.

Now we all know that promises made don’t always equal promises kept. But even presidents like John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Barack Obama — whom history has granted kind legacies on race — never explicitly tasked the entire U.S. government with chipping away at systemic racism.

It’s four years too soon to measure the Biden administration’s progress toward undoing centuries of racial inequity, but as he chips away at the problem, here are five things that Black folks, Biden, and the country must always remember:

1. Trumpism didn’t die on January 20.

The open racism and xenophobia of the Trump administration didn’t disappear when he left office and got impeached (again). Consider that Democrats actually lost seats in the House, most GOP senators voted against the impeachment despite a literal insurrection that threatened their safety, and people like this are now in Congress. Biden may have designs on a racially progressive agenda, but he faces opposition that was only temporarily defeated and may even be emboldened.

2. Reconciliation can’t come without justice.

Last week I wrote about the slow pace of arrests weeks after the Capitol riots compared with the aggressive — and often unconstitutional — policing tactics used against BLM protestors. Not only has this gap not closed, but officials are now discussing whether some of the rioters should be charged at all. At the same time, conservatives in Congress, including some who goaded on the insurrectionists, are already calling on Democrats to take a conciliatory posture. That can’t happen. The new administration and Congress don’t have to mimic Mitch McConnell’s political bullying from a position of strength, but they can’t be cowed into a no-harm, no-foul posture. The violent actors must be prosecuted and elected officials who encouraged and supported them should be held accountable as well.

3. Don’t have a short memory.

The Biden administration would do well not to repeat the mistakes of past successful Democratic tickets, namely making Black voters feel like they didn’t get a return on their votes. Black voters in South Carolina salvaged Biden’s primary bid from the ashes. Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as VP solidified his support among many Black women. And, Black voters accounted for the winning margins in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and even Georgia. Executive orders in the first week are a good start, but only a start. Black folks spent a lot of political capital they expect to see returned in measurable outcomes over the next four years.

It’s four years too soon to measure the Biden administration’s progress toward undoing centuries of racial inequity.

4. Don’t lose focus.

This is less about the administration than an electorate that must exercise its power in local races, the midterms, and beyond. Both Obama and Biden took the White House with historic Black voter turnout; Trump’s victory in between came when many of those voters sat on the sidelines. The past election cycle also saw the rise of a new class of political organizers characterized by Black women. Those groups could make a formidable infrastructure for remaking mayors’ offices, district attorneys’ offices, and statehouses — the places where change will be most felt on the ground in the coming years.

5. Normalize ignoring conspiracy theorists.

Anti-vaxxers and the like existed before Trump but no president before him weaponized the erosion of belief in fact-based truth so effectively. His best supporters literally believe that there’s a man named Q with a list of demonic Democratic pedophiles who drink kids’ blood, and took over the Capitol because, well, Trump said he won. Black voters have a different relationship to conspiracy theories because of real-life skulduggery like J. Edgar Hoover’s CoIntelPro and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, but the past four years have also brought a new and dangerous wave of fake news aimed at Black communities. Misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines and about the risks of the virus itself is dangerous in a community losing lives at a faster clip than anyone. Repeated myths about voting (our votes don’t count; Black men voted overwhelmingly for Trump) helps depress voter participation. Success at moving a progressive agenda for Black America forward in the next four years depends on abandoning unverified stories shared on social media as a news source and ignoring medical advice from friends who got Ds in high school history and algebra. Lives may literally depend on it.

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Keith Reed is a writer, commentator & former ESPN the Magazine editor, whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe, Vibe, Essence, CNN, MSNBC and elsewhere.

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