Opinion: The Black Life Is an Afterthought Until the Election

A portrait of George Floyd's 6-year-old daughter, Gianna, in Minneapolis. Photo by Hannah Black/Minnesota Reformer

On race, America is like an old, defective, complicated electrical equipment with frayed and exposed wires, fuses blowing all the time and frequently bursting into flames.

Until Donald Trump, we had elected semi-qualified electricians who handled this equipment through quick fixes like using electrical tape or replacing the fuse instead of dealing with its fundamental issues like replacing its expensive parts. They just needed it to work for their own purposes until they were done using it.

Trump does not know how to operate this machine, which doesn’t matter because he does not want it to work, either. He would actually prefer to sell it for parts.

This is to say our problems didn’t start three years ago.

Instead of dealing with systemic issues such as mass incarceration, investing in black communities by doing simple things as remediating lead pipes at schools or addressing income inequality, leaders were providing superficial quick fixes.

What’s a state-mandated minority business enterprise standard without any metrics? What’s the point of calling for equity, diversity or inclusion if they are to be co-opted to advance the interests of special interests who do not care about those values?

What’s a voting rights law without any implementation directive or standard? How about a system that said using crack was a crime while using heroin was a public health emergency because the victims were different?

Poverty increases the risk of interaction with law enforcement and systemic racism makes that confrontation more deadly and violent because of the absence of compassion.

Racism cannot be eradicated, but how our system treats racists can be controlled. So the question we should ask is why have our elected officials time and again failed to reform the system? Why do they continue to cover for the police unions, indemnifying them from murder and illegal acts instead of increasing oversight through a robust civilian board or implementing body cameras?

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew that a key component to addressing systemic racism meant addressing income inequality. So why do our elected officials continue to bail out the billionaires and corporations while our school children drink lead-infested water? Why do they fail to crack down on predatory lending or environmental vandalism?

I think one reason the problem continues to persist is due to the way the political parties handle race. At certain points in U.S. history both parties have had a positive impact addressing racism such as the Emancipation Proclamation or civil rights laws. But something fundamentally changed in the past few decades where race has turned into an election-year issue.

I say it’s an election-year issue because political parties have exploited it in different ways for the same goal — power. Democrats would tell blacks that the Republicans are after their rights, which is true. But, once they ascend to power, they spend most of their time looking out for the powerful interests instead of addressing the threats of increasing inequality or perhaps keeping their promises on expanding rights.

On the other hand, Republicans would tell whites that their way of life — the white way of life — is in danger because of the big, bad blacks. They promise to restore law, eliminate voter fraud or reduce welfare, which is bloated cause of the lazy blacks. Once in power, they do everything they promised, while also looking out for the powerful interests — billionaires and corporations.

The black life is an afterthought until an election, and that is what needs to change. The black vote should not be taken for granted, and it is long past time for meaningful and fundamental changes to the way our society works. The existing power structure does not work. It gives comfort to bad behavior and hails superficial and meaningless actions as wins. It distorts compromise to mean giving everything in exchange for so little. It bastardizes pragmatism to rationalize the perpetuation of suboptimal outcomes.

We need a complete reform of how our system works to restore trust in our institutions, which started eroding long before the election of the man fanning the flames.

— HIRUY HADGU

The writer is a resident of Howard County who volunteers as a community activist focused on zoning and land-use and economic equity.