Questions of racial inequality, economic imbalance, and social responsibility filled Devlin 101 this Thursday as Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor discussed how the United States has landed itself in a presidency led by Donald Trump and where the Black Lives Matter movement stands in the Trump era.
Taylor, an assistant professor in the Center for African American Studies at Princeton University, began her talk by discussing the mindset that spread across America after Barack Obama was elected president.
After the 2008 inauguration, the possibility of an America without racism was in the minds of people across the country—a stark contrast from what Americans saw in the 2016 election.
“It is not a hyperbole to say that white supremacy sits at the heart of the American government,” Taylor said. “Donald Trump’s election has unleashed the beasts of racism and reaction.”
Taylor highlighted the hate crimes committed all over the country, citing them as evidence for the argument that a black president does not signify a post-racial society.
In her effort to address multiple forms of inequality in her speech, Taylor also discussed the dangers of Trump’s cabinet for both racial and economic reasons.
She pointed out that while some cabinet members, like Steve Bannon, may be more blatant in expressing racist sentiments, all of Trump’s cabinet picks are individuals who have always benefited from inequality of wealth and power in society.
“We cannot actually understand the rise of Trump without taking into account the failure of Obama to deliver on his promises of hope and change,” Taylor said. “Trump’s rise is actually a story about who did not vote more than who did vote.”
Taylor turned to the tens of millions of voters who did not vote in the 2016 election to portray her message, claiming that the nature of America’s two-party system creates room for more indifference and less analysis when it comes to presidential candidates.
After the disappointment felt by much of the black community following Obama’s failure to fulfill many of his promises, whether by his own fault or not, many voters lost faith that their status quo would ever be changed.
According to Taylor, when working class voters saw the two candidates they were choosing between in the 2016 election, they saw no possibility for improvement in their lives and lost faith in the system.
This, Taylor points out, was the key problem in the 2016 election. With only 60 million of 238 million eligible voters in America casting their ballots for Donald Trump, his win was attributed more to the voters who lost faith in the system than those who actually voted for him.
“Within the narrow space of choosing between one party of millionaires over another party of millionaires, the key questions facing ordinary people in this country go unanswered,” Taylor said.
“For millions of people in this country, it is the status quo that is increasingly intolerable,”
— Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, professor at Yale University
Taylor argued that while Democrats often blame Fox, the FBI, Hillary Clinton’s email scandal, and Russian hackers for the loss of the election, many fail to consider that the party has neglected to represent the people for which it is supposed to stand. It is the working class that has faced everyday problems that have long been unresolved by the government, despite promises made by politician after politician.
“For millions of people in this country, it is the status quo that is increasingly intolerable,” Taylor said.
This status quo, according to Taylor, is comprised of the nationwide opioid crisis, the decline in life expectancy for white women due to a multitude of reasons, the quiet deportation of undocumented immigrants, and countless other issues.
Taylor brought the focus back to the Democrats’ social responsibility to explain just how disappointed immigrants have been by both parties.
During Obama’s administration, 2.5 million undocumented immigrants were silently deported out of the country, uprooted from their lives and oftentimes families to be forced out of America.
“We can all look in horror at the indiscriminate way that Trump has empowered immigration control enforcement agents to swoop into immigrant communities and round people up,” Taylor said. “But we must acknowledge that the Obama administration greased the wheels to this machinery of injustice a long time ago.”
The rise of shootings and murders in Chicago is another dangerous status quo that is a reality for many of the city’s working class communities.
While the media and elected officials often turn to reasons like retaliation or parenting to explain these crime rates, Taylor turned to economic explanations like the high black unemployment rate in the city.
Taylor argued that any other explanation of the death tolls in Chicago related to retaliation or black on black crime are tools used by the administration to distract from the rampant police brutality present today.
This, she claimed, is why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. Social movements, Taylor pointed out, are key in bringing attention to misconduct, showing others how to react to issues such as police violence, providing language for people to articulate their emotions, and fostering analysis regarding today’s political issues.
Taylor’s argument for the reason economic inequality and racial injustice work as a team is the same argument she used to explain the importance of solidarity among all different marginalized groups.
“We have to stop constraining our own political imagination into what is deemed pragmatic and possible,” Taylor said. “No social movement has begun with the question of what is realistic.”
Featured Image by Jake Evans / Heights Staff