Rajkamal Rao

For American voters, the choice is Black or Blue

Rajkamal Rao | Updated on August 31, 2020 Published on August 31, 2020

The November election will largely be about what Americans think as to where the country stands on the issue of race

As America heads to the polls in two months, there is no topic more on voters’ minds than how to reconcile support for Blacks while also recognising the service of law-enforcement officers, who typically wear blue uniforms.

Black Lives Matter (BLM) is America’s most powerful movement in 50 years. Its premise is that America’s police departments harbour systemic racial bias against African Americans, a bias that has resulted in disproportionate numbers of Black deaths. Since the brutal murder of George Floyd in May, there have been over 5,000 BLM protests for racial justice all over the country. Biden supporters, including many whites, are on the front lines of these protests, organising and funding the movement.

Trump supporters argue that after 50 years of changes in government policy to help uplift African-Americans and the election of a Black president twice, the idea that systemic racism exists is far fetched. Besides, peaceful protests are one thing but riots, looting, anarchy, and attacks against the police, as can be seen in cities like Portland and Seattle, threaten the nation’s very fabric.

Corporations and organisations have fully supported BLM. The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company conducted employee training programmes that said that while at work, BLM-themed attire was permitted but “Blue Lives Matter” gear, supporting the police, was not. Sports leagues prominently display BLM signage on their valuable real estate ensuring that the message is omnipresent on TV screens. Major League Baseball (MLB) creatively rewrote its logo backward to highlight BLM.

Speech codes are in full force. The Associated Press, whose style guide is used by millions, announced in June that the letter B has to be capitalised when referring to Black people. But the letter “w” has to stay small when referring to white people.

Cancel culture is rampant with career-ending consequences. A radio station in Cleveland fired a news anchor last week for describing Kamala Harris as a “coloured person”, because, used as an adjective, the word “colour” is considered offensive. The preferred approach is to use the word as a noun, as in the nation’s “first vice-presidential woman of colour.”

Police action

For policymakers, there’s a legitimate question if the issue of police brutality is indeed due to systemic racial bias or if other factors, such as poor training, plain incompetence, or even fear is at play when white police officers encounter Blacks. Why fear? Every traffic stop by a police officer could be their last stop ever made because the driver could have a loaded weapon that could be used against the officer.

Roland Fryer, a Black professor at Harvard, has studied this question in great depth, using millions of datasets and advanced analytics. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he concluded that when police reported incidents, they were 53 per cent more likely to use physical force on a Black civilian than a white one. This finding adds fuel to the BLM narrative. But on the crucial question of Black deaths, he said that “no matter how we analysed the data, we found no racial differences in shootings overall, in any city in particular, or in any subset of the data.”

Out on the streets, no one appears to care for such analysis. If anything, BLM protests have dared more Blacks to more openly confront the police when stopped, trolling officers to engage in even more dangerous interactions. The constant media attacks on the police have pushed officers to go on the defensive, making law enforcement less likely to go the extra mile to serve and protect communities. This disengagement has resulted in dramatic increases in shooting deaths in large cities like Chicago and New York.

BLM’s call to eliminate racism is noble, but it won’t be easy. America has over 1,200 local police departments, with most forces having fewer than ten officers. People are a product of their cultural upbringing and police officers, who do not need a college degree to wear the uniform, are rarely exposed to a more liberal sense of tolerance and acceptance.

The November election will largely be about what Americans think as to where the country stands on the issue of race. If they think that BLM protests have gone too far — especially the cancel culture that punishes such expression — Americans will likely reward Trump with a second term from the safety of a voting booth. If voters think that more needs to be done to lift Blacks up, expect the Biden/Harris ticket to win.

The writer is Managing Director, Rao Advisors LLC, Bedford, TX

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Published on August 31, 2020
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