What the U.S. presidential election results mean for Black Manitobans

"As we witness the state of democracy in America, issues regarding public health, social justice and the abuse of power are not that far removed from Manitoba," says Blackspace Winnipeg co-founder Alexa Joy.

'Hope is not enough': Blackspace Winnipeg co-founder Alexa Joy says it's too soon to celebrate

'Progressives see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as a win,' Alexa Joy says in reaction to the U.S. election results. 'I see it as a distraction.' (Submitted by Alexa Joy)

I can confidently say that the past couple of weeks have solidified my complete lack of faith in political leaders — specifically, white-male political figures. 

Manitobans might question why the U.S. election is relevant provincially. What comes to mind are the striking similarities that I see, between the Donald Trump administration and the Brian Pallister government. 

Think about it. 

Trump's shown an apparent carelessness of American lives in a global pandemic. Pallister's shown a lack of direction, plan of action and (in my opinion) inexcusable tardiness to minimize the spread of COVID-19. 

Trump's (in my opinion) blatant white supremacy. In June, Pallister responded to the Black Lives Matter movement by stating "all lives matter."

Both go back and forth on promises to help society's most vulnerable. 

Come to think of it, the only difference I can determine between the two is that one's party is red, the other is blue. As we witness the state of democracy in America, issues regarding public health, social justice and the abuse of power are not that far removed from Manitoba. 

Remember, we're not much different from the U.S.- Alexa Joy

The state of affairs in the U.S. had the entire world holding its breath, as some of us thought the world was coming to an end once again. 

That is until the election results came in. After four years of an aggressive, disillusioned, enraged, white supremacist administration under the political direction of a tyrant whom some revered, America has elected former vice-president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris as the next president and vice-president of the United States. 

On the morning of Nov. 8, people rejoiced, news anchors were in tears, Americans stood side-by-side to celebrate this new chapter in their democracy. State officials assured the American public that all votes were valid and would be counted. 

Vice-president-elect Kamala Harris and president-elect Joe Biden on stage together on Nov. 7 in Wilmington, Del. 'I was not overcome with hope or happiness with the results of the U.S. election — for the same reasons I was not excited when Justin Trudeau succeeded Stephen Harper in 2015,' says Joy. (Andrew Harnik, Pool/AP Photo)

I know that some who continue to read this article might be confused or go numb to the statements I'm about to write. But I have to say, I was not overcome with hope or happiness with the results of the U.S. election — for the same reasons I was not excited when Justin Trudeau succeeded Stephen Harper in 2015.

Remember, we're not much different from the U.S. 

Progressives see president-elect Joe Biden and vice-president-elect Kamala Harris as a win. I see it as a distraction. 

The one thing people could no longer turn away from in the presence of Trump was how alive, ugly and hostile America is, in its natural state. And more importantly, that almost half of American voters still wanted him as their fearless leader. 

States were stained in red with more than 145 million people who voted; at the time of this writing, 47.4 per cent voted Republican (71,430,430) and 50.9 per cent Democrat (76,326,728), with 232 electoral votes for Trump and 306 for Biden.

Manitoba's 2019 provincial election results presented a similar divide between voters and the two competing dominant parties. This resulted in a predominantly Conservative government, with the party holding 36 seats, the NDP at 18 and the Liberals at three. 

More than 221,000 Manitobans voted the Progressive Conservatives into office, and we can all see how questionable that decision was in today's uncertain climate. 

These numbers in the U.S. and Manitoba are crucial to remind us all that without systemic overhaul, regardless of who is in power, voters are still committed to supporting conservative politicians and ideologies. 

Pendulum swings

This seems to happen every election; the pendulum swings between the blue and the red or the blue and the orange. While people think the president-elect is a breath of fresh air for a brief moment, it seems to me the lesser of two evils. 

It's easy to be lured into the falsehood of liberalism. Joe Biden addressed the nation on Nov. 8 thanking communities of colour and specifically thanked African American voters, saying:

"The African American community stood up again for me. They always have my back, and I'll have yours."

It's too early to know if Black Americans can hold their faith in this new administration, but Black voters single-handedly ensured a new president would be elected. 

This election also witnessed an influx of voters who sent in their ballots early. 

Historically, Black Americans had to fight for their voting rights. Under Jim Crow laws, Black people couldn't vote. It wasn't until after the civil war in 1870, through the 15th Amendment, that Black men at the time were granted the right to vote, but it wasn't that simple. 

Through Jim Crow laws, literacy tests, poll taxes, antagonizing scare tactics to deter Black people from voting, voter suppression has been shaped by the political and social climate in the U.S. for generations. 

These tactics progressed further into voting purges, and more recently, mandatory identification cards for voters and fewer voting stations in predominantly Black communities. 

Even with these deterrents in place, Black people showed up to the polls and solidified Biden and Harris's electoral win.

Commitment to Black voters 

Biden declared this commitment to Black voters on the public stage, but I am wary of the coming months and year ahead to see if any change will be achieved.

It's difficult to be hopeful when Joe Biden had a major role as the senator for Delaware in 1994, passing a crime law that contributed to the growth of prison populations in America's already unjust prison industrial complex. 

I don't want better. I want change.- Alexa Joy

The notorious "tough-on-crime" era, which incarcerated thousands of Black and marginalized Americans, did little to curb the rising prison populations.

In the same breath, Sen. Kamala Harris — who became a state prosecutor of California in 1990 — faced intense criticism from prison abolitionists and activists during the tough-on-crime era in California, where they too saw an increase of Black people behind bars for petty drug possession of marijuana, passed laws on truancy targeting immigrant Black parents and opposed reform with the "three-strikes law."

These past actions illustrate that Democrats and Republicans mirror one another, and political representation that plays into identity politics leads us into a darker illusion that America is one step closer to nationwide progress and equality. 

In comparison, Manitoba also elected its first three Black MLAs in 2019, and in 2018, Winnipeg voted in its first Black city councillor. Again, though, the excitement of political representation sometimes clouds our ability to ask important questions, such as: what can these politicians really achieve for Black communities under an oppressive institution? 

I know there will be people who read this and think, "Wow, can't we be happy for once?"

But I argue, how happy can we be about this election?

The Biden and Harris slate gives the world hope. Maybe it helps people get out of bed in the morning, knowing it's a little bit better. Personally though, I don't want better, I want change

Systemic representation

But I think some of us settle for this systemic representation, because sometimes our energy cannot give more thought to a system that we know does not have our best interest in mind. 

Americans held their breath. Some of them longer than others, who felt a weight has been lifted and that they could breathe again. 

But Black people, either in the U.S., Canada and here in Manitoba — we're always holding our breath. Waiting, hoping to see if this will indeed be the change we need. 

Only time will tell. 

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.



Alexa Joy is a researcher, journalist and graduate student at The New School for Social Research.