The Current

Protests just as important as voting to counter anti-black racism, says historian

As widespread protests over anti-black racism and police brutality continue, some are calling on demonstrators to get out and vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election — and one historian says both approaches need to co-exist.

'What we need to do is not have a false binary whether it's either protest or vote. It's both': Carol Anderson

Protesters gather at Foley Square on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in New York, as part of a demonstration against police brutality sparked by the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. (Yuki Iwamura/The Associated Press)
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As widespread protests over anti-black racism and police brutality continue, some are calling on demonstrators to get out and vote in the upcoming U.S. presidential election — and one historian says both approaches need to co-exist.

"I think what we need to do is not have a false binary whether it's either protest or vote. It's both," said Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

"You need the protest to make it really clear what the possibilities of change are," she told The Current's Matt Galloway, while encouraging voters to take action against efforts to suppress black voters.

Voting is crucial to get "the real kind of policymakers ... that can provide the funding necessary for our communities; that can have the kinds of policies where we can eventually be able to breathe" into office.

But, she added, "if we just vote without having the kind of activism that makes it clear what the imagined possibilities are, then we're just replicating the same old, same old."

Terrence Floyd called for peace and for protesters to stop burning their communities as the family continues to seek justice for George Floyd’s death.  4:14

Protests broke out last week over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, who died after a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes. State prosecutors have charged the former officer, Derek Chauvin, with second-degree murder, and are also charging three officers who were at the scene. Minnesota's medical examiner ruled the death a homicide on Monday.

Protests Tuesday night were largely peaceful, with cities increasing curfews. Terrence Floyd, the brother of George Floyd, called for peaceful demonstrations, while encouraging black voters to make their voices heard.

"Let's stop thinking that our voice don't matter and vote. Not just for the president. Vote for the preliminaries, vote for everybody," he said, during a rally over the weekend. "Educate yourself. Don't wait for somebody else to tell you who's who. Educate yourself and know who you're voting for."

Trump vs. Biden not an easy choice

When election day comes, Chicago-based writer and racial justice organizer Charlene Carruthers says black voters will face a challenging decision.

Though many voters, including Carruthers, say that getting Trump out of the White House is key to fixing relationships with the black community, she says that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden's relationship with the community is also fraught.

Charlene Carruthers is a black, queer community organizer and the author of Unapologetic: A Black, Queer and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements. (Zakkiyyah Najeebah)

Biden swept primaries in Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and South Dakota on Tuesday night, closing in on the Democratic nomination.

"The Democratic nominee has a history of actually being complicit in the oppression of black people, be it from the 1994 crime bill or the very policies that he supported," Carruthers told Galloway, referring to a law that aimed to reverse rising crime, but which critics say led to mass incarcerations, particularly among black Americans.

"I can't ignore that and everyday people don't ignore that either. But many black people are making the choice to support Joe Biden, not because we believe in Joe Biden, but because we recognize that Donald Trump cannot continue to be in the White House."

That difficult choice, Carruthers warns, could have an impact on turnout this fall.

"The sad reality is that many people who are thinking about, or could show up to, the ballot box in November still have an incomplete reason to show up — and are, frankly, just not inspired, and many people are actually dismayed by many of our options."

Protests 'extensive and deep'

Trump's relationship with black voters was further tested this week when he threatened military action if state governors didn't crack down on violent demonstrators. On Monday, he directed police and national guardsmen to forcibly clear a peaceful protest in Washington, D.C.'s Lafayette Square so that he could later walk to neighbouring St. John's Episcopal Church for a photo opportunity.

"It is just vintage Trump," said Anderson. "It's relying upon violence. It's relying upon threats. And it is aimed at black people. It is aimed at brown people. It is aimed at people that he doesn't even regard as people."

Frank Chapman is a long-time civil rights activist, and the author of The Damned Don't Cry: Pages from the Life of a Black Prisoner and Organizer. (Submitted by Frank Chapman)

A veteran of the civil rights movement, Frank Chapman argued that Trump's actions are unconstitutional, and called the U.S. leader "authoritarian."

"When he's saying that he's going to take the military of the United States government and turn it against people in the country, that's almost like civil war," he told Galloway.

With protests against anti-black racism taking place across the U.S., and around the world, including in Canada, Chapman says this is the first time he's seen protests this "extensive and deep." 

"The rebellion is in all 50 states, and I think we've reached a point where we would not be going back," said Frank Chapman, a justice reform activist who was arrested in 1961 and jailed for 14 years after being wrongfully convicted of murder and armed robbery.

"I think we're witnessing an uprising of the youth like we haven't seen in this country in a long time, and that they are really setting the stage for some very dramatic and radical social change in this country," he said.

"I'm so glad that they are, because this is exactly what we need."


Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Ines Colabrese, Howard Goldenthal and Alex Zabjek.

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