Last Saturday, Joe Biden was declared the presumptive president-elect of the United States. I struggled then, as I do now, to express how the election made me feel. I imagine many of us have complicated feelings. I’ve seen your Instagram stories, your tweets and your texts, and I’ve heard your words.
Some of you argue that Joe Biden’s win is a step in the right direction—that regardless of whether his presidency is transitional or transformative, the material conditions of hundreds of millions of Americans will be improved. This, of course, is a strong and defensible position. If Biden reverses even one of the myriad sh*tty policies Trump has enacted over the years, the United States will be better for it.
Still, others respond that the good of Biden’s presidency is not a settled matter: that the presidency as an office is bereft of moral goodness. This, too, is a strong argument. Biden will not and cannot reverse a legacy of American imperialism abroad, and his domestic policy positions fall far short of progressive. My liberal friends tend to align themselves with the former argument, and my leftist friends with the latter.
The merits of Biden’s presidency are worth discussion, even if he hasn’t been sworn into office yet. There are good arguments to be had, and we’re certainly having them. Not only in person, but online, with audiences that extend far and beyond. While we’re all great at defending our own positions, the critiques I’ve been hearing leave much to be desired. When it comes to discourse about Biden’s presidency, liberals and leftists are playing a public game of chess, with people of color as the pawns.
“We should be celebrating Joe Biden’s presidency,” the Bowdoin Liberal claims. “When white leftists bully people into being upset, they silence people of color who are rightfully excited. This just proves that white leftists care more about being right than listening to POC.”
“We shouldn’t be celebrating Joe Biden’s presidency,” the Bowdoin Leftist responds. “When white liberals celebrate the President and his Cop VP, they steamroll Black and Brown people who will take the brunt of Biden’s failures and receive the least benefit from his successes. This clearly shows that white liberals don’t care about people of color.”
Why differentiate between leftists and white leftists? It’s because leftists of color can’t possibly silence themselves. Similarly, liberals of color can’t steamroll themselves. The first sentences of both arguments are valid. The problem is that Bowdoin students seem incapable of critiquing an ideology without relying on some form of the claim that “People of color dislike this ideology because its policies or rhetoric harm them,” which is embarrassing because the same could be said for whatever ideology the students themselves follow.
Of course, many leftists are class reductionists. Far too many pretend that anticapitalist work is necessarily antiracist work. The kinds of policies that lessen economic inequality are not the same ones that make my Blackness more comfortable. Not everyone is racist due to economic anxiety alone. Every single one of us has already internalized racist narratives that would need to be deconstructed separate from capitalism. Marx didn’t envision that the United States would develop a racial hierarchy that extends beyond and above our economic hierarchy. Racism and classism are not the same things. A white leftist would no doubt be wrong to tell a Black woman that she should have no pride in seeing Kamala in the White House. Too many leftists lack the ability to see the importance of representation.
Liberals fare no better. They cherish the Black vote and ignore the Black voice. I saw enough of you post “Thank you, Stacey Abrams” on your Instagram stories, as if she became a public servant to help a 77-year-old moderate squeak out an Electoral College win. I mean, it wasn’t like Biden won Georgia for himself—he didn’t care about Georgia, and neither did you. It’s a “dirty, Southern state” that the DNC had written off as being racist, and now that it happened to have won the Democrats the presidency, it will be applauded for a month and given absolutely no real aid. A white liberal would be wrong to tell a Black woman that she should be proud of a Democratic presidency. The Democratic establishment has never stood for Black women; why should she stand for them?
To the Bowdoin Liberal and the Bowdoin Leftist: When you argue that leftism or liberalism harms people of color, you are throwing a stone from a glasshouse. Stick to the point—you either like Joe Biden or you don’t. Leave us out of it.
This week’s article is our last one. Jayna and I want to thank you all for joining us as we ramble on about our lives, and for supporting us like you all have.
You know the drill: When we say slavery, you say sorry.