Derek Griffith, Ph.D., is a professor of medicine, health, and society and the director of the Center for Research on Men’s Health at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN. In this Rapid Reaction, Prof. Griffith shares his views on racism and racial equity in light of the outcome of the United States election.
After days of waiting, the election was called on Saturday, and Joe Biden will be the 46th U.S. president.
Paraphrasing the great activist, satirist, and comedian Dick Gregory, my first response is, “I know the U.S. very well. I spent 20 years there one week.”
Fifty years ago, he made this comment about his experience of racism in the American Southeast, where Jim Crow segregation was no longer legal but remained common practice.
As much as any other, this presidential election demonstrated the deep divide that exists in those unified under the flag of the U.S. around issues of racism and racial equity.
The exit poll of record that asked “Which one of these five issues mattered most in deciding how you voted for president?” found that 2 in 5 voters noted that racial inequality was the issue that mattered most to them, while 1 in 9 noted that crime and safety was the key factor that shaped how they voted.
The economy, the coronavirus pandemic, and healthcare policy were the other three options in this poll.
For more than 50 years, promoting a platform of “crime and safety” or “law and order” has been characterized as part of “The Southern Strategy,” or a way to stoke and capitalize on racial fears of people in the U.S.
Crime rates have been falling precipitously for more than 25 years, but many Americans believe that crime rates have been rising in the U.S.
Despite this, more than 70% of the people who declared that crime and safety was the issue that mattered most in deciding how they voted said that they voted for Donald Trump, while fewer than 30% of those voted for Joe Biden.
For those who indicated that racial inequality was the issue that mattered most to them, more than 90% voted for Joe Biden, while fewer than 10% voted for Donald Trump.
Concerns about crime and safety or racial inequality lead to stress and anxiety that adversely affect health and well-being. Whether fear results from being well-informed or misinformed, our bodies can’t tell; to them, stress is stress.
Whether our stress stems from knowledge of the past or fears of what is to come, our bodies cannot discriminate, and the only thing we can do in times like this is continue to move forward.
As a Black man in America, I continue to grapple with the conflicting realities that W. E. B. Du Bois described almost 125 years ago as “double consciousness.”
My hope that I will finally only experience those barriers and stressors that all Americans face is tempered by the sobering reality that comes from being a student of history. This sometimes leads me to lament, as Du Bois did, “Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?”
As I strive to merge these aspects of myself into “a better and truer self,” I hope that this election marks the time when we embrace our diversity and make it into a strength.
“Here at last seemed to have been discovered the mountain path to Canaan; longer than the highway of emancipation and law, steep and rugged, but straight, leading to heights high enough to overlook life” as Du Bois said.
Every day is an opportunity to start anew. As John Lewis autographed his memoir — Walking With The Wind: A Memoir Of The Movement — that sits atop my bookshelf, “Keep the faith.”