Sure, Joe Biden won. But anti-racism activists warn that ‘we can never lose our vigilance again'

Kamilah Newton
·7 min read
Protesters held signs that read "Black Votes Matter" outside of the Philadelphia Convention Center as the counting of ballots continued in the state on Nov. 6
Protesters held signs that read "Black Votes Matter" outside of the Philadelphia Convention Center Nov. 6 as the counting of ballots continued in Pennsylvania. Now that Joe Biden has been elected president , many anti-racism activists worry about complacency. (Getty Images/Spencer Platt)

For almost a full week now, people across the country and around the world have been taking to the streets and social media to celebrate the win of President-elect Joe Biden. But some activists have a message: Not so fast.

For many Black, Indigenous and people of color, the records of both Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris are enough to give pause. Combined with the country’s enduring history of racism, the waning momentum of Black Lives Matter protests and the ongoing need for such powerful activism, there is a growing fear that many — particularly white allies — may quickly become complacent.

That worry is being amplified all over social media, with tweets warning “we can never lose our vigilance again,” “white people are comfortable again,” “if there was ever a time to learn about our govt… it’s now,” and “the fight is far from over.”

Brea Baker, writing for Elle this week in a piece titled “Joe Biden won. But don’t throw away your protests signs just yet,” sounded a clear warning:

We have succeeded in ousting a president who’s fascist, sexist, racist, xenophobic — I could go on. But the fight is far from over. We are facing a dying planet, rampant police brutality, an immigration crisis, and a battle over basic human rights at the mercy of an out-of-touch Supreme Court. And while Donald Trump is out, electing Biden is just the start of what we need to do to meet this moment. The fact that this victory was so hard-fought shows we have a long way to go to decouple this country from its white supremacist roots.

Similarly, Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, warned about feeling like the hard work was done in interview with WBUR — but also spoke about hopefulness.

“Where I find some encouragement is that both sides, if you will, have been amplified,” she said. “So while white nationalism and racial animus and resentment are definitely amplified, so is anti-racist activism. And so we just have to be consistent and courageous and never be complacent.”

Yes, Joe Biden and  Kamala Harris, seen here at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, have won. But, warns the Center for Urban and Racial Equality, “Now the work begins to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for responding to the demands behind the votes.” (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)
Yes, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, seen here at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, have won. But “now the work begins to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for responding to the demands behind the votes,” warns the Center for Urban and Racial Equality. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

While the Center for Urban and Racial Equity (CURE) — which aims to remove barriers to racial inequality — is unapologetically celebrating “the defeat of Donald Trump as an important victory in the fight for racial justice and the movement for Black Lives,” according to its website, it also implores, “Now the work begins to hold the Biden-Harris administration accountable for responding to the demands behind the votes.”

CURE president Judy Lubin, reflecting over the momentum of the summer’s protests and the alliances formed between races, tells Yahoo Life it was a salient example of “interest convergence” — a theory coined by the late New York University professor, lawyer and civil rights activist Derrick Bell, which says that “Black people achieve civil rights victories only when white and Black interests converge.” This has been said of many points in history, from the fight to win the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 to the convergence of the Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin demonstrations in 2012.

Lubin says “who we needed to defeat was clear with this election” for both Black communities and white Democrats, noting that the devastation of the pandemic and recent uprisings for Breonna Taylor and others “galvanized the outreach and mobilization” around the election. “It's not that we were pro Biden,” she explains. “It was that we needed to get Donald Trump out, because we understand what he represents as this torchbearer for white supremacy.”

Still, now that Trump has been defeated, many are left worrying about feeling a “false sense of achievement,” as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once warned about the Obama presidency in a 2014 Time op-ed. In his piece, the retired NBA Hall of Famer wrote that one of his greatest frustrations was that bigots attempted to use “the election of President Obama as proof that racism doesn’t exist in the U.S.,” explaining that while his position was evidence of the progress made thus far, the election of “President Obama [was] merely a milestone, not the finish line.”

A year before that, the executive director of Allies for Change, Melanie Morrison, provided some sound advice for allies who hope to remain trustworthy during uncertain times: “Stay on the journey,” she wrote, adding that the work “is life-long, life-giving work, never done once and for all.”

It’s a warning that’s being expressed in various ways this week, including with, of course, tongue-in-cheek memes…

…as well as more sober pleas:

Still, Lubin states the bottom line: “Our struggle is our struggle — regardless of whether or not people are in solidarity with us. We're going to fight whether or not white people show up because we know this is about our lives, our health and our safety,” she says. “That may not be on the line for them, [but] our very existence is at stake — and so we’re going to keep on fighting knowing that the work to bring change is not easy but necessary.”

Read more from Yahoo Life: