Just before election day, hip-hop celebrity Ice Cube connected with President Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner to pitch a proposal for supporting Black communities. Lil Wayne posed with thumbs up for a photo-op with Trump. Rapper Lil Pump was a surprise speaker at Trump's last campaign rally, and rapper 50 Cent threatened to leave the country if Trump lost, before backtracking on that.
Many thought these hip-hop artists were canaries in America's electoral coal mine when it came to the Black vote. Post-election exit polls indicate that even though Biden won the overwhelming majority of Black votes, a greater percentage of those voters went for Trump in 2020 than in 2016.
This saunter to the right has many pundits asking why Black people, in particular Black men, were slightly less dependable Democratic voters this election cycle.
One interesting argument is that Black men have reason to respond positively to Trump's business mogul image and exaggerated masculinity. The claim is that hip-hop culture--and by extension Black culture--has long championed assumptions about economic achievement, social status and gender roles that parallel some traditional conservative values. And even just on style, Trump's performative bravado might be said to mimic a classic hip-hop emcee's inflated braggadocio.
Throughout his presidency, Trump and the Republican Party hardened the public view that the GOP is hostile to the Black community, with Trump encouraging white supremacists and scapegoating immigrants.
And yet Black people voted for Trump in higher percentages in 2020 than when he went up against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Trump's better-than-expected performance has some wondering what motivated Black men to possibly vote against their own self-interest.
Social categories like race are used as shortcuts for understanding links between who people are and what we expect of them, including when it comes to the ballot box. And so we continue to believe conventional assertions about the natural predisposition of members of particular racial groups, blinding us to other factors and choices being made in those groups.
Race is a political category, not a biological one. Its impact is most consequential in destructive ways when it is translated into simplistic social policy. For example, we aren't even pretending to take race or racism seriously when we dismiss critical racial analysis as a threat to national security, which is the premise of Trump's recent executive order banning racial sensitivity training at agencies that receive federal funding.
One of the many scary and disheartening things about racism in America today is that we all ascribe to it, just in different ways and with lopsided results based on how we are situated in the racial order.
But this is American culture, and you don't need to scratch your head about Lil Wayne's October photo-op to realize that racial and ethnic politics are far more subtle, complex and confounding than most of us have ever been willing to admit.