From managing COVID-19 to fighting for racial justice to navigating one of the most important elections in our lifetime, 2020 was a year full of political moves and campaigns. Black people, from candidates to activists to celebrities, made impacts like never before. Yet several times throughout the year, there were Black folks who made political moves that were unwise at best and completely out of line at worst.

Here are five of the worst ways we saw Black public figures engage with politics in 2020.

1. Kanye West's presidential campaign launch

Over the last few years, Kanye West, who once called out then-President George W. Bush for not caring about Black people, has drawn fire for his full embrace of President Donald Trump and the Make American Great Again agenda, not to mention expressing some truly ignorant views about Black history. But in 2020, West’s political moves went from questionable to bizarre when he launched a poorly-organized third-party presidential run. What looked like a publicity stunt endured as an apparent and sad attempt at relevancy, all while Republicans seemed to back the campaign in hopes of using West to draw away Black votes from then-Democratic nominee Joe Biden, a motive that West himself acknowledged.  

The strangest and most disgraceful moment of West’s campaign came in July when West decided, during the COVID-19 lockdown, to hold an in-person press conference to announce his candidacy. What followed was a dumpster fire of an event, as West rambled at length and made numerous false or baffling statements, such as claiming that Harriet Tubman never freed slaves.

West even managed to land himself in hot water with his wife, Kim Kardashian West, for speaking out of pocket about the birth of their first child as part of his comments against abortion. The speech did nothing to make people take his campaign seriously but instead left folks mocking the superstar or worried about his mental health. These concerns were validated by his wife, who seemed to confirm that the event and campaign were symptoms of the rapper’s challenges with “mental illness or even compulsive behavior,” which Kanye himself has spoken of before.

2. Your favorite rapper endorsed Trump

West may have been the first major hip-hop artist to cape for Trump, but he was far from the last. In the final weeks before the 2020 election, several high profile rappers surprisingly broke with their celebrity colleagues by throwing their support behind Trump and his policies. First came Ice Cube, who endorsed Trump’s Platinum Plan aimed at enticing Black voters. In Cube's defense, he claimed to have reached out to both parties to promote his “Contract with Black America,” and he pushed back when presidential son Eric Trump attempted to turn his statements into a full-on endorsement.

Still, Cube was rightfully dragged for being inconsistent in his statements and in his treatment of the candidates, especially when it was also revealed that he had dismissed then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris while embracing Trump's platform. But the backlash against Ice Cube didn’t prevent other rappers from jumping on the MAGA bandwagon, with 50 Cent impulsively endorsing and then un-endorsing Trump and Lil Wayne shouting out Trump as well. These endorsements ultimately did not help Trump win another term, but they left a lot of fans scratching their heads that their favorite rap artists had taken a sudden turn to the right-hand side.

3. Herman Cain’s COVID-19 death exploited by Republican COVID deniers

Herman Cain, a former Republican primary candidate for president, defended Trump and remained loyal to the party until the end. Unfortunately, that loyalty may have cost him his life. Cain attended one of Trump’s ill-advised campaign rallies, and he was one of the president’s many maskless supporters who ended up testing positive for COVID-19 after attending these events. Unfortunately, Cain died of the disease in late July.

At this point, Cain’s story was a tragedy; regardless of what you think of his political views, dying from COVID-19 is a sad outcome end to his life. But Cain’s death did not stop his Twitter account, questionably named the Cain Gang, from continuing to tweet right-wing and pro-Trump messages. Most offensively, the people now running the account used it to distribute messages downplaying the danger of COVID-19, as if Cain himself had not died of the disease. As hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from the coronavirus, including a disproportionate number of Black people, using Cain's name to undermine efforts to contain the virus is not only offensive but downright dangerous.

4. Republicans use Senator Tim Scott to avoid real progress on race

South Carolina Senator Tim Scott has a rough job. Being the only Black Republican in the United States Senate cannot be easy, nor can representing a state where it’s very hard for a Black man to win an election. And as Blavity previously reported, Scott has attempted to use his unique position for good, pushing his party toward criminal justice reform and helping to pass federal anti-lynching legislation.

Yet, Scott’s calls for the GOP to become serious about race often get ignored by his Republican colleagues. Worse, Republicans from Trump to Vice President Mike Pence to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell often use Tim Scott as their “Republican Black friend," name-dropping Scott to claim that the Republicans are somehow doing a good job on race while the GOP actually goes on doing whatever the heck it wants to.

The use of Scott as the GOP's Black friend was on full display at this year’s Republican National Convention (RNC). Scott’s RNC speech did a good job making the best Black Republican argument possible, pointing to his own family saying they “went from cotton to Congress in one lifetime," and arguing that America had not fully achieved racial equality but had moved in the right direction.

His appeals to hope and progress, however, were drowned out by the rest of the RNC speakers who contradicted the message by denying the problem of racism. Even fellow South Carolinian ambassador Nikki Haley, speaking earlier the same night, went from recounting the discrimination her own Indian-American family faced in South Carolina to outrageously claiming that “America is not a racist country” and that anyone who said otherwise was lying. Additionally, the RNC brought out other Black politicians to deny Trump’s racism while accusing Democrats of being the true racists instead, further undermining Scott's attempts to address the genuine racism in his party and the country as a whole.

5. Daniel Cameron protects cops who killed Breonna Taylor

Kentucky attorney general Daniel Cameron was one of the Black speakers who appeared at the RNC in August, outraging Black folks by mentioning Breonna Taylor’s name during his speech. By that point, we had already become fed up with Cameron’s attempts to slow-walk the investigation into Taylor’s killing at the hands of Louisville, Kentucky police officers, and we were suspicious that he was using the case to move up the ladder of Trump allies within the Republican establishment.

Still, most held out hope that public pressure from Kentucky citizens and folks like Beyoncé would convince Cameron to charge the officers who killed Taylor. Those hopes were dashed in September when Cameron held a press conference to announce that no charges would be filed relating to Taylor’s death. To add insult to injury, the only officer charged with any crime connected to the shooting faced charges for the bullets that didn’t hit Taylor but instead struck her white neighbor’s apartment.

Cameron was rightfully called out from all angles for his efforts to deny justice for Taylor. Protesters hit the streets as soon as Cameron made his announcement. Activist Tamika Mallory
labeled Cameron a “sellout,” and Megan Thee Stallion even lambasted Cameron during her appearance on Saturday Night Live. And, most damningly, several of the grand jurors who voted on the charges that the officers would face revealed that Cameron never presented them with the option of bringing charges related to Taylor’s death and argued that Cameron was using them as scapegoats for his own decisions to not purse Taylor’s killing as a crime.

Fortunately, these moments were outweighed by the positive and empowering moves that Black people, from Vice President-Elect Harris to millions of ordinary Black voters, made to promote justice and protect democracy in the country. Still, we should hope that some of our folks can use 2021 to avoid the mistakes of this year.