Worst of all, must Hope grow dim,
And withhold her cheering beam?
Rather let me sleep and dream
~The Slave’s Complaint by George Moses Horton
It’s been too long, dear reader, I know.
It’s not that I haven’t tried to write. I think about it every day. I’ve started this article a few times too. But since the election, I’ve been simply unable to finish.
Biden’s win was a thrill and a relief. It took an enormous effort by thousands of activists and volunteers to ensure that Trump would only serve one term. As of this writing, over 81 million votes have been counted for our new Democratic president. We had a huge turnout because we worked hard to make it happen. Millions of calls and some 17.5 million letters were written to voters all over the country. It’s an accomplishment that we can all be proud of.
Still, I found the results devastating.
I used to think that when it comes to trauma, I was the one most likely to flee. Looking back, I can point to plenty of times that I dropped my sword and walked, rather than keep fighting. Then a few years ago psychologists added another reaction to the trauma list. The moment I heard it, I knew it was me. When I am deeply shocked or wounded, I do what I was trained to do when I was very young. I freeze.
For the last month, I’ve been frozen.
A few others have written about our victory, but most post-election news continues to focus on Trump’s legal maneuvers and pathological denial. It’s upsetting, but not a bit surprising, that a man who dreams of being a dictator would insist on it. It’s not Trump I’m really worried about now, however. What I cannot get out of my mind (or off of my heart) is the fact that another 74 million Americans voted to re-elect him.
In 2016, plenty of Republican voters tried to hide their true intent. They lied to pollsters, ignored his most outrageous comments and asked the rest of us to “give him a chance.” After the last four years, there is no curtain large enough or thick enough to hide behind. Over 74 million Americans truly believe that their best future depends upon reasserting white supremacy as the foundational ideology of our country. That’s it. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.
Over 74 million Americans truly believe that their best future depends upon reasserting white supremacy as the foundational ideology of our country. That’s it. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.
There is much to be said about what this means for our nation and the world. It’s not only sociopathic, it’s a fool’s errand to think that the best way to ensure one’s security is to oppress another. I’ll save that for another piece. For now, I know that I cannot go on without trying to express what it is like to know – to understand deeply – that millions of your neighbors, co-workers and school bus drivers hate you that much.
Some might think the previous sentence implies that I have been in denial or unaware of how white people have always treated me. I am not. But having been raised primarily in a white household, I spent most of my childhood with no language for it. I had to leave home and spend time in many parts of the country to build up the vocabulary I needed to identify and name the kind of insidious contempt and threats that all brown people (especially African Americans) are subject to almost every day. The stronger I have become (and the more willing to call it what it is), the higher the price in terms of social acceptance. But not as high as keeping my mouth shut and continuing to sicken my soul.
These past few weeks, as I have grappled with my overwhelming devastation, I’ve thought more than ever about slavery. I’ve tried to imagine how they did it. Really, honesty: how did millions of my foremothers and fathers find the strength and the will to go on living in such a world? How do you find yourself in a land with no hope of freedom and keep going? How did they find their hope?
How did they make a way when there was no way?
Recently I asked a friend this question. She quickly reminded me that not everyone did. Then I received an early Christmas present. It’s an excellent anthology of African American poetry going back some 250 years. Immediately, I turned to the oldest pieces and was reminded that death was often a metaphor for freedom:
Poor slave! Shall we sorrow that death was thy friend?
The last, and the kindest, that Heaven could send: —
The grave to the weary is welcomed and blest;
And death, to the captive, is freedom and rest.
~The Grave of the Slave by Sara Louisa Forten
It would be easy to assume that living at a time when institutions were more overtly racist and options so terribly limited made it easier to swallow. But no, it has never been easier. Clarity is not the same as acceptance. Just because I have developed the skills to help me survive in the lion’s den doesn’t mean I like being trapped in a corner. Life in an arena is so exhausting. It’s the reason so many of us have high blood pressure.
So what choice is there now that my worst nightmares have all come true? 74 million people voted for a white supremacist, rallied in Washington in a delusional effort to claim victory in the face of failure, and are following their dictator’s twitter orders every day. While it was critical that we vote Trump out of office, the evolution of rightwing politics that put him in power has not stopped. It is stronger than it has been in a generation or two. Our country has turned to the worst of its past, making it more dangerous than ever for a person of color to walk the streets at any time of day or night. Every day I leave my home, I know that includes me.
Since I cannot stand to stay on this earth and do nothing, I’ve spent the last few weeks searching for the strength to face it and move forward. And we must. All of us. Everyone who cares about democracy, empowerment and just plain fairness. Conservatives have always painted a picture of America as an ideal country; an ideal democracy. I often feel that my entire life has been a long, painful reality check. This is the country that built the foundational and institutional tools every totalitarian government of the 20th century based its strategy upon. South African Afrikaners and Hitler both used the American slavery system and segregation as the template for their own genocides. Trump’s legacy is that he has brought us full circle. I can only hope that this time around, our country will continue to reach for a future that does not demand subjugation for the benefit of only some of us.
This is the country that built the foundational and institutional tools every totalitarian government of the 20th century based its strategy upon. South African Afrikaners and Hitler both used the American slavery system and segregation as the template for their own genocides. Trump’s legacy is that he has brought us full circle.
So I pull up my bootstraps yet again because now, unlike any other time in history, the future of our species depends upon it. Climate change is quickly closing every door behind us. There are no more second chances. We only have two choices: we must move forward and build a more equitable society that prioritizes everyone’s survival. If we don’t we will go down in flames, tearing at each other while the planet burns. I, for one, cannot let that happen without a fight.
How about you?