If there is one thing enslaved Africans brought in chains to this country were not; it was cowards. Those that survived the brutal trans-Atlantic passage to a foreign land, braved unimaginable cruelty and displayed a strength that in itself diminished their captors seeming power. Generations descended from these Africans exhibited a similar strength in resisting the tyranny of a new nation and the terrorism inflicted upon them by whites who worked to institutionalize their privilege and make permanent the inflicted disadvantage of blackness in America.
It is why the chatter on social media around the presidential election disturbs me. There seems to be a widespread panic attack among many Black Americans over the prospects of a Republican presidential victory after the departure of the nation’s first African-American president. More specifically, the possibility of Donald Trump making it to the Oval Office with the U.S. Supreme Court hanging in the balance has created a mild hysteria in some corners of the Black community.
We need to get a grip. Ignoring F.D.R.’s famous admonition “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” we do a grave disservice to the heroism of our ancestors if we allow current circumstances to diminish our greatness, dictate the terms of our engagement with institutions of government and civic life, and betray future generations in the process. Our strength and resiliency, and steadfast determination to transform the nation our forefathers and foremothers built resides in each of us. It is in times like these that we are called to courage, and challenged to resist, defy and repel efforts to offend our humanity.
There can be no fear of a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders for that matter, or a panel of black robed justices mangling the Constitution with evil outcome, and perhaps motivated by evil intent. The trail of blood that leads us to this day is hardly dry, the stains of despair still fresh and the painful memories of yesteryear a constant reminder of our tortured existence in a land not of our own choosing, but principally of our construction. There is too much triumph layered over pain for Black Americans to quiver in the face of ignorance clothed in the attire of a presidential campaign.
It's time for all the doomsday talk to cease. There is too much work to do. The seduction of presidential politics blinds us to the multiple points of engagement that can facilitate our uplift and confront the structural racism that stands as the greatest obstacle to our liberation. While we fret over the election of the next president we ignore congressional races that determine the balance of power in our federal government. We also ignore to our own peril politics in our state capitals that ultimately determine how representation is apportioned as well as how the bulk of your tax dollars are used. Further down the governance chain too few of us are involved in our local communities and most notably absent in the business and politics of public school districts. Making matters worse, we trivialize our purchasing power by our conspicuous spending and surrendering of our economic strength.
We must pay attention to this presidential election but do so not in fear or panic. Can we honestly claim surprise at the depths of racism and hate masquerading as political leadership we are witnessing? It’s not as though this nation had a revelation, an epiphany at the close of the last century and rid itself of white supremacy, the institutions of racist oppression, and the devices of white privilege. Yes, we have had brief windows of concession, momentary interruptions that yielded some gains but structurally we pretty much resemble the same country that limped out of the Civil War – broken, battered, bruised and divided. Perhaps fear is a gag reflex that occurs whenever there is an eruption of bigotry or racist trolling. By now, the unfinished business of this nation should be a given and our focus should be on finishing the job.
What too few of us seem to understand is what we are witnessing across this country is a full onset panic – a realization that a non-white majority is emerging rapidly. You can hear it in the anguished “take back our country” pleas among Republicans at – pick the candidate of your choice – rallies and the imbecilic posturing of candidates on immigration. The real fear is evident in the childlike tantrums we have witnessed over the presence of an African-American president and the extent to which his detractors are willing to forestall the business of the nation to show their disdain. The fear is on display in the raging anti-Muslim bigotry that is being spoon fed to the public by politicians and facilitated by the media. The daily micro-aggressions are nothing more than a desperate attempt to hold onto a privilege that was never earned, an advantage immorally gained and resources hoarded through nefarious means.
Sadly, poor and working class whites are the public face of racism in America. Yet, they too are victims. Working class whites have been manipulated by elites into believing that they are entitled through white-skin privilege and that Blacks, Latinos and immigrants are responsible for their hardships. Poverty is an equal opportunity offender and elites understand that disadvantaged whites serve as a buffer to preserve income inequality by using skin color to feign solidarity. The convergence of critiques on racism and classism as a unifying strategy for social change is what made Dr. King’s ‘Poor People’s Campaign’ a threat to this nation’s establishment. Today, demagogues have employed an alternate strategy; pushing division between whites and people of color to preserve white supremacy with no intent to change the fortunes of the manipulated.
The current presidential campaign and politics in general should make absolutely clear the framework in which we exist in our nation. Given this climate, why fear? The audacity of the Black Lives Matter movement is a welcome sign of defiance; a signal that millennials are not surrendering and are prepared to be combative in challenging the structures, policies and personalities that enable racism. The present moment is a call to action. It is not a time for fear or retreat. We’ve faced worse and overcome it.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.