I haven’t watched but a minute of the Republican National Convention though I receive daily media briefings and announcements since I am on the media list. Next week, I will spend a day in Philadelphia attending the Democratic National Convention and likely self-impose a television blackout while I am home. I will leave most of the work to my colleagues there on behalf of this website. These gatherings have long lost their significance, and survive only as pep rallies for the relevant electoral bases of each party. Folks of a certain age will recall when the political conventions were covered every night, in prime time by the major broadcast television networks. Today, they are treated more like sporting events, banished to cable television with on-air commentary by a predictable band of partisan cheerleaders. Nothing real to see here.
It's why I was a bit taken aback by the firestorm created by Melania Trump’s speech to the Republican conventional faithful in Cleveland. Yes, she obviously lifted words directly from a speech delivered by First Lady Michelle Obama. Yes, it is shameful and is plagiarism. And, her thievery has been duly noted and ridiculed. Still, the avalanche of indignation that flooded social media reveals more about our distracted worldview than it does about a woman who obviously is so limited in her worldview that she could not come up with an original thought. Perhaps the backlash is misplaced anger that should be directed at her husband; much in the same way many Democrats claim Hillary Clinton bears too much blame for her spouse’s shortcomings? The outrage gives Melania Trump way too much importance; for someone holding no office and relegated to a trinket by her own husband. Whatever she uttered on that stage was going to have little bearing on the social and economic conditions burying the poor, people of color and children in America.
In other words, we have far too important matters to address to fall prey to trivial pursuits. While many of us froth at the mouth over the parade of ignorance on display in Cleveland, and are driven by fear to uncritically support the Democratic nominee; we fail to truthfully come to terms with the limitations of electoral politics to change the current reality of Black life in America. This isn’t the first presidential election in which racism and hate has framed our choices. It won’t be the last either. This is America and it will be some time before this nation reaches a point of peaceful compromise over the citizenship rights of brown and black people. Until that time, we had better regroup and invest our energy into a systemic response to the systemic oppression we endure on a daily basis. We miss the point – ignorance will always facilitate hatefulness in individuals. However, when we alter systems, reallocate resources and reapportion opportunity, we also make the individual bigot irrelevant. Yes, he will still be present but only as a museum artifact that stands as an embarrassment even to those who share his view. And in less than 30 years, he will truly be a minority.
We are witnessing a course correction in America and I’m afraid we are going to miss the opportunity if we get caught up in trivial pursuits. However traumatic recent events have been, there is a growing resilience, feistiness and audacity that is taking hold among many progressive people. Those photographs of Black Lives Matters demonstrations show a rainbow of consciousness – black, brown and white. The fact that there is a white resistance to the call for respect for Black humanity is simply an acknowledgment that a lot of ‘all lives’ are standing up for Black lives. The criticism of this movement is no different than the reaction to the abolitionist movement and the nation’s gag reflex to the call for civil rights. When has this nation ever accepted or acknowledged the legitimacy of Blacks’ claims for equality? When we spend time reacting to blatant ignorance, we abuse our own time and intellectual value.
Young people, high school and college age, are finding their voice and speaking out loudly against injustice in America. The criticism leveled against millennials that they are only invested in ‘protest’ is not only unfair but lacking any historical context. The expectation that young people must have a detailed blueprint for social change flies in the face of what we know about the civil rights movement and earlier periods of social unrest in America. What I see is a generation that is more focused than mine, far more connected and more willing to challenge systems of inequality. Just this week young people attending the NAACP national convention (yes, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization held its annual convention this week) challenged its leadership to embrace a larger role for its youth leadership. Likewise, we are beginning to see a real discussion about Black economics and the untapped and unrealized power of our dollars. The burgeoning movement of capital to black banks is a signal that either consciously or subconsciously, we are beginning to understand what Dr. King was articulating in his final years. The power of our wallet is what more than a few cultural giants of the past understood but only now we are beginning to comprehend.
We are also missing something significant in what is occurring in Cleveland. A lot of Republicans stayed home. A number of Republican office holders and party regulars have publicly denounced or distanced themselves from Donald Trump. The only two former living Republican presidents are AWOL. I can tell you that didn’t happen in 1964 when Dixiecrats were trying to crush Black voices at the Democratic National Convention. We forget the red carpet wasn’t rolled out for Aaron Henry, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats. In fact, President Lyndon Johnson held an impromptu press conference during the middle of Hamer’s testimony to the credentials committee to draw media attention away from her demands for representation. However, there was open rebellion four years later in Chicago and the party began a decade long process of transformation. So, rather than simply obsessing over the Trump takeover of the G.O.P., recognize the opportunity that this fissure in the Republican Party represents. Even with my critique of electoral politics, it makes little sense to be gleeful over single party dominance in our nation.
If we submit to fear, confuse pandering with resolution and reciprocity, we contribute to our own degradation. For all the deference we give to our ancestors, we seem to lose sight that their focus was on liberation. Historically, at the core of philosophical differences within our community, there was convergence on the principle of liberation. Today, we are more willing to be partisan than to be free. Our political engagement, no matter from where it takes place, needs to come back to the fundamental issue of Black liberation. It is why we have no time to waste on trivial pursuits. There is greater for us.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.