As we approach another Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, the resilience of Black people against a history of oppression is foremost in my mind as I witness what seems to be the inconsolable grief expressed over the pending presidency of Donald Trump. The electronic wailing felt through social media posts feels like the loss of a close relative or a friend whose passing was expected, but remains a shock when the news is received. For eight years, Black and brown people felt a little more American, a little less alienated every time they witnessed President Obama behind the podium with that White House logo in the background or when he exited Air Force One on the tarmac. He made it a wee bit easier to buy the company line – “One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
President Obama’s departure now challenges African-Americans, the descendant of enslaved Africans and marginalized Americans, to construct a different reality. And while we certainly have had white presidents in the past, the election of Donald Trump has reinvigorated a whiteness many had mistakenly thought was buried by the election of the nation’s first Black president. Instead, what many now realize is that the entitlement that has been assigned to white skin since that hot July in Philadelphia 240 years ago, was simply on a brief hiatus. The eruptions we witnessed during the Obama years – the outburst of a member of Congress during the State of the Union address, the disrespectful gesture from a governor on an airport tarmac – was the hate that was yearning to be free.
Now, with the coming transition of power in our nation’s capital, that hate seems to have been set free.
Many point the finger at President-elect Donald Trump; an easy target given his penchant for buffoonery and infantile behavior. What we must recognize and accept is that hate and racism is part of our national culture. Our challenge now is to find a reservoir of hope from which to draw strength, rediscover our willingness to live defiantly and bold in the assertion of our humanity. To do so, we must connect with an inner strength that is embedded in the DNA of Black people. We must rise above the hate.
Easier said than done. I know. Still, at this stage of my life I believe I have finally internalized the deeper meaning of blackness in America. For most of my conscious time on this earth the question of why us has proved difficult to consider. It is a question that challenged my faith and depressed my natural tendency to embrace optimism to counter the ugliness that confronts us from birth.
What I have come to accept is that our very existence defines America, we are America and that for some divine reason we join our native sisters and brothers as the benchmarks for determining whether we will make it as a nation. No people could survive enslavement, terrorism, purposeful neglect, and targeted extinction without existing for a purpose beyond that which it appears. We are the roots from which this nation, still very much in formation, grows and its future is dependent upon our flowering.
That might sound like some mystical nonsense or some arrogant riff but America has never been freed from its shackles because it has tried to keep Blacks bound. And during every period of national regression and forgetfulness, we have had to be the light to bring this nation into a higher state of consciousness. We have always had to rise above the hate to preserve humanity in America and make real the lofty rhetoric our slave-owning Founding Fathers used to mask their moral shortcomings. Justice wears a blindfold not because she is fair but because she is ashamed. African-Americans have from time to time pulled back her veil and provided her a vision of what she could, should become. We must do it again.
Rising above the hate does not mean excusing it. It doesn’t mean accepting it. And it certainly doesn’t mean allowing it to injure. It means not allowing it to define us and defusing its energy by our sheer will to demand and enforce better. Our defiance and indefatigable determination will, as it has in the past, expose the cowardly, isolate the ignorant and force America to confront its failings. It won’t be easy, there may be casualties and it won’t be pretty but that’s what we do. Dr. King understood – we, with our complicated history and challenged lives, are the nation’s moral compass.
As we gather on Monday to honor the drum major for peace, we should be mindful of his admonition that a “man can’t ride your back unless it’s bent.” It is time to teach and lead America…again.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com.