Yesterday was Wednesday, November 4, 2020. Tuesday was our national election — a day that some people had been waiting to see for four years. Unfortunately for these people there’s no certainty today. No definitive statement about the America they imagine. Only a magnified version of the uneasiness they’ve felt since 2016, as we await a resolution on who will be the President of the United States.
But even with a Biden victory, there is still an unsettling sense of loss and despair. A rude awakening to a kind of instability that can’t be wished away or unseen now.
For another slice of America, I’m guessing that 2016–2020 have felt like your city’s team winning the Super Bowl. You get really drunk but the hangover doesn’t feel too bad because you’ve got the only bragging rights that matter. You don’t really get anything tangible though (because, remember, you’re not on the team, you just live in that city — or, you know, a little outside of it, but close enough to claim “your team”). Following this monumental win, you lose some key players to free agency. The owner wants a new stadium that may raise your taxes and cut some other city programs, and definitely up the ticket prices. There are a couple of scandals and some significant injuries the following season, but you make the playoffs. You don’t get back to the big one though. But it sure was great when you did, wasn’t it?
I’ve asked the question before — more of a rhetorical exercise than anything — but now, I’m piecing things together a bit more purposefully, for your benefit and mine. When the statement “make America great again” is offered, I’ve wondered what exactly “again” meant. It’s become clearer now to me. I’m putting it some time before the first Civil War.
The signs have been there.
This video is just one stark example. Of all the quotes that were captured, the 54-second mark is the most telling for me.
“Explain to me why a coon’s life matters.”
Coons’ lives don’t matter anymore. They stopped mattering after the first Civil War, because prices couldn’t be put on them. And despite all the things that have been done — the burning of churches and towns, the lynchings, the disenfranchisement, the rape, the imprisonment for the sole purpose of convict leasing, the failure to educate, the “war on drugs” following the proliferation of drug markets in urban spaces, the stop and frisk, the murder by police, the discriminatory employment policies and practices, the theft of land, the predatory mortgages and banking tactics, the legal and structural racial and economic isolation, the racist caricatures and false narratives, and more — coons simply refuse to stay in their place. They keep surviving, showing up in new ways, expecting freedoms and opportunities.
I can’t fathom how infuriating it must be to have your ancestors — or someone who you claim are somehow your linked to your lineage, but you’re not exactly clear on the details — come over to a new land, steal that land from the indigenous folks fair and square, murder as many of those “savages” as possible, risk their lives to bring over some other people from Africa — that your “ancestors” paid good money for, by the way — to labor at their whim, and then today have the descendants of these dark people, or any people who look like them, actually expect to experience the same kind of freedom and power that you have access to on a daily basis. That can’t sit well.
As of before dawn yesterday, 65.2M people have voted for Donald Trump.
Of course these people didn’t vote for Donald Trump because they are racist. All 65.2M of them are probably the least racist people in the rooms they occupy. They don’t need you holding up your signs, sharing your think pieces, or spewing your liberal ideas about how a coon’s life matters. Because it doesn’t.
That’s not racism. That’s American freedom. (And this is why the current President of the United States has banned diversity training and ideas based on critical race theory because they don’t add to a freedom of thought. Instead, they threaten peoples’ freedoms to remain racially intolerant and ignorant of America’s racist core).
My work centers on college access and completion, along with equity. But once again I am reminded that none of this means anything if we don’t figure out how to confront our evils. To do so, we have to move well beyond rhetoric and comfortable banter, and push people to interrogate their hatred.
After a caravan of Trump supporters surrounded a Biden campaign bus in Texas, forcing the cancellation of a number of final rallies and events due to safety concerns, Biden said, “we are so much better than this… it’s not who we are.”
No, Joe, this is exactly who we are. Our failure to effectively address that has made things worse for everyone. We didn’t heed that lesson after the first Civil War. I’d really love to not see a second. That will require a certain kind of soul-searching within white America that quite frankly doesn’t look all that promising at the moment.
“Explain to me how your idea of freedom gets to erase me.”
Tough question, I know. Take your time, do some research, then say it with your chest. I’ll be here.
This piece was first posted on phillys7thward.org