America, who are we, and what are we going to tell the children?
By Kevin Powell
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind.
— BOB DYLAN
Well it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
Yeah, it’s like cranes in the sky
Sometimes I don’t wanna feel those metal clouds
MY SINGLE MOTHER RAISED ME TO VOTE and she raised me to think for myself. It makes sense, given where my mother and my entire family are from, the rural and impoverished Low Country of South Carolina, a mere 30 minutes across the mammoth Savannah River into Georgia. My mother was birthed by Jim Crow America — Whites-only signs here, Coloreds-only signs there, domestic terrorism against her and people who looked like her as real as the blood that knifed through their sugar-and-salt veins. And there was an understanding that White people, no matter what their class background, had power and privilege, and Black people, no matter what their class background, had nothing but themselves. It is not like my mother and I discussed the Civil Rights Movement or American history when I was growing up. We did not. We barely could afford food, there were no books save the Bible, and my mother never marched or rallied or outwardly protested anything. Indeed, there was both a fear and hatred of Whites, a fear and a hatred that intruded frequently, like the choking, I-can’t-breathe smoke from a deadly fire in our Jersey City ghetto. My mother did not quite know what to make of White Americans, and that bewilderment was transferred to me the way we teach children our cultural traditions. It was a defense pose, I know now, to protect ourselves from everlasting insult and injury. What my mother did do was share and repeat the tales about what she and her three sisters and brother and father and mother endured in their America — the brutality and violence of their poverty, and the disrespect and meanness of the Low Country White folks, including the ones who hired her and her sisters, from the time they were little girls, to be the help, in their homes, at their stores, and on their land picking cotton. She lived, she survived, and her education was interrupted before she got to high school. But what my mother did have was a resolve not to allow anything to defeat or destroy her. When I hear folks talk about the amazing strength of women, in America, on this planet, historically, the person I think of is my mother, the first leader, the first teacher, and the first feminist I ever met, regardless if she readily knows or associates with that word. We survived the policies of presidents like Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and homes dominated by rats and roaches; we survived thieves and hustlers who could’ve climbed our fire escapes and busted through our kitchen windows or robbed us on the streets outside; we survived violence and neglect, and shady public schools and corrupt landlords; we survived heroin and crack epidemics that ripped apart other lives, and we survived my mother’s minimum-wage jobs and cuts to whatever little public assistance she could secure. It is astonishing to me, as the adult I am today, to think of how I sometimes earn for one speech more money than my mother made in any given year of supporting me from birth until I graduated from high school. We did not complain, we did not care, in actuality, who the president of the United States was, my mother and I, because we did what we had to do to maintain, and win. A win for us was my mother having a job. A win for us was the government cheese and other free food given to poor people in our time of need. A win for us was my getting excellent grades in school and believing my mother, when she said so, that an education was my one chance for a life better than hers. A win for us was our next dilapidated apartment building having fewer rats and fewer roaches and more consistent heat and hot water than the previous dwelling. A win for us was my mother never allowing any man to pimp her for food and shelter and sex. A win for us was my not getting murdered or imprisoned or addicted to drugs. Was it extremely hard and complex and tragic and depressing and hopeless? Oh yes. Did we want to give up? Oh yes. I remember well those days when my mother would both pray to God and acidly curse my father’s name for being a no-good man who had abandoned us completely. I remember well the days when my mother said to me, point blank, whenever I got into trouble at school or with the police, “I don’t think you gonna make it.” And I remember well the days when my mother announced, without pause, that she wished she had given me up for adoption, because her life would have been easier alone. This is the America I know, an America that soaked and hand-washed my mother’s soul with racism and sexism and classism before she had had a chance at a whole life for herself. There was no therapy. There was no social media or online petitions with which to vent. There were no healing circles or women’s groups or yoga classes or any of that. My mother had to suck it up, go it alone with child at her hip, have blind faith in a God she could neither see nor touch, and have a vision for my life since there was none for hers. I rarely saw my mother cry or show any emotion beyond raw anger, and I was the target of that raw anger on many occasions; this was my mother’s limited emotional vocabulary, her reality, and she had to keep going, based on what she knew, because the only other option was dying a slow death. Thus, she had to save her life, and she had to save my life, with tough love, with a rage vomited from an American dream not available for people like her. Perhaps this is why my mother drilled into me to vote, why she always used her voice for better housing for us, for a better school for me, why she would write, in the best use of the English language her eighth-grade education had afforded her, letters to politicians and other local leaders seeking help, an answer, anything. Somewhere inside her troubled mind my mother knew she, we, deserved better, that there had to be a better America, and a better world out there —
THIS IS WHY I HAVE NOT HAD MUCH TO SAY in these early days after the American election that anointed Donald Trump president of this nation, and, shockingly, to at least half the country, escorted Hillary Clinton into a retirement she was not expecting. I have watched and listened and read through the numerous phone calls, news commentaries, emails, text messages, social media posts, appeals to resist, and blogs and interviews of those crying, of those dazed and confused, of those seeking guidance, wisdom, anything that would shake them of what feels to millions like an American nightmare. I have had many people — millennials, Gen Xers like me, Baby Boomers — reach out to me, petrified, saying they do not know what to do. There is hurt, there is resentment, there is a real and urgent anxiety of what might be next. I hear and feel that anxiety, and fear, in the voices of Black people who are scared that police forces nationwide will rev up practices like racial profiling, like stop and frisk, that more Blacks will be harassed, assaulted, and killed by the police. I hear and feel that fear in the voices of Latinos and other immigrant people, who believe that Mr. Trump’s menacing anti-immigrant rhetoric during his two-year campaign will now bear strange fruit that will seek and destroy families, communities, and separate children from their parents and grandparents, forever. I hear and feel that fear when one of my Facebook friends, Mark Zustovich, posted that he will fight the next administration every single day of the Trump years to protect his marriage to his husband, a fear that is mighty real for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, not only for the right to be married, but also for the right to be alive. Likewise, for my twenty-something assistant, who has two mothers, one Black, one White, whose very family make-up — multi-racial, queer, straight, unapologetic — is a threat to those who believe my assistant’s family is not “normal.” I hear and feel that fear from women of every distinction, who feel spectacularly dissed that there is a wicked hatred and reckless disregard for women and girls, an in-your-face dehumanization, that a man, a man like Donald Trump, who has a biography of sexual abuse and harassment and rape allegations against him, who has been a serial adulterer, and who, a month ago, could be heard on audiotape saying we men should grab women by their p____ — and now he is the next president of the United States of America. I hear and feel that fear with women who are concerned about their abortion rights, their reproductive rights, who do not want men telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies, what services they can and cannot have. I hear and feel that fear with women who are survivors of domestic violence, of sexual assault, of rape, of rape culture on college campuses, who now wonder, more than ever, where they will be able to go, who they will be able to turn to, as they lug, like a heavy load, the exposed and unhealed scars of male abuse. I hear and feel that fear from Muslims, from Arab people, from the disabled, from the Jewish community, from any who were marginalized, maligned, and mocked by Mr. Trump’s words and antics on the campaign trail; these human beings feeling, more than ever, that they have targets on their backs because of who they are, what they are, what they look like, how they walk or do not walk, how they stand or sit, how they speak, how they pray, worship, think, live, love. Alas, the late rapper Tupac Shakur once said to me, in an interview, there is no place called careful. He was right. We are not safe in America, we do not feel safe, nor feel that we have any inalienable rights, because someone has decided to come after those of us who are different — the others — with a cruel and unrelenting salvo already: literally hundreds of hateful incidents since election day.
That is why this is, without question, an American tragedy, the entire 2016 American presidential season, and what it has wrought. Quite clearly it was White Americans, rich ones and poor ones, White women and White men, Whites with college educations and Whites with not much schooling at all, who elected Mr. Trump. It was his direct and subtle embraces of race and racism and White nationalism — lying through its yellowed teeth that it was patriotism — that made Donald Trump a populist candidate, with his shaming and blaming of the others with the bullets in his perpetually cocked and loaded verbal gun. Make America Great Again. But the question for us others, always: Make America great again, for who, precisely, and how? For here is a man who had no prior political experience, no military background to speak of, who had declared bankruptcy around his businesses at least a half dozen times, who is an unabashed racist. You think not, David Axelrod, you who said on national television Mr. Trump is not a racist, then how do you explain, with a mountain of evidence, matters like the housing racial discrimination lawsuits against him and his father, or his relentless public demonization of the New York City Black and Latino young men who became known as the Central Park Five, who were falsely accused of raping a White female jogger and were cleared of the charges after spending time in jail and winning a settlement? This is just the short list for those of us who are also New Yorkers and have experienced Mr. Trump’s circus antics for decades. We Americans do not need to say Mr. Trump has Hitler-like qualities and in fact need to stop that. There are enough morally ruined leaders and figures in U.S. history who pushed various forms of hate and oppression for us to compare Mr. Trump to. We’ve got Frances Scott Key and we’ve got D.W. Griffith. We’ve got Rutherford B. Hayes and we’ve got Woodrow Wilson. We’ve got Bull Connor and we’ve got George Wallace. Yes, this new commander-in-chief is the historical President Andrew Jackson and the fictional Archie Bunker rebooted for the new millennium: crass, vulgar, enthusiastically ignorant, an egomaniac, someone who, like Jackson, belittles and despises those others: for Jackson it was Native Americans and his blood lust for their land, and the Black slaves he owned and paraded, brazenly, like prized animals in a zoo; for Trump it is Muslims and Latinos and Blacks and women and immigrants; Donald Trump is someone who, like Bunker, hails from the New York City borough of Queens, who runs off at the mouth without any thought of what he is saying (or maybe he does), and who, like Bunker, is an equal opportunity offender. The hate that hate produced is for anyone who is not him, or people like him. For there is wrath, and then there is the wrath of The Donald. And this is not a dream, this is not a joke, there is no do-over, the electoral college ain’t gonna change its mind, petitions or not. As sure as President Barack Obama has already welcomed Mr. Trump to the White House, out of duty and protocol, to begin the transition process, this is happening. As sure as Mr. Trump has begun to hand over his transition team to right-wing fanatics and sexist, racist bigots, pretty much all White males, this is happening.
So I say let us feel what we are feeling, to get it out, the wet, soggy emotions, the fear, the sadness, the anger, the rage, the pain, the trauma. To not do so would be to deny our own humanity, to be as crazy as the times that are now clubbing us squarely in our faces. Yes, these are terrible chapters for America, this nation of ours. But depending on what group you belong to, what identity or multiple identities that you claim, it has never been the America it claims to be. Just ask Native American people who have suffered through genocide and degradation and exploitation for centuries in this land that was originally their land. Just ask Black folks whose ancestors were snatched from Africa and forced to work as slaves, for centuries, building the very foundation of America, including, I learned only very recently, colleges like Rutgers University in New Jersey where I studied. Just ask women, women of any race and creed, what it has been like to be viewed, from the very beginning, as a sexual object, as a caretaker or mother or mammy figure and nothing more, as evil or the b-word or a thot or whatever other anti-woman term one knows, if you, a woman happen to believe in yourself, if you happen to want to do something with your life other than be the punching bag or punchline for men. Just ask Irish people, or Italian people, or Jewish people, or Polish people, or Japanese or Chinese or Filipino people, or Latinos from anywhere in the vast universe we call Latin America, or Arab and Muslim people, what dirt and hate has been palmed and rubbed into their faces, what unwelcome journeys they’ve undergone in this imperfect union called America, and you will find folks who struggled to belong, who were told to go back where they came from, who too have found an America that at one time or another used them as both scapegoat and target practice for home-grown hate. Or simply ask poor people of any background, the ones we refer to as welfare queens, and ghetto, and ‘hood, and illegal aliens, and rednecks, and poor White trash, and every other name and phrase we can conjure, the people who, as my mother and I did, crawl and live day to day, paycheck to paycheck, teetering somewhere between life and death, between surviving and barely making it at all.
This is our America, the America we’ve been given from the jump, passed from generation to generation, consciously, unwittingly, and, yes, maliciously, as if this is our birthright to dance with the ebb and flow of sheer insanity. Am I surprised that someone as racist and sexist and vile of a bully as Donald Trump is the new president of the United States? No, absolutely not. Indeed, I saw it coming, because I know America, and because I have seen America, each and every single one of the fifty states in fact, in a way most of us never have, and most of us never will. I have driven through the wide open fields of the Dakotas and I have ducked and dodged tornadoes in Kansas and Missouri. I have witnessed moose crossings in Alaska and watched, amazed, leaping whales in the aqua blue water of Hawaii. I have had fireside chats with residents of environmentally hip Oregon and Washington State, and I have grimaced at the confederate pride in states like Virginia and South Carolina, my family’s roots. I have driven across America, flown across America, been to all the large cities, all kinds of small towns that really do have Main Streets, and I’ve been amazed, time and again, by the magnificent architecture of an Atlanta or San Francisco, and the small-building humility of sleepy, winding towns like Green Bay, Wisconsin and Longview, Texas. I have felt the muddy blues of Chicago and the muscular go-go beats of Washington, D.C. I was there when there was civil unrest in cities like Teaneck, New Jersey, and Ferguson, Missouri, and my first trip to Los Angeles was for an MTV documentary after the riot in that sprawling metropolis. I have marveled at the ecological terrains of New England and New Mexico, and the spell-bounding snow blizzards of Michigan and Ohio. I have stumbled and climbed the Colorado Rockies alone and I have stood at the hungry mouth of the august Grand Canyon in Arizona, mesmerized that it existed. I was there in New Orleans, in the death trap that was Hurricane Katrina, as the last people were being evacuated, and I walked and mourned block after New York block in the aftermath of 9/11 as we collectively stared at the endless rows of photos of missing persons gone forever. I have done speaking tours along the brown clay of rural Georgia, and I have strolled, transfixed and with lumps of tears in my eyes, on the grounds of Tuskegee, Alabama where the famous Tuskegee Airmen — Black men — had trained to be pilots during the decade of World War 2. Black men who had been told they did not have the mental capacity or genius to fly planes. And here I am, a Black boy born and raised in an American ghetto, Jersey City, New Jersey, who did not even get on a plane myself until I was 24-years-old, because I was poor, broke, and because I was too afraid to leave the comforts of where I was from, and because I simply did not have the courage nor the imagination.
So in seeing America I have gotten to know myself. When I first began to travel extensively here there everywhere, as a writer and journalist, as a public speaker, as an activist, I honestly only spoke about race and racism, no matter the other problems of our society. As a matter of fact, I will never stop talking about race and racism, indeed, as that remains one of the great diseases of our republic. But when you read, when you study, when you travel, when you listen, when you hear, when you share, and people like you and people not like you share, too, it affects your spirit, it affects your mind, it affects your eyes, it affects your ears, and you change, you evolve, you grow. I think about this when I think about my reading a poem at the 100th birthday celebration of the poet Langston Hughes in Lawrence, Kansas, in the 2000s; how my poem was about my Aunt Cathy and her agonizing struggle with mental illness; how when I was done an older White woman with granny glasses and a mop of gray hair atop her head, old enough to be my aunt or mother, came up to me sobbing uncontrollably, clutched me by the arms with her soft, sausage-thick fingers, and said “I’m Aunt Cathy too.” I was dumbfounded that a poem I had written about a Black woman had so connected with this White woman. I’ve recounted that Kansas story many times to audiences throughout the United States. But now that Donald Trump has been elected president, and it has become evident that a majority of White women voted for him, you have to wonder about the dynamic between White women and Black people, especially White woman and Black women. This woman said to me she is Aunt Cathy too, but how many White American women, conservative ones and liberal or progressive feminist ones as well, truly empathize and understand and feel a sisterhood for Black women like my Aunt Cathy, like my mother, or, even, Black women who are college-educated, professional, who are leaders in one space or another? How many of these White women are more invested in Whiteness than they are in womanhood, to the point where they could and did ignore Mr. Trump’s many sexist and misogynistic utterances and behaviors and voted for him anyway, because the Whiteness piece — anti-immigrant, anti-Muslims, anti-Black people, anti- any people of color — spoke to their deep-seated fears of the others taking over? That Kansas woman may have very well been sincere when she said “I am Aunt Cathy too,” but there is a nation of millions who publicly or privately do not see it that way. Understandable why a number of Black women are pissed at White women. Black women stood by Hillary Clinton in large numbers, were in her inner circle, and highly visible in the leadership of the Democratic Party that attempted to put Mrs. Clinton into the White House. There is a feeling of betrayal that I am hearing from Black women, that they supported the first female presidential candidate of a major party, a White woman, more than White women did; that these White women, in voting for Mr. Trump, represent, yet again, a total indifference for the lives and concerns of Black women and Black girls. This has left many dumbfounded….
This is because we, Americans, live our lives in boxes, in closets, in that prison otherwise known as fear, and our lives are governed only by what is right in front of us, and we are unwilling or unable to see the humanity and the similarities between us, since we choose, first, always, forever, to see difference. Please do not misunderstand me: I would never want to be anything else other than my African self, my Black self. I am madly in love with my family, my community, my history, what my mother and I endured; I am madly in love with Black people, my people, our unique ability to make something from nothing, and the many inventions and innovations, the music and art and culture we’ve given the world; the many ways we express faith and spirituality; the timeless blueprint for freedom and democracy we built and created and christened the Civil Rights Movement; the way we have bounced back and maintained, time after time, against great odds. But because of my own wild and unpredictable journey, and because I have been open to learning and rethinking, I have come to feel the same about women, about my queer sisters and brothers, about Native people, about Latinos and Asians and Jews and Muslims, about White sisters and brothers of every ethnicity, about the disabled, about the religious and the atheistic and the agnostic, too, about the wealthy and the poor, about all members of the human race. This could not have happened if I had not learned my own history, my own culture, my own identity, first. But in learning myself I learned to be a bridge-builder, not a bridge destroyer, and I am so very clear you, whoever you are, are my people too, and in being divided from each other, purposely, maliciously, we have been divided from ourselves. So I know what I think and feel, now, is not the norm in America. One could argue that there has been a gross dumbing down of America just in the past twenty years alone, that Donald Trump is the great result of that dumbing down. I happen to agree with that sentiment. But even that is only partly true, because it is palpable to me that some of us have no clue what America is, what an American is, and that some of us do not even know our own history, or American history, or ourselves. Facts do not matter. Research and study do not matter. What matters is who can talk the loudest, who can yell over who, who can create the biggest lies and misconceptions about another person or group. What matters is who controls the storytelling, the myth-making machines, who has power, and who does not. And who is fighting for their life to hold on to that power, even as it damages, time and again, those with no power.
America is and has always been a nation propelled by division, violence, fear, hatred, ignorance, and the powerful few pitting the rest of us against each other. That mindset is as old as the split blood of the first slaughtered Native Americans, as old as that Constitution that proclaimed Black folks three-fifths of a human being, as old as the Emancipation Proclamation that happened, grudgingly, when it became clear that Abe Lincoln and the North needed those Black slaves, as soldiers, to fight to preserve the Union. This is that America, where every single time we seem to make some sort of progress, a baby step here, a baby step over there, something, someone, some force, water hoses us, unleashes barking dogs in our direction, and say things like Make America Great Again, knowing that alleged greatness has zero to do with anyone other than a select group of White people in America with boundless wealth and power to do whatever the hell they want to do whenever they want to. That making America great again means, especially, that White men, straight White men, need to stay on top, from here to eternity. That does not make one a racist for saying so, it makes one honest. From the so-called founding fathers like Washington and Jefferson and Hamilton to the Bush dynasty and now Donald Trump, this is what it is. The rest of us are left fighting for crumbs, and fighting each other. For sure as I am writing this there have been hundreds of racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-queer incidents in our America. People, hateful people, ignorant people, have been emboldened, both by Mr. Trump’s campaign and by his victory, to go out and get the others. This is a lynch mob mentality. This is the mentality that had my ancestors hanging from trees, that exterminated Jews, that rounded up Japanese Americans and herded them off to internment camps. This is what oppression and discrimination look like. This is what White racism and White supremacy and White nationalism look like. As for us others, dabbing at our gashes, writhing, futilely, from this madness, this moment is what it sounds like when doves cry —
AND THIS IS WHY I KNEW DONALD TRUMP WAS GOING TO BE THE NEXT PRESIDENT, even if I never said it aloud. If one just looks at a few historical markers, the writing was always on the wall. First, this two-party system is a scam and needs to be busted up. There is something wrong with any country where a small group of people control that democracy, who gets to run for office and how, unless that person happens to be independently wealthy, like a Donald Trump, like a Michael Bloomberg, or is supported by the super-rich. Then the system bends to their will and inclinations. When I voted on election day in my beloved Brooklyn, New York, I thought about the instances I had seen the very same ballot, where there really were no choices at all, except, mainly for Democratic or Republican candidates, and oftentimes only one person was running for a particular seat, or if told on the ballot to pick six judges, there were only six judges listed. Or I think of the fact that a number of my New York City friends reached out to me on election day, asking who they should pick for certain judge positions, clearly not aware that if they and I did not reside in the same district we were not being presented with the same choices. My point is that just like we do not learn about equality and diversity and inclusion and humanity in a real way in our schools or the mass media culture in America, we likewise learn very little about the political process, about civic engagement.
This makes it mad easy for a Barry Goldwater in 1964, a Richard Nixon in 1968, a Ronald Reagan in 1980, a George W. Bush in 2000, and a Donald Trump in 2016 to come along and essentially say the same exact things about law and order, to ignite finger-pointing, the blame game, fear, to build national political campaigns on snappy catch phrases that appeal to the stresses and anxieties of citizens White like them, with no concern for the dire consequences. This is how Southern Democrats, or what were called Dixiecrats, began to migrate over to the Republican party with Nixon in that year 1968, and became Reagan Democrats by 1980, and are now card-carrying members of the Republican Party, or the Tea Party, or both. Hate pretending to be politics, plain and simple. Blame the Blacks and those Latino illegal aliens. Blame women, blame queer people, blame the Muslims, blame the Arabs. Blame anyone and anything, and never, like never, look in the mirror. Because these people, these others, are violent, they are dangerous, they are immoral, they are oversexualized, and they want to pimp their butterflies, and the government, our government, for every dollar possible. And when you have a school system and a mass media culture that still teaches gross lies and mythologies like Columbus discovered America, and conveniently ignores the fact that America was “founded” on racism and sexism and classism, that the founding fathers were remarkable and courageous and moral yet conveniently omits that most of them owned human beings — slaves — and did not believe in liberty and justice for all, then the never-ending un-reality show has been casted, from our textbooks to Trump Towers to the blatant lie that Rudy Giuliani was the hero of 9/11 when in fact he has made a huge fortune off those heartbreaking deaths while others still suffer, that White people, especially heterosexual White males, have not only been our saviors and heroes, but likewise, they have had to beat back one threat after another, for the sake of our democracy: Native Americans, slave rebellions, women, poor and angry Whites like those of Shays Rebellion, the foreign Whites who encroached upon this America, like the Italians and the Irish, and the Jews; there is forever an enemy lurking, generation to generation, who must be captured, interned, locked out, driven from the country, or blocked from getting in. Sometimes we call them communists, sometimes we call them terrorists, sometimes they are Japanese, sometimes they are Arab, but they assuredly are not Americans. Because to be an American, the way we’ve been taught to believe, is to be White, is to be heterosexual, is to be at the center of everything, is to be a man, is to be daring, a seeker, or doer, without any help whatsoever, is to be someone who makes his own way, who conquers immense obstacles always, is strong, speaks loud, is a rugged individualist, is someone who pushes back against the others who would fancy halting his motion, his forward progress. He, that American, not only knows the America that once was great, for people like him, but he knows what it takes to make America great, again. It is a fear factor that drives him, that if he does not do this, in America, on the planet Earth, then these others will completely out-populate him and overwhelm him, his identity, his purpose, his reason to exist. And that is not in his DNA, to be equal, on the same level as anyone, and not what he was taught. King of the world, him only, the others need not apply —
SO WHAT BOTH THE REPUBLICAN PARTY AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY AND white folks with power in America, and those of us lucky enough to sit and work with those White folks with power, bank on is us not knowing these things, us not being taught to be thinkers and, God forbid, critical thinkers. These realities consumed my thinking as I made my way to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio and then the Democratic one in Philadelphia this past Summer. In Cleveland, where images of the basketball team, the Cavaliers, having just won the NBA championship were everywhere, it was also clear that this largely Black and heavily Democratic city had been besieged by mostly White, uber-conservative Republicans. It was an ironic juxtaposition, to see and hear White folks who may have only weeks earlier cheered on Black men, either LeBron James or the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry, now booing loudly and disputing incessantly anything that smelled of racial benefits to people of color. I even heard one White man equate the Black Lives Matter movement with the historically racist and obscene Ku Klux Klan, and another say BLM was a terrorist organization. Yup, ignorance and fear and hate are powerful aphrodisiacs. Then there was the great irony of the hordes of impoverished Black folks hustling and selling pro-Donald Trump and anti-Hillary Clinton shirts on the littered pavement leading into the convention. And quite surreal to see and hear the earsplitting parade of Christian evangelicals — the Jesus people I call them — with gigantic white crosses, screaming that queers were going to hell, that women who had abortions would be joining them, and that if you masturbated you were one step from being queer, too, and closer to hell as well. All of this would be amusing, laughable, downright hilarious, if these folks were not serious, and if, inside the convention, Donald Trump and his legion of doom with names like Rudy Giuliani were not preaching the kind of dark hate and horror that wildly whipped up the racism of Whites of all stripes, not just the poor ones in rural America. I left that convention knowing Donald Trump was going to win, but I kept it to myself. It was White, very White, and I barely ever saw a single face of color, except a few “diverse” delegates here and there, and the rest were the help, serving food, pouring drinks, smiling on cue, and mopping and sweeping and keeping the convention clean and spotless.
Yes, the Democratic convention looked like America and its prodigious diversity, but I can be mad real now and say my politics are closer to that of Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton. And I am not one of those folks who felt Bernie Sanders had a real platform, either. He did not. He was thin on his ability to speak to the others as well. But what Mr. Sanders did have was the magical touch in capturing with choice words what many of us feel about the people with power. That people like me, too, have become fatigued of a political system which, since 1989, and with the exception of Barack Obama these past eight years, has put a Bush or Clinton into the presidency. And has recycled Bush and Clinton political operatives in their administrations, including that of President Obama, to the point where you could barely tell which party, which president, as they often gave the same bullet-point speeches on the same issues, albeit with some nuanced differences if a Republican or Democrat. My point is that I was not surprised, when I got to Philly, to see the giant presence of Bernie Sanders supporters inside and outside that convention. Like Donald Trump, Sanders had tapped into the underbelly of political disillusionment, and had mass appeal from Americans who’d felt alienated from the political system. Trump’s had been with working-class White Americans, especially working-class White males, while Mr. Sanders had been toward multicultural young America. And folks were not happy that Hillary Clinton and her team had seemingly bamboozled their way to the Democratic nomination. We would learn in Philly and in the weeks after the Dems gathered there of some very shading dealings by Clinton supporters toward Bernie Sander’s campaign. Why? Because Bernie represented a brash political movement unseen since, well, Bobby Kennedy in 1968. I’ve always wondered what would have happened had Bobby Kennedy not been killed in June of that year, he who had the unique ability to reach highly educated people, but also had a flair for speaking to working-class people of every culture, including the same working-class White males who would eventually follow Reagan and Bush and Trump into the Republican fold. If there is a sin of the Democratic Party, and there are many, it is that it stopped being the party of working family America a long time ago, and became, for a variety of reasons, the party of class-conscious intellectual elites and liberal political lifers. The only use that working people have for the Dems, I have come to believe, is to vote when told to vote, and for whom. Perhaps that is why I felt as uninterested at the Dem convention as I did at the Republican one. Why I felt that just like Donald’s doomsday gathering was a spectacle, a show, so was it a show to force unity on Hillary’s one shining moment, even as Bernie delegates inside the convention shouted as loudly as they could to voice their discontent. The Hillary and DNC remedy for the discontent: to shhh them, to roar over the Bernie people, or to ignore them as if they were not there.
Yet we knew the choice we had: Donald Trump is an unrepentant racist, sexist, xenophobic barbarian of a man who inherited his father’s wealth and network; Mr. Trump is a New York used car salesman masquerading as a polished and intelligent businessman. He is not. He is heterosexual White male privilege on steroids. There was a time, for sure, when I was fond of Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton. It was in 1992 when they first burst onto the national stage. I stood by them, in my long-gone twenties, as Bill was accused of one sexual affair after another. They were the second coming of John Kennedy, of Jackie Kennedy, but the everyday people version. However, over the course of their eight years in the White House we watched President Clinton, supported by Hillary the entire way, push through a welfare reform bill and a crime bill that would have catastrophic effects on the very Black people who helped put him into office. We would watch Mr. Clinton methodically turn his back on the suffering folks in Haiti while helping other nations, and hear his wife refer to a certain segment of the Black community as “super predators.” And then there was the matter of Bill Clinton lying, in a nationally televised message, about his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky in the White House. Not lost on me either that had Mrs. Clinton won her husband, a serial adulterer and possibly a sexual predator himself, would have been right by her side. Ironies of ironies. And yes, I had thought about Hillary Clinton’s spotty, contradictory, and at times unethical work, as Secretary of State under Barack Obama, in global hotspots like Honduras and the Middle East, of the fortune she and Bill Clinton amassed post- his presidency, and the sloppiness with which those darn emails were handled. But, to be fair, Hillary Clinton was, by far, the most qualified candidate, Dem or Republican, from both parties. Heck, when you look at presidential party nominees dating as far back as 1968, except for Nixon that year, Gerald Ford in 1976, and George H. W. Bush in 1988, it can be argued that Mrs. Clinton had, by far, the best resume of them all, including Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, her husband Bill, and Barack Obama. But she is a woman, and we who are honest know it does not matter if a woman is as qualified or more qualified than a man for the same position. We know it does not matter if she is subjected to abuse and vulgarity and disrespect her entire career. As I made my way through Cleveland during that Republican convention, it stung me to see the shirts and signs calling Mrs. Clinton a criminal, a whore, saying her role was to give men blowjobs, to watch one Republican after another, women and men both, eagerly shelling out $10, $15, $20, more, to buy tee shirts that debased Hillary and her character in the cruelest and most inhuman ways. What does any of this have to do with politics? I wondered, and does anyone care that Hillary Clinton is someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s grandmother, and would anyone want their wife, their mother, their grandmother, talked about in that way? One of the saddest moments at the Republican convention, on the streets, was watching two women talk with two men peddling those anti-Hillary tee shirts, the women telling them they understood the need for money, then proceeded to give the men $500 not to sell the shirts any longer. The men took the money, packed their stuff, and walked off. But within half an hour the men, their clothes changed a bit, were back in the same spot selling the same tee shirts. Men, this is how sexism works, from the highest levels of power and authority to the streets. Our male privilege plus our male power means, or so we think, that we can say and do anything to women, any time any place, tell women who they are and are not, demean them by all available means, and exploit them, their images, for our own benefit, with no guilt whatsoever. Was Hillary Clinton a great candidate? No, but she was the best one. Is Hillary Clinton a great speaker or magnetic personality? No, but she knows her policy positions, both domestic and foreign, inside and out, whether I agree with her positions or not. Where the right-wing movement, dating back at least to Reagan, has been so very effective is in never having real platforms or policies itself, other than blaming and undermining the others at every turn, and doing whatever it could to disparage and assassinate the characters of their opponents. Especially when their opponent, like Mrs. Clinton, comes with easily exploitable baggage like a suspect husband, that sloppy handling of emails, and a laundry list of other items that we heard about more than we ever heard about any real issues and real direction for America this year.
And to be blunt, I am also not under any pretense that the Democratic Party actually stands for democracy, or that it actually cares about Black people. Trump was not wrong when he said the Dems have done little to nothing for Black America, for inner cities like where I come from. The Democrats have been highly effective at making us others believe we have nowhere else to go, that voting is our only option for salvation, and we are duped with that line every single presidential election cycle. This is why people did not vote in this year’s presidential election, why many do not vote in any local or national election in any given year. The whole thing leaves a very bad taste in your mouth. Shaming folks, calling folks out for not voting, in this era of got ya moments on social media is not the solution. Fact is even folks like me, who have voted in every single election since we could, local ones and national ones, are clear the system is horrific and needs to be changed. I am very clear what voting means to people in America who have been denied the right to vote at every turn in our history. I think of this when I go to vote. But I also feel that voting is just one of many tools for us, and this whole notion that if one does not vote, or did not vote in this presidential election means they have no right to speak, or are the problem, is as problematic, to me, as voter suppression, voter I.D. laws, and voter fraud. It smacks of an oppressive mindset, of a fascist mindset, of making people believe non-voters are the problem when, in point of fact, it is the system and the often-manufactured leaders strutted in front of us who are the problem. People of all backgrounds are simply tired of business as usual, of the same kinds of speeches and sound bites, of the same kinds of promises, of the same kinds of lies. I recall when I was running for that Congressional seat in Brooklyn the number one question I was asked over and over, by every kind of Brooklynite one could name, was this: Are you going to be exactly like these other politicians if you get into office? People wanted to know if I was going to be a better alternative. Just like those who voted for Donald Trump saw him as an alternative. But Trump as an alternative, as an option, is no option. Supporting him is like supporting the devil, is like supporting a slave master on a plantation, is to be in bed with the evil and the soulless. You may get some trinkets, some money, some reward, some access, you may feel good in the moment for giving Hillary and the Dems the middle finger, but at what price to your spirit and your sanity, and at what price to America? Yes, I am speaking to some of those Blacks and Latinos and women and Whites and queer sisters and brothers and others who so bald-facedly supported Mr. Trump, even as he said the most sickening things we’ve ever heard on a national campaign trail. Where there is no self-love there certainly is no love of others, of the people, any people, and the absence of love is a ready recipe for the powerful to keep their power, while the rest of us, as I said, fight each other —
But we also know this election of Donald Trump is a major rejection of the presidency of Barack Obama. It began as soon as he was elected and the obstruction has been ruthless. There was simply no way, I feel, that certain segments of America were going to tolerate a Black man, then a woman, even if she was White, as president back to back. That kind of cataclysmic shift means we would be rejecting what we’ve been taught, consciously and subconsciously, about who built and created America, who explored America, who developed and expanded America, and who continues to be the saviors of America. And if you are self-hating, ignorant by way of your education or ignorant only because you want to be, then you follow that narrative, that the Black man is incompetent, and has destroyed the country, that a woman does not have the ability to do the job, either. You in a sense nigger-ize both the Black man and the White woman. And that White woman cannot win no matter what, even when she does clumsy and racialized things like carry hot sauce in her purse or play street corner board games with old men of color in Spanish Harlem. It comes across as pandering for people of color votes, as hoping those same people of color will forget the policies and words and deeds of you and your husband back in the day, when they have not. So this election result was both White Americans saying enough of this rainbow coalition stuff, and people of color saying, Yo, we are not stupid, we are not feeling this at all. This is why many did not vote, stayed home, could care less. It is foolish to condemn them as if they are somehow betraying history, the Civil Rights Movements, their ancestors, their elders. It is foolish to say them not voting cost Hillary Clinton the presidency. No, what cost Hillary Clinton the presidency is a rigged and archaic electoral college system, given she won the popular vote nationwide. What cost Hillary Clinton the election is a system of sexism, espoused by men, internalized by women too, who truly believe that women are not equals to men, who truly believe the storyline that women are not fit to lead, do not possess the stamina, the mental toughness, that women cannot be trusted in positions of authority. What cost Hillary Clinton the election was referring to people as “deplorables,” which is about as classist and elitist as one can be, and is a metaphor for how classist and elitist the Democratic Party has been for a very long time. And what cost Mrs. Clinton the election is a Democratic Party that has not been innovative and visionary since at least the 1960s. Resting on your laurels is not going to cut it. Reminding people what you’ve done in the past is not going to cut it. Giving a few of the others influential leadership positions does not translate to the masses of people, no matter how well-intentioned. What matters is power, who has it and who does not, and what matters is not taking people for granted, except when you need their votes every couple of years.
Part of the problem is that the political system, movement building, activism, all of it, has been reduced to voting and running for office. In the immediate moments after it became clear Donald Trump was the next U.S. president, many hit me up asking if I would consider running for political office again. As I said, I had done so in 2008 and 2010, for Congress in my adopted hometown of Brooklyn, and it was a nightmare both times. My past, which I have been very honest about my entire adult life, was attacked and used against me. Meanwhile, we could never raise enough money from that same elite class of Democrats who essentially handed this election to Donald Trump. And at the end of the day I began to realize, no matter how tight or progressive or inclusive my platform, no matter how well prepared I was around the issues, no matter how hard we worked, on the streets, at subways, door to door, that American politics is really not about the American people at all. Politics is a vicious, bloody, ego-driven gladiator sport that has little to do with the spiritual or love, it is about power and privilege, it is about who has the money and who does not, and, yes, it is about fame, about celebrity, about how exciting and shiny your brand. With that in mind, as much as Hillary Clinton got the support and push of Barack and Michelle Obama, the naked truth is it was Trump’s brand that was more aligned with President Obama’s. Both were, in a sense, celebrity candidates created by the mass media culture. Both electrified thousands at rally after rally. Both ran campaigns very thin on actual policy. The difference, of course, between Mr. Obama and Mr. Trump, is that Barack Obama actually is highly intelligent and had the capacity and humility to learn, and to surround himself with good people. With Mr. Trump you get the impression that he truly believes he alone can fix everything in America, and in the world. But this is how American politics works, the ebb and flow of Democrats and Republicans, the back and forth between red states and blues states, the switching back and forth every few years of who gets the presidency and who gets to control the Senate and House of Representatives. We are told it is a democracy, many of us believe it, but no, let us stop lying to ourselves, America is an oligarchy, not a democracy. Power in the hands of a few, and we the people are so untrusted to make the right decisions that the presidential election is the only election in our land, on any level, where it is not one person one vote, where it is not you win if you win the popular vote, but instead the twisted and secretive electoral college, which allows states, party leaders, the crooked and the corrupt, to dictate how things unfold, depending on the mood of America. And what are the roots of that electoral college? Slavery, and the 1787 Constitutional Convention where slaveholding states gathered with ones that were not, the thirteen original states. James Madison of Virginia, one of the leaders and a slave master himself, spoke, along with others, to the concerns of protecting the rights of Southern states. This is how the infamous counting of Black slaves as “three-fifths” of a human being made its way into the United States Constitution, and how Congressional seats came to be allotted. In other words, each state was given a number of electoral votes proportioned to the population, including those slaves counted as three-fifths of a human being in the slave states, and the candidate who won the majority of votes won the election. But, most significantly, the electoral college was created to protect slavery, slave masters, their money, their power. And thus began a system that remains oppressive and discriminatory on several fronts, to this very day.
THIS IS WHY IT IS SAD TO WITNESS THE NUMBER OF WHITE LIBERALS AND White progressives utterly flabbergasted by Donald Trump’s election. For people of color we have been conditioned to this for a very long time. We too may be surprised but we are not traumatized to the point of inertia or apocalyptic horror. We done seen some things, and it is business as usual as far as we see. This is why White liberals and White progressives have to be the ones to confront their White sisters and brothers who are racist, not Black people, not people of color. You all have to be the ones to talk with your family members, your friends, your fellow employees, who loudly or privately voted for Donald Trump. And you all have to be the ones to challenge the racism in this country, in your communities, at every turn. It cannot just be us; it cannot just be people of color. The reason Donald Trump got elected is because you all have not been doing that work. It is not about making folks feel guilty. No. It is about telling uncomfortable truths so we can move, and move in the right direction, prayerfully, finally. For example, when I got back on the road to deliver a lecture post-election, I made it clear my feelings about what has transpired. It did not sit well with a White male who brought me in to speak during a West Coast stop. He proceeded to tell me, in the most condescending tone possible, that I had gotten “political” with my speech, that I was off message. I told that gentleman, without blinking, and after a back and forth that went on for an hour, that I was not his slave, that no one gets to dictate to someone else what they can and cannot speak about. But this is where we are, in America, in our America, where some ignorantly believe that if you address the presidential election, or race, or gender, or class, or anything else that is deemed to be too touchy or too controversial, that you are the divisive person, that you are the problem, that you are trying to be politically correct. No, sir, what I want to be is human and alive, and I am interested in real freedom and real democracy, not this illusion we’ve been toying with for centuries now. What I am interested in are those young men at Rutgers University, my alma mater, who said I was demeaning them, on the day before the election, because I dared to challenge them on sexism and rape culture on our college campuses, and their lack of knowledge about women and girls beyond, yes, mother figures and sex objects. These are the young men who will go out into the world, who will make decisions, based on how they view themselves and how they view others, men who will either be about justice and equality, or who will spread the same backwards logic and behavior that has damaged women, and us men, for so long. Good people cannot continue to be still and silent. That stillness, that silence, is agreeing with hate, is agreeing with fear, is agreeing with violence, is agreeing with division, is agreeing with ignorance, and is like saying we are good with business as usual even as millions are suffering.
So we’ve got to figure out ways to come together, we must, to be human, to talk, to listen, to spread love. Slut-shaming Melania Trump for taking nude or semi-nude photos when she was a young woman twenty years ago is as sexist as anything that was said about Hillary Clinton. Hoping Mr. Trump gets assassinated, and saying that publicly, on social media, is participating in the very same violence we say we are opposed to. Telling people to just give Mr. Trump and his administration a chance, after we’ve been subjected to insult after insult during his campaign is not the way to go either. It is like saying let’s give racism a chance to fix itself, when it has had four hundred long years to do so, and that has not happened. And it will never happen, not small changes, not anything, without protest, without resistance, without us getting organized, without us being the media ourselves given the many tools we now have, and not without people voicing their grievances every chance we get, because this is an abomination, this man and this election victory. And, yes, artists should use their art to have the difficult conversations, to shake things up, and I am proud the cast of “Hamilton” spoke up and challenged Mr. Pence as he was leaving one of their Broadway performances. Conversely, Mr. Trump, you cannot control everything, least of all us creative folks, us artists, and as long as you and your circle are behaving in ways that are the polar opposite of what America claims to be about, our art, our work, our protests, will reflect that. You’ve rolled up your sleeves, and so have we. We are not going to be passive in the face of oppression and meanness and hate. This is why White women and Black women fighting each other on social media, via blogs, is not the way to go. We should, yes, talk, openly, directly, about that intersection of racism and sexism, of what feminism and womanism mean here there everywhere, especially amongst so-called progressive and liberal folks, always, because it is real like that; but we’ve also got to figure out a way to talk with and listen to each other, no matter who we are, where we are not discarding and destroying each other to make our points. Hurt people hurt people, as we say, and there are many severely wounded souls in America. This is why we should protest, why we should organize, why we should raise our voices and vent, because this is our work, our therapy, our healing, and we should not listen to any disconnected celebrities or would-be mouthpieces that tell us to give him a chance, to give it time. We gave Mr. Trump the past two years to show us who he is, and it is abundantly clear that he is not thinking about the rest of America, including the working-class White folks who voted against their own economic interests to support him. Because it is about him, his brand of Whiteness, his brand of White manhood. That goes for Donald Trump, that goes for vice president-elect Mike Pence and the havoc he wreaked, as a politician, in his home state of Indiana. A havoc that Mr. Pence will soon enough set loose on an entire nation. Him, Breitbart’s Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Rudy Giuliani, and other salivating racists are the revolving door of White men who are lifting up Trump Nation. Ay, there is a pattern here. America has always been racist, has always been awash in the belief of White superiority above everyone else. But with Mr. Trump’s win we have that White supremacist mindset, that White nationalism, on full display in a way we have not seen since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. They aim to dominate and control, they aim to put, unapologetically, themselves, at the center of the universe, no matter who it injures, no matter who attempts to stop them. It is terrible, and it is going to get worst, because history tells us so —
So yes we should practice peace, and yes we should practice love, and yes we should be kind toward each other, and figure out, Black people and White people and people of all races and cultures and creeds, women and men, straight people and queer people, poor people and rich people, abled body people and disabled people, religious people and non-religious people, good people of any ilk, how do we seize this moment in time and look at ourselves and what we’ve wrought, together, to create something better, something different, together. This is bigger than politics and voting. People in power do not want change, they want their power, and they have it. And their power means they want confusion and chaos, they want trauma and pain, they want people feeling powerless. Because these are exactly the things that keep them in power. White sisters and brothers who voted for Donald Trump somehow think they did the right thing, that they are innocent of any crime. I wonder about the ones who are my friends and colleagues, who I work with in different ways, who voted for Mr. Trump on the low, quietly, but do not dare say so aloud for fear of the response, even if the response is merely Why? In voting for Donald Trump you sent a clear message about what America is to you, what you want it to be, and it truly does not include the others, except at the margins, on the sidelines, to entertain on stage or in the sports arenas, to be at your service and pleasure, but definitely not to share power with you.
So what I want is power that is rooted in love, power that belongs to all people. I want us to understand that love is the revolution, is the change, that America will forever be a nation with a penniless soul, no matter how rich and no matter how strong militarily as long as love is absent from its core. This is hard business, this love thing, and America has avoided it for as long as it has existed. We prefer a dysfunctional relationship, an abusive relationship, and that is exactly what it has felt like. I think once more of my mother. Ma, as I have called my mother since I was a little boy, still believes in voting, still believes in America, even if America and her fellow Americans have not always believed in her, or even know that she exists. My mother lives a simple life, a humble life, for there is a power and a love there in that sort of life. And I take solace in the fact that Gloria Steinem, one of the majestic symbols of America’s women’s right movement, has said that Black women are the real and first feminists in this country. That is my mother, that is my aunts, that is my late Grandmother Lottie, my mother’s mother. You want to know what freedom is, what democracy is, what power is, what love is, get to know the lives of women like them. It is in the way they wash clothes, how they cook their food, how they sing their sorrow songs for God, how they do their hair, how they save their coins, how they raise their children, how they crease their bedsheets, how they scrub and clean their own homes, how they love the men who do not love them. They too sing America, even if America rarely sings for them. My mother is in her seventies today, living her golden years after a road trip that has taken her from the South to the North, from poverty to poverty, from a wooden Southern shack to the senior building where she is, finally, at peace with herself. She is retired, in a complex with other older people who done seen life, and America, in ways many of us could only imagine. They make it easy for these seniors to vote. My mother just gets on the elevator and goes downstairs, which she does, dutifully, for every single election.
I think of the pride my mother felt when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. In my mother’s home, next to the White Jesus and the all-White-folks Last Supper sketch is a framed photo of Barack and Michelle and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. Their family is my mother’s family. Reminds me of how many Black Americans, in years past, had in their homes framed images of the two Kennedys, John and Bobby, and Dr. King. Because in those images, just like the Obamas for my mother in 2016, was a feeling of safety, that someone in power, someone in leadership, truly cared about them, and had also risked their lives doing so. Whether that was all true or not is another conversation for another day. But the point is that we’ve gone from the Kennedys and Dr. King and Barack Obama to Donald Trump and all the president elect’s men, and it don’t feel good, it makes my mother uncomfortable, makes her wonder what is next after all she has seen. She talks regularly about the shortness of life, she reminds me constantly, much to my discomfort, that she will not be here forever, that she is tired, but likewise my mother urges me to keep my life together. Ma knows life ain’t easy for no one, especially no one who comes from where we come from, who are people like us, the others, seemingly banished to the invisible corners of the American dream. I hear my mother loud and clear because this year has been one of the hardest of my life. In spite of regular exercise, as much sleep as I can get, and being super health conscious and a vegan with my diet, I have felt an exhaustion, this year, like I have never felt before. The weight of it has worn me down, physically, mentally, spiritually. I have had great highs with my work and opportunities, and I have had great disappointments in my interactions with people of various backgrounds, in person, online, via cellphone. Sometimes it was the other person, sometimes it was me. Honestly, in the aftermath of the Trump victory I have thought long and hard about my old hurts, any of my toxic feelings about people, why this person or that person and I no longer talk, what could possibly be so bad that people are divided from each other, given the monumental task now before us in America, to help heal a people, a nation, that ostensibly has no clue how to do so.
But there are clues, and they rest with young people, they rest with the children here and the children not yet born. I saw that hope with the mostly White children I was with in North Carolina just the other day, at Charlotte Country Day School. There was a joy, a longing, a feeling, a shining in their eyes, amongst these young people born in the late 1990s, in the 2000s, that there can be a different sort of world, that there must be. I saw that hope with the Black and Brown young men I was with in Washington State the other day — African American, Latino, Asian, Native American, Arab — as they shared their dreams, their sorrow songs, their stresses, their anxieties, and, yes, their fears. There was a joy, a longing, a feeling, a shining in their eyes, too. And these boys, like those girls and boys in North Carolina, as they talked with me, as they asked me questions, as they sought a safe space to be themselves, to be free, whatever that means for them, are holding on to something they may not even see in many of us adults, that they can barely see in themselves sometimes due to the clutter of tech gadgets and social media and messages and symbols bombarding them from every direction. It is what my mother had in her when she was that young Black girl playing in her skinless front yard of rural South Carolina a lifetime ago, as sweat beads peppered her nose and the sun’s greasy hands tamed and twisted and braided her hair, that somehow and some way, she, we, we the rainbow children, gonna make a way out of no way, that we did not come this far just to give up now —
Kevin Powell, writer, public speaker, activist, is the author or editor of 12 books, including his critically acclaimed autobiography, The Education of Kevin Powell: A Boy’s Journey into Manhood. Email him, firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter, @kevin_powell