Revolutionary Black Love Will Keep Us Alive
The greatest trick that White supremacy ever pulled was positioning racism as an individual’s belief system and not a power structure built upon the blood, bones and labor of Black people. President Donald Trump’s election has laid that trick bare and exposed it for the dirty lie it is.
After eight years of President Barack Obama, the anesthesia of liberalism has worn off, and many Black Americans are experiencing sharp pains in anticipation of what lies ahead. Our very existence in this clarifying political moment is evidence that the White settler colonial project known as the United States of America is still functioning exactly as intended. Black people have always been forced to navigate bayous of bigotry with a dexterity that defies belief. We have always been placed in the position of saving a country that hates us in order to negotiate our own survival.
Unarmed Black people—men, women and children—are five times more likely to be shot and killed by a police officer than their White counterparts. Thirty-six percent of Black children live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of White children. Members of Black and Latinx working-class communities are prosecuted and hit with harsher sentences for drug crimes than their White counterparts.
This country fetishizes violence against systemically disempowered bodies; and where sexual and state violence intersect, we too often find the bodies of Black women. In 2014, the imprisonment rate for Black American women was more than twice that of White women. Black women, cisgender and transgender, are more likely to be victims of interpersonal violence and 32 percent of transgender Black women have reported being raped in jail or police custody.
There’s a war going on against the most vulnerable and targeted people in this country. Still, in the words of poet Lucille Clifton, we celebrate that every day something has tried to kill us and has failed. We fight demons fashioned after false gods who lynch us in broad daylight. We rest our heads, we raise our children, we make love, and write words and create art in occupied territory.
The shame is not ours.
With Trump and his cabinet full of of corporate cronies and climate-change deniers in the White House, the Democratic Party continues to collapse into a White identity crisis. This leftist version of the All Lives Matter movement is shaped by the fraudulent idea that the deconstruction of Whiteness and all the power and privileges therein is a dangerous endeavor, and we must bargain with the poor White man’s racism for our collective survival. That is not what revolutionary Black love looks like. That is not what freedom looks like.
It is time to fight back against the economic and institutional violence that is as powerful as any bullet, despite some liberals expecting us to coddle the “White working class” and tell them, “You is smart; you is kind; and you is important,” as if their access to Whiteness makes them special. It’s time to build LGBTQ, feminist coalitions led by people of color—Black, Latinx, First Nations, Asian and working-class—that address entrenched discrimination. Demanding justice now, right now, should not be considered a radical act.
The diversification of White supremacy through cosmetic diversity is evident in the few Black people who have aligned themselves with Trump and in Black liberals who expect us to align with Democrats by default. The politics of inclusion often masquerades as collective progress, but lukewarm liberalism is not synonymous with liberation and a seat at the table is not enough—not when our silence is the anti-Black price of the ticket. It is not our duty to protect a nation that lies to itself about the depth of its character and then expects Black people to protect it from collapsing upon itself.
It is our duty to win.
Feminist scholar bell hooks taught us that the margin is not always a “site of deprivation … it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance.” So we do not have the right to remain silent. We move forward nurturing and reimagining a revolutionary Black love that demands we not waste time explaining why we’re standing in the fire this time.
We dig deep for that flickering, sacred joy and reignite the bold Black flame that is our birthright. We come back home to ourselves. We dance because our ancestors are watching, because our children are watching, because our enemies are watching. I’m talking about the head-back, backbone twisting, hip-shaking dancing that reminds us that we do more than bleed. The kind of dancing that helps us find our rhythm in systems that try to bury us.
Then we tear them down.
There are dark days ahead under Trump’s White supremacist regime, but it has always been so much bigger than him. Mississippi freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer warned us that racists have always tried to wipe us out as human beings, but we won’t let them get away with it. We—the children of the Middle Passage, the daughters of the dust—have traversed oceans of oppression. We have stared into the evil eyes of men and women who would rather see us dead than see us free, but there is no White hate stronger than revolutionary Black love and there never has been.
Our Blackness is not and was never theirs to destroy.
Kirsten West Savali is a writer and associate editor at TheRoot.com.
It’s Time to Learn from History — Jelani Cobb
As told to Glenn Jeffers
Trump’s election really seemed to represent the same sort of backlash we saw after every bit of racial progress in this country, and I was horrified to see that we were still in the same cycle. After the emancipation and Reconstruction, there was a backlash in the South that was designed to take away Black rights. The Great Migration inspired another backlash when people tried to get away from Jim Crow in the South. During the Civil Rights Movement, the same thing happened. This time around, we saw the country rise up to elect a fascist demagogue, and a person who has never pretended to be anything different. Sixty-nine million American citizens thought it was reasonable to give this person power over them, which is terrifying.
It’s hard to say what my biggest concern is. Initially, public policy issues come to mind. If you have a person similar to the president as the attorney general, you’re going to have hostility toward voting rights and potentially have hostility toward criminal justice reform. When we see what we’ve seen with Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd and instances of police using excessive force, I think there will be a Department of Justice that is largely sympathetic with those officers.
This is a climate in which a particular kind of reactionary mindset will be empowered. We’ve already seen the increase in hate crimes. Then there’s the prospect of what will happen to vulnerable poor people when Trump produces an economy that’s even more favorable to a small percentage at the top, which is the group he has represented his entire life.
Then there are bigger concerns that affect the entire country: Will this person needlessly start war? Will this person wreck the economy? All sorts of questions come up.
We have to seriously look at history. We have to examine it as a case study to see what, exactly, people did to survive post-Reconstruction or to survive repression and the authoritarian government from Jim Crow. To the extent that we can, we need to support our organizations such as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. We must deal with politics on the local level, where we can have some actual impact. We’re looking at more than 30 state legislatures that the GOP controls in addition to the House of Representatives, the Senate and the White House. This is something we should be very clear about. We will likely be trying to undo, for the next quarter century, what happened on Nov. 8.
There are questions I ask after all this. I have studied the Civil Rights Movement. I have interviewed many participants. But even if I hadn’t, if I had just a basic familiarity of the movement, of what people were doing and songs they sang, I’d ask myself: ‘Do I believe what they were trying to do? Do I believe the words they were saying?’ If I did, then everything else falls into place. Of course, there are villains and the odds are stacked against you. Of course, it’s going to be difficult. The people who came before us, who were singing those civil rights songs in the face of vicious attacks from police dogs, by unrepentant racists, the only thing they had to defend themselves with was their own courage and their faith. If I really believe in what those people were doing, then there is much less room for fear in terms of what we’re encountering right now.
Jelani Cobb is Professor of Journalism at Columbia University and Staff Writer at The New Yorker.
This issue, nine other Black thought leaders contribute their perspectives on the topic including author Isabel Wilkerson, Newark mayor Ras Baraka, and Princeton professor Imani Perry. Read more in the Feb. 2017 issue of EBONY Magazine, on newsstands now! Click here to subscribe.