When all Black lives flourish

Organizers with Southerners On New Ground in Atlanta. Photo by Anna Simonton. 

I wanted Tuesday to be over because I was tired of hearing my name used in vain.

Black voter.

Every election year, every media outlet, every anxious white liberal, every respectable Black Democrat. Every mention of “Cousin Pookie.”

Every emotional manipulation disguised as commitment to Black citizenship.

At the polls, a White woman canvasser insisted that it was a mistake for my Black queer feminist organization to not endorse Hillary Clinton, because Donald Trump would be “so much worse for Black people.”

Three hours later, I watched White people elect Donald Trump. Fifty three percent of White women voted against the first White woman president of the United States (and the most qualified candidate in history), in favor of a White man who hates women, and who has never spent a day in public office.

Ninety-four percent of Black women voted for a White woman who referred to their children as “super predators” and never spoke the language, much less demonstrated an understanding, of intersectionality.

And yet, over the course of this entire two-year campaign, I never once witnessed any anxious punditry or emotional manipulation aimed at White women voters. Or at White voters generally.

There was never any danger of Black people electing Donald Trump. Black people have demonstrated a greater, more consistent commitment to White-run liberal/progressive politics than every other demographic. To use a term from an old professor, we are “superpatriots” in the country that enslaved us. Meanwhile, our Black citizenship ping pongs from first priority to null after every election season. Our Black lives are murdered live on social media, and we are the ones placed on trial, encouraged by White liberals and conservatives alike to consider “Blue” lives, to attend to “Blue” feelings. Our communities are held hostage by White-run municipal governments, which refuse to include us or provide us with infrastructure, but are entitled to dump their waste on us, to extract resources from us. We are incarcerated at five times the rate of White folk. Over two million of us are disenfranchised because of previous felony convictions. Our wealth is still 13 times less than White wealth. Our health stagnates, even when we are wealthy.

Less than 24 hours after White people of all classes and education levels elected a White reactionary populist as president, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama called for the nation to accept the outcome, and to unify for this new era.

But unity must be earned, and I will not give mine away. Not anymore.

Donald Trump will be president not only because of the worst of White folks, but also because even the best of White Democrats did the cowardly thing and played on Black and Brown fears instead of having honest conversations about White supremacy, misogyny, and xenophobia with their aunties, uncles, grandaddies. They didn’t convince Cousin Sally that Trump would be so much worse for White women, too. That’s not our job, and we couldn’t do it for them, anyway.

Moreover, they ran a campaign based just as much on fear as Trump’s. That fear began with bulldozing Bernie Sanders instead of embracing him in a year when the establishment was clearly imperiled. There is no more establishment candidate than Hillary Clinton. But rather than taking the chance with Bernie and doing everything in their power to foreground the shared class interests of the rural/Rustbelt White voters with workers of color in the Democratic base, which would necessarily include a powerful race analysis, the Democrats shirked the opportunity to engage their White sisters and brothers, and expected Black voters to carry them to victory, shaming us throughout the process.

And at the end of the day, if we're being honest, Donald Trump’s platform is a more recklessly explicit manifestation of what the Republican Party in particular, and both parties in some fashion, have catered to in more covert, delicate fashion since the Civil Rights era--the fears and entitlements of White people--especially cis-gendered, straight, White men.

This kind of dehumanizing hatred isn’t new. It’s just exposed.

Unity, for Obama and Clinton, means an agreement to find common ground with one another, to move forward together.

Except we Black voters have been ceding our interests, our lives, our futures, to the “common ground” for as long as we’ve been on these shores.

My commitment moving forward is to the work of making all Black lives flourish. This means building institutions, building alternative futures with all people who are committed to all Black lives flourishing, and are willing to do the work in their own communities to make it so. Our collective freedom is bound up with the eradication of racial hierarchy, which from its inception has placed Blackness at the very bottom, and has been utilized for the collective exploitation of workers and poor folk of all races. I believe that when all Black lives flourish, all lives will flourish.

Then we can talk about unity.

Trump’s presidency undoubtedly makes this kind of work harder, more dangerous. But my hope is that this election makes clear to folks who might’ve believed in a post-racial, globally exceptional, America that no such thing ever existed, and that liberation (which is what we really want) can never exist without the structural, institutional, and interpersonal work of people who know that nobody is free by themselves.