Why I’m Not Freaking Out…

Thomas L. Friedman wrote a piece for the New York Times yesterday that was part of a collection of opinions titled “What Have We Lost.”  Friedman’s entry is called “Trump Has Made the Whole World Darker“.  It is appropriately dystopian and bleak and references China and Russia and loss.  But for me the title is also weirdly ironic because if Trump made the world darker, that darkness didn’t touch the New York Times.  Out of 15 writers, this piece includes no women of color (to my knowledge, although there is a small sprinkling of men.)

Like Friedman, there are a lot of people forecasting catastrophic situations on and after Tuesday’s vote.  Businesses are boarding up, police are going on high alert.  People are planning rallies and vigils.

And I’m not.

Whenever the votes are finally counted and someone is declared the winner of the presidential race, the morning after that, I will wake up, walk my dog, have my breakfast, start my day and I will STILL be a black man in America.  I will still be the most vulnerable and visible in the white organizations I interact with both by my choice and against my will.  What is more, even having voted for Biden/Harris, I will still not have voted for a real systemic change because systemic change will not happen through the ballot box.

Systemic change will happen when we figure out how to build a completely new system.  This can’t be fixed piecemeal.  It can’t be retrofit.  The reparations that black people need will only come in the form of a new Constitution that doesn’t make apologies for racism and isn’t based on it; includes women from the beginning; and recognizes universal humanity as well as the sovereignty of the First People.  And I know we aren’t there yet.

Until then…

Black people will still be murdered at the hands of white cops who then turn around and sue for emotional distress.

Black women will still have the highest maternal mortality rate.

Black men, like me, will still have the lowest life expectancy in the country.

Freidman and others claim that this election is a referendum on America.  It is not.  It is a referendum on how people experience America, if they get to experience it at all.  Welcome to a sliver of the black American experience folks.  As Jamelle Bouie says in his contribution to the New York Times piece, “Trump is not an aberration.”  There are a whole bunch of people who get to enjoy this same sick feeling, not just on the occasion of a quadrennial election that involves a racist demagogue, but every day.  When they apply for a job.  When they move to a new neighborhood.  When they use a dating app. And even when they are walking their dog like I was when some random white woman screamed at me in pure, vein popping rage and hatred (safely from afar of course) “ALL LIVES MATTER!”

I’m not apathetic.  I’m not numb.  I’m not in denial.  I don’t need pity, or concern or even solidarity.  This stuff doesn’t phase me.  I can tell you though, that if the New York Times had some black women (and others) contributing to its opinions, my perspective on the business as usual of America might be more commonplace.  No, I don’t need anything at all in preparation for this election.  I’m part of the population that has to live every day with an escape plan, an asset map, a counter terrorism strategy and a defense mechanism in my back pocket ready to go at all times.

So I’m good.

See you on the other side.


I Was Just Kidding…

Sen. David Purdue (R-Ga.)…another one

When I first encountered blatant racism as a child in elementary school, my first reaction was to cry.  This didn’t win me any friends or empathy.  In fact, it simply garnered more teasing and bullying.  I was already a bookish kid who dressed funny and wasn’t afraid to use his adult vocabulary.  I was also the only black child in my grade at the time.  When I was physically threatened and called “fag”, I learned that I could literally outrun everyone in the school.  This was my golden ticket out from under the thumb of the school bullies for that transgression.  Still, I couldn’t outrun the racism.

There was a turning point for me in those early years.  I recognized that being unhappy wasn’t working for me so rather than get sad, I tried on anger.  I learned that if I couldn’t outrun the racism, I could shout it down.  At the very least, I could make it public.  I remember distinctly calling it out once and bringing it to the teacher’s attention.  But when we were brought before the teacher, the other child said four words that were like a magic code:

“I was just kidding”

This satisfied the teacher that this was just schoolyard taunting and she sent us away.

I will never forget how that white teacher’s ignorance enabled my harm and left me totally vulnerable and unresolved.  The teacher’s solution to the problem in the moment was simple: boys will be boys…harmless schoolyard play.  But it was not that simple. 

It is still not that simple.  This behavior is on full display between adults in our government.  This week, Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) didn’t just mispronounce Sen. Kamala Harris’ (D-Ca.) name, he was publicly mocking her for it.  It was childish, pathetic, racist and a deliberate tool of otherization.  And it was casual…like something he would do or say anywhere. When his campaign defended him by saying “Senator Perdue simply mispronounced Senator Harris’ name, and he didn’t mean anything by it. He was making an argument against the radical socialist agenda…[1]” they all but said, “he was just kidding.”  And of course, he was not (Watch video clip)

This is the oldest trick of the bigot, act like your bigotry isn’t really a thing.  I suppose that this is easy to do if you don’t think that your racism is really a thing.  If, as I suppose is the case with Sen. Perdue, you’ve never thought about yourself in the context of racism or interrogated your behaviors or beliefs to understand where you might actually be wrong or backward or racist.

But then, he’s enabled by the greatest bigot kidder of them all…the President of the United States.  The president was just kidding when he disparaged women and joked about molesting them; he was just kidding when he encouraged Russia; he was just kidding when he mocked a disabled journalist; he was just kidding about the kids in cages, the white supremacists, the pre-existing conditions, liberating Michigan and Virginia…

Basically, he’s just been kidding for four years.

But this kind of kidding does real and lasting harm and lands in the ears and hearts of people who aren’t kidding who are armed and dangerous; consider the threats to both Michigan and Virginia’s governors.  Making a joke of someone’s name paints them as a perpetual outsider, a non-belonger…a foreigner.  Sen. Perdue’s message is loud and clear: Sen. Harris is just another n**ger like Obama who doesn’t belong.  According to him, she is going to continue to destroy our (read white people’s) country and you should all be afraid of her.

Just kidding? Like hell.

Sen. Perdue and every politician who publicly mocks another based on their heritage, ability, gender, sexual orientation or racial identity should have their pay suspended indefinitely until they can be voted out of office.  After all we (including every Kamala and Keisha and LaTonya) are paying their salaries and none of us want to pay for stupid bigots.

I am not kidding.


[1]John Burke on Twitter.