Picture with me if you will, the vestibule of Tacoma Public Library. It is late October. As an aunt and his nephew are about to leave, an eager political field worker meets them at the glass door. He sidesteps the aunt to try and give the young man a flier about how he should support his beloved political leader. Horrified at being snubbed and of what he knows of said leader, the aunt berates the young man for peddling out racist literature and supporting a racist.
The young, man, horrified, says that-while his leader may say horrible things-he isn’t truly a racist, but someone who cares and speaks to the pain of his people like no leader has done before. The aunt says coolly that-while his community has been ignored and marginalized-she didn’t understand how the leader would improve said communities by spreading base hatred of her. The young man proceeds to accuse the aunt of not being sensitive to his pain. The nephew sticks up for the aunt while she explains what she has believed in her life and tried to do for his community; while also saying that she can’t help him if his operative goal is her head on a chopping block.
The young man’s friends join him and say that if you want to reach them, you must not call them a racist for believing what they believe. The aunt points to numerous outburst of why their leader is a racist and explains that she can’t expend energy trying to convince people who hate her that she is a human being. The argument ends with librarians breaking them up, and the young men yelling at her about how insensitive she is, how she and her people have never understood their pain (and this leader does), and how she is the true racist for being completely intolerant of their leader.
“YES ROBERT”, some of you are saying “THIS IS WHAT’S WRONG WITH LIBERAL DISCUSSIONS TODAY. If the aunt hadn’t called the person a racist, they would have treated them better. She should have seen the trump supporters side, understood that pain that drove them to their vote, and spoke to them in a way that didn’t escalate the conflict. “
But this scene wasn’t between a ” PC liberal “and trump supporters. This scene was between supporters of the nation of Islam and my aunt Pat (who was Jewish). My aunt graduate with a degree in Eastern European literature. She later became a teacher and volunteered for civil rights organizations for a great deal of her adult life. But she wasn’t a doormat. She (and my aunt Marilyn) tried the “Please like me, bigot or person who supports a bigot because they can’t examine their beliefs for an hour” approach, and all they got was traumatized out of their skull.
Everything that right wingers and populist liberals say about the trump and the white voter, far left liberals said about Louis Farrakhan and black people in the early 90’s And the result is that a hustler and a gangster helped destroy communities. Karl Evanzz’s The Messenger goes into detail about what so many have known and suspected for years, that the NOI was a racist, sexist, self-hating( Light skinned blacks have a quicker track to heaven) and viciously anti-semitic junta that did almost nothing except cipher off to minister Farrakhan. I’ve had hard problems with Barack Obama’s respectability politics, but it took him to banish the last vestiges of the NOI’s anti-reason, hatred, and venomous fable to the margins of mainstream dialogue. But Obama is a pariah now: On one side a socialist, Kenyan Muslim, on the other an “identity politicians”.
I don’t know what the hustler and gangster that the electoral college put into office will do to this country. I do know what we’ve lost. Like my aunt pat’s generation, I-and so many people I knew-wanted to be different than our predecessors. I had seen the excesses of militancy and wanted to build a sense of self-worth that was cosmopolitan enough to be absorbed into numerous coalitions. Deep in our hearts, we once believed that American could be something better, that things were going forward, that race relations would be better if we extended our hands a little more in friendship.
And what did we get? Stand Your Ground. The end of The Voting Rights Act. White Supremacists Infiltrating law enforcement. Black people being extrajudicially murdered in the street, and conservatives trying them for their deaths before the bodies get cold. And by all intents in purposes, the most racist, sexist, and malicious demagogue this nation has ever seen ascending to the presidency.
From Mark Lila to Jonathan Pye to Kevin Drum, to countless numbers of white liberals on social media, the clarion call of the white, populist left to this election has been a repudiation of identity politics. Every essay, viral rant that has come from them has the same theme
” The election was lost because the heartland was scared of being called racist. The election was lost because the heartland heard race too much and didn’t hear anyone talk about their issues. People had deemed minorities to be against them because they had seen these activists protest in colleges. They had escaped to the bosom of Trump because he told them they mattered and these activists didn’t and that why they voted for trump. They’re not racist, they were just tired of everybody calling them racist (and when they mean everybody) they mean the handful of times they read on a blog about black activists acting out. And if you are going to talk to them about race, you have to talk to them nicely no matter the context to make your argument’
Let’s ignore for a second that there isn’t that much evidence that Hillary, a centrist democrat, ran the campaign like she was Constance Rourke talking to the African Bandung Conference. Let’s assume for a second that every single one of these essayist complaints about the left and cultural activist is valid (they’re not, but let’s assume). The people making these claims don’t really understand how base and pathological the subtext of their argument makes them look.
“Because 3 or 4 people offended me on the innerwebs, I’m going to firebomb (or be okay with someone firebombing) almost every single foundation of the American Experiment that so many people hold so dear. Women will die because of lack of health care. Members of the LGBT community will die because of rights rollbacks. Muslims will die because of a white nationalist junta patrolling communities. Black people will die because a neo- Nazi regime will make unchecked police states out of inner cities. And I (and millions upon millions of white people) let that happen because I got butthurt by some college kids in these 4 blogs I read. And the only way we’ll fix it is if that if every single non-white dude goes above and beyond being kind.”
That isn’t my aunt’s tragic liberalism, ground to a halt because of erosion and neglect. That’s the philosophy of Miss Millie and the mayor from The Color Purple, brutal and pathological in its sensitivity, retrograde as the social papers of 100-150 years ago, and the prevailing philosophy because of millions of white votes and sensibilities. So many of my friends and I must deal with the specter of oppression and death as every day coping activates, and in doing that must forget every weekly (and sometimes daily) slight of abuse to see people in context and not succumb to rage. And so much of America just told us that they are willing to torch our basics right and permanently damage the nation because a few students actions got them in some feelings.
And to be honest, I’ve forgotten more about liberal social media bullshit then Pye or Lilla will ever know. I’m arguably the most controversial black poet under 40 in America: I have a Rolodex of opinions about the black panthers, the black arts movement, and hip hop that have made me the source of countless social media scrums. What they don’t understand is that-until Nov 8-their powers were small. The people who have called me a militant or have protested me have had it blown up in their faces. Kids in colleges who in certain( but not all) cases wrongly acted out either were dealt with or had their protests peter out of neglect. Outside of the conservative and populist liberal blogosphere, the protests didn’t have an impact outside of the towns the students lived in and barely had an impact in them.
And now Trump and Pyre’s America have been amplified them to the nexus of a terrifying white rage. They have also made them the center of an acute black fear. Because there are 35 million black people in America, because those people are not magical, and because they are human beings, there will always be a student who doesn’t act right in regards to trauma or a bad actor when it comes to race relations (or gender, or LGBT issues). And if all Trump and Pye’s America needs to see is a few of those actors to turn violently against my humanity, then those masses of white America are places I shouldn’t engage with but try to avoid at all cost.
To survive, I will still see people in individual context. I’ll do it partly because of survival, but I’ll do it partly because I believe in the verities of liberal enlightenment. I believe every individual deserves a chance, and that every individual deserves the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of their own happiness. In my beliefs, will be the same standard of inquiry that will take in people that disagree with me and see where they are coming from.
But I am not magic. I smile only when I feel like smiling. I like to debate, will talk back, and will not rubber stamp everything a progressive man tells me. And that means I do not engage in the aggro progressive conventions that liberal populist men have engaged with this year. I will do such antiquated things as criticize a movement of men that makes a predator/ doxxer like Julian Assange a hero. I will not rubberstamp a rapper like Killer Mike, nor the progressive institutions that though a rapper with a painful lack of understanding of consent would be the best surrogate to get the black vote. I will not pretend that Castro murdering tens of thousands of dissidents, gay people, and basically anyone who told him now should be overlooked because of Bautista and that time he took a photo with Malcolm X
And I can’t grovel for my basic humanity to a Trump supporter, and I can’t do it in soft words. I have some dignity. I’m not a magic political negro butler who can take a superhuman amount of pain to convince a bigot of my humanity. I will have to take the fact that my role as a citizen will be violently diminished forever. ( as well as the roles of everybody who isn’t a straight white man). But I can’t fucking do the free labor so many angry Berners want me to do right now.
I won’t stand in their way of them talking to their people, and dear god I couldn’t; this election has ratified non-cis white men as brutally beaten powerless groups. If they want to do the work of getting and molding their bigoted kinfolk, go ahead. Never mind that Trump supporters have high median incomes, and don’t fit into conventional narratives about poverty. Populists should go get them. They should tell these people who in poll after poll show the most scum of the earth beliefs about non cis white dudes that they are misunderstood. They should tell then it’s because too much attention was paid to black lives matter, LGBT rights, or abortion/reproductive rights. But dear god, they shouldn’t demand my free labor in this. I’m not a boy. I’m not a fucking boy. I’m not a fucking tap dancing Jacobin boy.
I remember sitting with my Aunt Pat in the car after the incident. It was Sunday, the seasons were changing and cooling, and Tacoma avenue was filling up with fog. She sunk in the front of her beat up Chevy, and just sat there silent for an interminable amount of time. Without looking at me she said ” I can’t give anymore, Robert. I’m human. I just can’t give any more.”
There hasn’t been a day since the election when I haven’t seen her in the mirror.