When I was certain that Hillary Clinton was going to win, I was going to write about how black America now has its own version of red states vs. blue states. My idea was that Michelle and Barack Obama were going to become—really, are—new heroes in black America, forever creating a new divide: black America’s blue states, those polished, profiling blacks who were now just Americans; versus its red states, those who will never let black resistance to America’s evils go.
My idea was that black America, as an oppressed part of the United States, had just one set of heroes prior to the Obamas’ arrival, regardless of personal preference or political persuasion. The first family, my argument was, has now created an alternative heroic model for those tired of quoting long-dead civil rights and black power leaders, tired of being outside of America.
Then I shivered at the frozen TV screen early Wednesday morning, absorbing the Electoral College tally and watching the Democrats begin to talk about Hillary Clinton and her campaign in the past tense. When Clinton campaign Chairman John Podesta came out shortly after 2 a.m. and told all those crying white girls to go home, I knew that the Obama era was officially over.
And you know what? Good riddance! ’Cause it’s time for black Americans to form black America again.
While the U.S. political world shook, and before Donald Trump’s victory was made official, I got Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World-21st Century, on the phone. A former deputy campaign manager for the 1988 Rev. Jesse Jackson campaign and a 1992 independent presidential candidate, I thought he would have some serious opinions about this craziness. His organization is having a “State of the Black World” conference later this month in my hood.
“I was probably one of the few people who warned that the biggest political party in America was not the Democrats, not the Republicans, but nonvoters,” he said. “Most white people don’t vote.”
But they turned out this time: State by state, precinct by precinct, they squarely squashed what was early on billed as a Latino ballot-box stomp-down.
The boom lowered for good, Daniels said, with the FBI distraction that fed into all the established anti-Hillary perceptions, and when Trump decided to glue himself to his teleprompter in the campaign’s final days.
I then checked in with Ollie Johnson, a political scientist and chair of Africana studies at Wayne State University. He believed that either potential president-elect would be “terrible” for black America, calling them both “disastrous.”
Johnson was clear about what America was to him: a “corrupt, authoritarian” nation, which creates obstacles for blacks, including mass incarceration, extrajudicial killings by authorities, poverty, inequality and their inclusion in its international empire. (I couldn’t help thinking about how deeply unpopular that view of America has been for the last eight years, except for some Black Lives Matter protests.) Clinton or Trump would perpetuate these evils, while black leadership would fail to push agenda items such as the ones Sen. Bernie Sanders promoted during his run for the Democratic nomination, he said.
Johnson called for black elected officials and black leaders to return to the systemic critique of America represented by Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and the historic example of Ronald Dellums, a black activist who brought the progressive agenda of social movements to the U.S. House of Representatives as a representative of California. Obama represented “rhetorical social change,” but not the real thing.
He said out loud the problem we all know: Black people, led by establishment black leaders, shut down their internal debate because they wanted to protect the first black president. (I wonder if this fiasco means that Obama critics Tavis Smiley and Cornel West can now officially rejoin the race; with President Trump on the horizon, we need all hands on deck.)
Daniels lamented that black America doesn’t have the “broad-based civic education” it needs. The grassroots Republicans who voted for Trump in huge numbers, Daniels explained, were clear that no matter what “crazy” thing Trump said, he was speaking directly to the “core interests” that were important to them, such as who would be named to the U.S. Supreme Court. Black communities need to know exactly where their candidates directly stand on actual issues, he declared: “We have to ensure that our people understand the critical choices that face us.”
Both Daniels and Johnson said that no matter who got to the 270 electoral-vote total, black people were going to have to organize—just as they did before drinking the Obama Kool-Aid and halting any systemic critique of America.
Todd Steven Burroughs, an independent researcher and writer based in Newark, N.J., is the author of Son-Shine on Cracked Sidewalks, an audiobook on Amiri Baraka and Ras Baraka through the eyes of the 2014 Newark mayoral campaign. He is the co-editor, along with Jared Ball, of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable’s Malcolm X and the co-author, with Herb Boyd, of Civil Rights: Yesterday & Today.