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Black Liberation in the Era of Trump

The following commentary is one in a series from KCET and Link TV writers and contributors reflecting on how the incoming president will shape, change, and redefine the future of California.

The election of Donald Trump felt like some massive practical joke. Even overt racists at least want some semblance of decorum in their leaders, right? Apparently not as White America voted Donald Trump and his blatantly racist, sexist, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric and policy proposals into office with an overwhelming majority of 58 percent, a 21-point victory over Clinton who garnered only 37 percent of the White vote. This election marked a return to White entitlement and racial domination, at the expense of Black freedom and racial justice. 

However, it did not go unchecked. Hate-filled chants and red caps were countered most vehemently by Black people who risked life and limb, immersing themselves in Trump rallies and summoning all of the power and resolve of Black forebears to demand freedom and justice. Unlike the counter-proposals offered by the Clinton candidacy, Black activists voiced radical re-imaginings for society rooted in Black liberation struggle.

The current iteration of the Black freedom movement stands in the face of Trump’s segregationist rhetoric and anti-Black platform, titled “The New Deal for Black America” (NDBA); a cursory plan for gentrification, public education erosion, environmental degradation, mass criminalization and the implementation of an occupied police state in “inner cities” that would perpetuate police violence against Black people. 

Calls for unity among Black people, of which 92% adhered to in their refusal to vote for Trump, stood in the face of Trump’s attempt to create divisions by pandering to the most conservative elements of the Black Church and offers to those willing to serve as Black faces for White supremacy. Even more than unity at the polls, the Black Lives Matter era marks a period where Black people are more civically engaged than at any time since the Black Power era. Public meeting participation, policy platforms and street protests are emblematic of a willingness among Black activists to embrace the Black radical tradition and move beyond reform to transformation. It is this Black movement that must be brought to the foreground as we consider how to resist Trump.

Mainstream media has amplified voices of the non-Black resistance to the election of Trump, and such coverage is hugely important to the effectiveness of movements. Public awareness has been raised around how (mostly Latino) immigrant communities are boldly challenging Trump’s threats of deportations and promises to build border walls. Muslim communities are pushing back against Trump’s proposed Muslim registry that feels like the lead-up to Japanese-American internment during World War II. The largest women’s march in world history is planned for the day after inauguration. While the identities of aforementioned groups are not mutually exclusive from Blackness and movements are not without Black involvement, somehow lost is the recognition of Black resistance to Trump, most clearly illustrated by Black Lives Matter. Since winning Black freedom requires fundamental and institutional transformation, the struggle for Black liberation offers us all an opportunity to rethink the logic of liberalism, reformist demands and instead commit to deeper societal shifts.

 

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Youth Protestors in Oakland, CA. | Photo: Annette Bernhardt /Flickr/ Creative Commons

Trump is not the first president to ride the wave of White supremacy and anti-Blackness into the White House. Inaugurated exactly 48 years before Trump (January 20, 1969), Richard Nixon was elected president by largely White voters who were stirred into an anti-Black frenzy at the height of the Black Power movement. Nixon promised to dismantle the policies won under the Johnson administration, repeatedly referring to Black people as the n-word. While not yet caught on tape using specific racial epithets, Trump has pledged to not only undo the most progressive policies of the Obama Administration, but to shift public sentiment away from progressive approaches that would end individual and institutional forms of racism. Moreover, his messaging and pledge to “Make America Great Again,” at the very least ignores the history of racial oppression only surmounted by generations of Black struggle. 

However, another parallel exists. Much like 1969 marked a reassessment of Black Power that resulted in the visionary “survival programs” of the Black Panther Party, this moment offers an opportunity for the Black Lives Matter movement to not simply disrupt and resist Trump, but invest in the building of programs. The Movement for Black Lives Policy platform can serve not only as a demand upon the existing system, but an alternative societal model. The willingness of Black organizers to vision and build must form the basis of the larger resistance.

History reminds us of three things: 1) We will survive what feels like an un-survivable moment, 2) The Black liberation movement is key to advancing freedom for all people, and 3) We must engage in Black resistance with renewed vigor, not retreat from it.

First, the election of Donald Trump rips the mask off White supremacy.  Much of our shock and disorientation comes from a preference for the polite form of institutional racism that creates unequal outcomes rather than overt forms that reveal malicious intentions. Revealing the ugly face of bigotry is not the end of the world. In fact, in some ways it makes the opponent more visible and easy to defeat. We needn’t all move to Canada. Instead, we must struggle for freedom here.  

Which brings us to the second point: The freedom and peace that only comes with justice, is ushered in when those at the bottom of the hierarchy become free. As of now, Black people in the U.S. stand at the bottom of every possible social, economic, and political measure. African Americans are the poorest, the most criminalized, have the highest rates of chronic health conditions, have the highest rates of homelessness, and the highest unemployment rates. Each of these resulted from institutions that were deliberately built to give benefit to Whites at the expense of Black people and other people of color. Toppling these systems and building alternative models that empower Black people is the rising tide that lifts all boats. 

Finally, in order to usher in this kind of transformative change, we must be courageous. As we brace ourselves for a Trump administration, we can hope for additional parallels to Nixon; impeachment is not improbable. However, our victory cannot be dependent on it and must not be measured by a return to “normalcy.”  Even an act of Divine intervention won’t bring freedom; it may return us to the oppression to which we have grown accustomed. This moment, however, offers an opportunity to vision and build beyond that.  

The Black freedom struggle requires that we stand up in the face of violent, racist and hateful politics and rhetoric. We must, in the words of organizer Kali Akuno, “be ungovernable.” We must resist from wherever we are as workers, as community members, as organizers and as parents. We must constantly ask ourselves whose side we are on and whether or not our actions (or inactions) advance the interests of the people who stand the furthest from privilege--Black people.  

Centering the Black freedom struggle offers an opportunity for us to be imaginative, not simply reforming old structures, but visioning new and truly liberatory ones.  

Banner Photo of Black Lives Matter Sign. | Photo: Stephen Melkisethian/Flickr/Creative Commons

 

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