“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” —James Baldwin
“We are better than this!” I hate it when people say that as if what’s going on in America at present is something new.
So let me be clear right up front: America is not now, nor have we ever been, better than this. We have tried and, for suspended moments in time, we have succeeded. But make no mistake: This moment we are in is pure and purposeful chaos. We are a country founded on the plunder and genocide of a people who were already occupying this land, and a country built on the backs of a people stolen from their homeland, shackled on ships, and brought here to be enslaved. For 250 years! Think about that for just one moment. Take that number in for real. I finally have: a quarter-millennium.
During my youth, I didn’t spend a lot of time learning Black history. I know that’s not a good look and I’m embarrassed by it, but now I understand why I never took the time to burrow into my horrific ancestral past. I couldn’t have handled the unadulterated truth earlier than now. My mind, my body had always internalized the generational trauma that was passed down cellularly, and to name that grief too soon would have destroyed me. I had to focus on the present to survive. I’m a Black gay man living in this mess of America every day of my life. My rights and humanity have been up for legislation from the moment I could comprehend thought. And while ’tis true that American slavery was abolished in 1865, in 2020 many of us remain enslaved.
I don’t even know where to begin. I’m sick of talkin’ about it. I’m all cried out. I’m done being scared. I’m over being terrified. I’m simply filled with rage—a kind of rage that causes me to involuntarily tremble from the inside of my soul. This rage keeps me in a broken place where there is no peace. Ain’t never been no peace for me: a Black, gay man living in America. Rejection and oppression from the other side, and then turn around and get the same thing from my own. I’ve always found it strange how historically oppressed people very often turn around and inflict the same kind of pain onto another group of humans. I don’t get it.
America has what my grandmother used to call selective amnesia. We like to act surprised by America’s original sin, never owning the terrors this country has savagely inflicted upon our Black bodies. America has always been the true, original savages. We like to act new—across the board. It’s like we have Stockholm syndrome or something. I haven’t watched the news in a month because I could no longer listen to journalists and pundits sit with straight faces and replace facts with respectability, politically correct and appropriate language. Nuthin’ about these last four years of terror has had anything to do with respectable or appropriate and everything to do with power. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “…power properly understood is nothing but the ability to achieve purpose. It is the strength required to bring about social, political, and economic change.”
That goes both ways. The man didn’t say grab her by the private parts. He said pussy. PUSSY! He didn’t mislead the American people. He lied! He lies every time he opens his mouth. Everybody knew it then and everybody knows it now, and he got the gig anyway, and could very well keep the gig if we, The American People, don’t pull our shit together. Y’all wanna know how Hitler happened? This is how that shit happened. And yeah, I’m cussin’! Cause I’m sick of begging people to vote. I’m sick of beggin’ folks to participate in democracy. Voting is one of the only powers we have as American citizens. My ancestors died for us to have this right. Voter suppression is also psychological—to make one think their vote doesn’t matter and create apathy around engagement is the point. So, I’ma beg one last time: Vote. Please.
Eternal Vigilance is the price of liberty - Fredrick Douglass
We “went high” and we lost. Period! And now it’s time to reassess and redefine what “going high” looks like in these trying times. And of course we “went high” because “we’re better than this,” right? Well, let me remind you again: We’re not. And that’s OK. It has to be OK because this is where we are. Please don’t misunderstand me: I still believe in going high, and that we can achieve success in taking the moral high ground, but we can’t change something that we refuse to even acknowledge. We are all descendants of immigrants in this country—white, Black, and all who’ve been allowed to assimilate. And, as Isabel Wilkerson so brilliantly reframes in her Earth-shattering tome, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, America is embroiled in an unspoken caste system.
Ms. Wilkerson’s book explores how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system—a rigid hierarchy of human rankings that keeps the white dominant caste and the subordinate castes in their places. It’s been playing out before our very eyes. Orangina 45’s ascension could only be a product of caste. Every white man in a position of power who could have stopped this monster chose their whiteness over the American people. From James “but her emails” Comey, to Robert Mueller’s anemic recommendation after his investigation into collusion, to General James Mattis’ two-and-a-half-year silence after resigning from his position in this white supremacist, racist, xenophobic kleptocracy. These white men, in the dominant caste, knew what the dangers were and consciously chose their whiteness instead. They and the entire GOP, with Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham as ringleaders, have played Russian roulette with our lives and now the truth has been laid bare, the veil has been lifted, if you will. Because I can assure you, if a Black president or a woman president had tried it, created any of this chaos, they would have been removed from office without pause. For as long as I can remember, power has been the only goal of Republicans, whatever the cost—from trickle-down economics, to mass incarceration, to stealing Supreme Court seats, and everything else. And as we have seen the entire Republican Party in the last four years, with few exceptions, line up behind this malignant narcissist lock, stock and barrel, it’s become clear that to reign in absolute power has always been the plan, and the vessel to get there matters not. The GOP has been playing the long game and the rest of us got played. But nobody anticipated a pandemic.
I’ve been navigating through my own PTSD as this current virus situation brings up the AIDS crisis that I lived through and survived in my youth. The government’s response to AIDS was eerily similar to what we’re going through now: Denial. No Government strategy. Every man for himself.
“When privilege is all you know, equality feels like oppression.” —Unknown
Former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams of Georgia, whose race was stolen by the systemic corruption of her opponent’s dominant caste position and power, spoke these words on a Zoom town hall I attended earlier in quarantine, and I was forever changed. “The system is not broken. The system is working exactly the way it was set up to work.”
This is a hard truth for Americans to stomach. We like to think that we’re the best at everything. We’re not and that’s OK because the good news is, all is not yet lost. We as citizens of these United States of America have an opportunity to make a different choice—a choice to heal the wounds of our original sin. I still have faith in America. But my Bible says in James 2:17 that “Faith without works is dead.” I pray we nevermore need to sink this deep to embrace common sense. And I encourage a reflective call for faith and reason to make meaning in this uncertain world.
Maya Angelou once told Oprah, “When you know better, you do better!” We all know better now, can’t pretend anymore. The truth has been exposed for all the world to see. I do still have hope. I do still believe that yes we can. And my true hope is that America won’t be like Icarus, whose hubris guided him to fly too close to the sun and who was burned alive. My hope is that all the citizens of America finally own our power, and understand that when we all vote, we can show the rest of the world what collective healing looks like. Are we better than this? We’ll find out on Nov. 3.
Biden/Harris 2020, bitches!