What this election has highlighted for me is the deep generational divide in the Black community. What I have seen amongst Black people is not unprecedented and not unlike historical inflections of the past. There seems to be a generational divide amongst the 45 and under (it gets fuzzy in the 40s) who are progressive and ready to resist this presidency at all costs and the older generation who may consider themselves progressives but ready to roll over and cooperate like a secret informant of COINTELPRO. While this is not universally true, I’ve personally witnessed some of the older amongst us take this time to point out some perceived emotional unintelligence and naiveté of us young folks.
That white people are interested in working with Donald Trump, comes at no surprise.
That black people, some 45 days after the election are working to diligently manage the emotional shock and police the outrage of other black folks, is unfortunate.
Anyone who knows me in real life, knows that my love for my ancestors both living and dead knows no boundaries. This is why it pains me to write about the level of disconnect I’m feeling from the very Black, wise, and deeply rooted elders. Their credentials we do not question when they say they walked with Malcolm and sat with Martin. We do not come for them when they tell us that we need to dress a certain way to be seen, validated, and hired. We do not come for them when they inquire about our emotional state when we refuse a Nate Parker movie. We dismiss it when they tell us that Black Lives Matter has not “done anything.”
But, before there was the Kanye West meeting with Donald Trump, there were the old, black ministers, parading this known bigot around their churches in pursuit of some future change from this administration. The old heads spewing their patronizing language to us some 24 hours after the media declared Donald Trump the victor on November 9, 2016, is distasteful. What I heard was not unprecedented but another attempt by the black establishment to police my (and most people in my generation) reaction to the election of Donald Trump. I heard the following:
1.) Something like: If we lived through slavery, we could live through this. You did not live through slavery. Let’s be both technically and figuratively clear. None of us have lived an oppressive free life but comparing this to the emotional and physical weight of slavery just is not fair. I don’t think there is a person in my generation invested in comparing the two. There are a lot of levels between slavery and Trump. Doesn’t make those levels equal or inferior.
2.) Ya’ll shocked? Ya’ll didn’t think this could happen? I can hold two truths at once. I can be both shocked and understanding that the very obvious institution of racism in this country is so predictive that it almost guarantees a Trump victory. I’m of the mind of Ta-Nehishi-Coates when he said in his December 2016 “My President Was Black” piece “The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history. I was shocked at my own shock." I was shocked because of the media reporting there was a 9% chance he would win. If the weatherman reported there was a 9% chance of rain, I would not bring my umbrella and I would be shocked if it rained. Do I know that even at 9% there is a possibility it could rain..sure. Don't make me less likely to be pissed I forgot the umbrella. I absolutely knew that not just in states like Michigan and Wisconsin where the Forgotten Man narrative is seen as true, that there were educated, middle class white folks who were so anti-Hillary that the this purveyor of ignorance could actually succeed President Obama. But why does my shock offend you so much? Are you so hell bent on being right that you can’t understand how someone, especially those of us who live in the depths of Brooklyn and Harlem surrounded by other progressive black people and liberal whites full of guilt? Is there a shame attached to this shock? Of course. Do we have to brow beat people about it? Nah.
3.) He’s the president now; let’s give him a chance. Yea, it’s gon’ be a “no” for me, actually.
4.) We don’t know what he’s gonna do. Somebody said he walked backed ObamaCare. Somebody said he is realizing the complexities of building a wall. Somebody said he will be softer on his rhetoric. Well, as of yesterday he said he was still building a Muslim registry so, good luck with that, girl.
5.) The real demon is Michael Pence. This might be ya’lls only winning message. And since ya’ll are so hell bent on negotiating with terrorists, I guess ya’ll want to negotiate with the comically embarrassing one rather than substantially embarrassing one? Again, good luck with that, girl.
6.) Complaining and protesting will get us nowhere. Says the generation that perfected the art of protest? This is not a matter of IF protests works. We know it does. It has worked to overthrow whole countries (see South Africa and Cuba). It has worked to get us universal free lunch in public schools, funding for low income students, funds to ensure voting integrity, investigations in deaths of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner. Would Jena Six still be on the Louisiana chain gang had us college students not gone down in droves to demand their release? We have protested countless inequities that have led to substantive policy changes including the ouster of mayors, governors, attorney generals, and yes, even presidents. Protests have led to wars and peace throughout human history. Just because all you see are bodies on the street does not mean that’s all that is happening.
7.) This ain’t nothing. My generation was attacked by dogs. Because oppression Olympics is hot right now? That’s not the winning strategy here. I’m sure your grandmother told you when you were marching for integration how easy that was considering she was probably actually legally held in bondage. The truth is, we are not our parents’ generation. That does not make our struggle less than. We can’t use reductive language to help this generation process what has ultimately been a blow to our generations’ progress.
We live in a world of divide and conquer. We have the sophistication to bridge the generational ideologies that divide us. You need our energy and we need your historical reference but we both have wisdom. What I’d like to see is for my living ancestors to embody the tenants of Ella Baker who proclaimed the need to help young people lead. I’d like to see my living ancestors embody the spirit of Harriet Tubman who led radical progressivism well into her 90s. I want to see my living ancestors join the resistance movement as pragmatists and diplomats if they will, but understanding that we need radicals as well.
I look forward to the continuing uniting of the community. I have faith that we will intersect in ways that lead to bold action in the future.