It has taken a long time but I have finally made my peace with the fact that Donald Trump is president- at least at this point in time. If he gets re-elected in ’20 I’m going to lose my f*cking mind but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. My peace with this peculiar president did not come because I’ve already lost my mind or given up hope. I’ve just gained some perspective. On my father’s next birthday he’ll be 75. We were together a lot over the holidays and I reflected with him on his journey and what the world must look like through his failing eyesight. He was ten years old when the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” ensuring that he’d never have to attend a “colored” school, use a “colored” restroom or sit on the back of any more buses. The world was often unwelcoming for black boys like him, but it was no longer codified by law and that was a very big deal.
He was in his early twenties when the United States Selective Service started drafting young men like him to train, fight and die under the American flag in Vietnam- a country most of them had never even heard of before the war. His number came up and he was drafted but that aforementioned failing eyesight was already fading and it saved him from being shipped away. The draft did take his little brother, though. But our family was lucky- two years of sleepless nights and my uncle came home in one piece. However, Agent Orange brought the war back to him years later and cut him down before he got the full opportunity to enjoy the life he’d built for himself and his family.
Besides the harrowing reality of the war overseas that young American men faced in those days the insanity at home kept pace. My father saw a president assassinated on television and a string of peaceful protesters and iconic champions of human rights assassinated. All killed by the spirit of hate- the hand of the man pulling the trigger was only a side issue. Hate killed Dr. King, Malcolm X, Medgar Evers, JFK & RFK. Living in the shadow of Detroit he saw the worst riots in American history up close.
And his father before him had it even harder: living through the Great Depression, fighting in World War II and coming home to live in the blistering injustice of Jim Crow. I like to think there is a land of milk and honey after this life because if there is, my grandfather sure as hell earned a spot for living through all of that. I won’t even take you back to my great-grandfather’s hard times because its pretty damned awful and I think you get the picture.
So here I stand: born into the comfort of working class black America in the 1970’s. No draft to worry about. No war that really impacted my life. No overt discrimination or danger from white folks. No REAL economic hardship (and no, being broke sometimes does not qualify). No prominent Americans assassinated (and no, Biggie and Tupac getting shot does not count.) So comparatively speaking, I have no real pain or skin in the game marking me as an American man that had to rise to meet the moment or suffer to pay my dues. I hate to admit this but reflecting on the lives of my father and grandfather made me suspect that we (and by “we” I mean all similarly situated American men) actually DESERVE the burden of Donald Trump and the humiliating travesty of his presidency.
President Trump and the startling regression he represents is our cross to bear. Every generation has its own and he happens to be ours. The trick is that this challenge is not best attacked with protests, bullets and brave hearts. The challenge that we are facing now is best met with politics, ballots and bold minds. As a practical matter, we have to build on the blood, sweat and tears of those that had the valor to carry their crosses to the highest cliff in their day and then throw them over and watch them crash on the ground below. All of the empowerment of the Civil Rights Movement and engagement of the Harlem Renaissance must be brought to bear now to galvanize our fellow citizens and turn back Trump’s tide of tribalism, isolationism and nihilism.
The good news is that we have already proved that we can take our civic engagement to the next level- we did elect Barack Obama twice after all and we did it with historic turn-outs from those formerly shut-out of the system. But that success inspired those who have secretly longed for the days of our subjugation and marginalization. It is not a secret anymore- they are out of the racist closet and have declared war on the American Ideal with their perverted mythology of the American Identity. With angry white men stalking through the streets with torches chanting “Blood and Soil!” and “Jews Will Not Replace Us!” we are formally on notice that this is a hot war and shots have been fired. When these ghouls scowl and howl that they need to “take our country back” it could not be clearer what they mean. It is a direct threat to EVERYBODY who is not with them that they are lurching toward levers of power and danger awaits whenever they seize them.
This is a war that we have to win and we, as black men, need to be on the front-lines of the battle- strategizing and organizing, advocating and agitating. This is the time for black men of Generation X to channel Morgan Freeman and his soul-stirring monologue from Glory: This is our time to ante-up and kick in- LIKE MEN!
So it is not enough for us to just register and vote as individuals. We have to lead everybody that is connected to us even tangentially to the polls- in ’18 and in ’20. We have to guard our polling places and protect voters. We have to engage the fight at the highest levels of the law and go for ours. This is personal. We owe it to our fathers and our grandfathers. Sometimes a man chooses his war and other times the war chooses him. This war chose us and we damned well better answer the call. The country is depending on us as much now as it ever has before.