I’ve always been cynical about politics. I have good reason though — I’m Black and American. As Maya Angelou once told Oprah, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” This saying also holds true for countries as well. To make matters worse, I was raised by a political operative, a man who taught me to see past the theater of politics, to ignore the spectacle and the cults of personality, to peer beyond the machinery of politics and keep my eye on whose hands were on the levers of power. My father never let me enjoy the puppet show; instead, he made me focus on the puppeteers. As such, the political marionettes never aroused any emotion in me.
But this election cycle, something happened, something that was even different than when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. This year there was a moment that broke the ice around my cold, dead political heart, and it was the sight of Black joy in the face of all this chaos that we call America. It was a Black abundance of spirit. A Black defiance of racism. A Black-shaped future.
Black joy is, and always has been, an act of resistance. In a nation that denied our humanity, surrounded by neighbors who harbored hate for us in their hearts, our futures and our children’s futures have perpetually been kept under the boot of the police state, our lives snatched away by a cop’s pistol or the smack of a judge’s gavel. Against all of this, however, Black Americans have remained defiant, indefatigable and unsinkable. Our fellow Americans have tried to extinguish us for centuries now, and yet still we rise. Still we vote. And still we believe in America.
Far more than the gun-toting “patriots” who spit hate at poll-watchers, it’s Black America that remains steadfastly loyal to the words of the Constitution. We safeguard its words. We remain dedicated to the proposition that all human beings were created equal. This is an act of charity on our parts. Black America has every right and expectation to galvanize our anger and mistreatment into righteous violence. The keen student of liberty, Thomas Jefferson, reasoned that racial violence would be naturally justified and expected. In a letter to a friend, Jefferson shared his thoughts on emancipation, in which he warned that freed slaves represented a dire threat to America. “We have the wolf by the ear, and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go,” he wrote.
Yet that threat of violence never materialized. When the millions of enslaved were finally, rightfully freed, they didn’t take up pitchforks and blunderbuss and stalk off into the night to do violence against their former masters. Rather, Black America carried in our hearts a belief that we could all live together in peace — that is, if white people ever learned to act right. This remains our burden. And our hope. Undaunted, we still believe that one day white people will finally come around and stop being so terrified that we will harm them if the boot is removed from our neck.
In the meantime, we continue to save them from themselves by voting rather than doing violence onto them. And when we vote, we have no choice but to dance:
And bring marching bands to sweeten the air:
And always preserve a youthful spirit:
Because when we fight bad politics, we prefer to fight them with music and joy:
As writer Kiese Laymon once said, “My mother conflated survival with joy. She wanted me to be happy if I simply survived. I get it. I really get it. When a nation is implicitly and explicitly intent on destroying you and your son, survival feels like a win. But fuck that. As all-consuming and destructive as white supremacy is, it won’t win.”
He’s 100 percent right. Here in America, for Black Americans, our survival feels like a win. And as Laymon says, our survival and our joy are often linked by circumstances outside our control. This also, though, powers our collective belief in the future — in our future. Or as Laymon remarked when he finished his thought: “I guess I’m dumb, but I believe in us, and I believe that even though the game is rigged, we can actually win with love, tenacity, compassion, community and the will to fight and strategize when we have to.”
I resist the lazy thought that Black people will save America. It’s not our job to save this country anyway. But if our nation is to have a future, white people better learn to love it as hard as Black America has, despite all the evidence that we shouldn’t. After all, if we can believe in the future of America with our full heart and humanities, then anyone can.