These days, optimism comes hard. But there are reasons for hope.
For one thing, despite the incredibly discouraging fact that upwards of seventy million Americans voted for a racist incompetent who posed an obvious danger to the stability of the entire world, eighty-one million voted otherwise.
And despite the fact that we are seeing something akin to a civil war between Americans who take the country’s aspirations for equality seriously and the White nationalists and their fellow-travelers who fear loss of unearned privilege, Georgia has elected a Black Senator. (It is equally notable that Georgia also elected a Jewish one, since–as the photos coming out of the insurrection at the Capitol illustrated–racism and anti-Semitism are inextricably entwined.)
An article in Time Magazine, published a mere two days after the assault on the Capitol, insisted that Southern resistance to Black equality is on the wane–that the South deserves a “New Political Story.”
The author referenced the fact that Ted Cruz–aka “Mr. Despicable”– had modeled his performative “objections” to the receipt of Electoral College votes on the “infamous and racist” Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1876. That “compromise” ended Reconstruction; it gave Rutherford B. Hayes the presidency in exchange for the removal of federal troops protecting Black citizens in the South.
That agreement led to a nearly century-long reign of racial terror that reinvigorated the Ku Klux Klan, subjected Black people to quotidian forms of racial terror and mob violence, violently ejected Black men from both government office and the public sphere through lynching and the threat of it, and subjected Black women to rape at the hands of ravenous white men.
The author says that it is this violent racial past–a past that I’m pretty confident is not taught in our nation’s history classes– makes the Georgia Senate elections of Warnock and Ossoff so significant, and she counsels against accepting “the narrative that retrograde 19th and mid-20th century racial politics are winning.”
They are not. Do not mistake the death rattle for a victory cry. And do not let the war cries of angry white people drown out the resounding and clarion calls from Black women organizers and strategists and voters of color who have made clear that Trump’s America is not their America.
The article surveys other deep-south states and finds Black elected officials in previously unlikely places. And while she concedes that White backlash has often won the day, she insists that grassroots organizing and GOTV campaigns can prevent that result this time around.
The article made me think about the Darren Walker observation I shared previously, to the effect that democracy is the antidote to inequality. I truly believe that if every citizen who is entitled to cast a ballot is allowed to do so, White nationalists will lose. It isn’t simply because the ranks of Americans of color are growing, it’s because Americans of good will–Americans who embrace the unrealized aspirations of our constituent documents–outnumber those who are desperately clinging to their privileged status.
I want to believe that the ugliness we are seeing truly is a “death rattle” of a tribalism based on skin color, gender and religion. But I also know that people who fear a loss of status will not be defeated by warm thoughts, by sermons from authentic Christians, or by appeals to their own material self-interest. (Most of them define self-interest culturally, not economically.)
Stacey Abrams and other Black women in Georgia have demonstrated the way forward. Those of us who live in other “Southern” states (I would include Indiana in that cohort) need to take a page from her book. We need to identify the people of good will–of every color, gender and religion/non-religion–and get them to the polls. But we also need to abolish all of the structural impediments that have been erected to prevent or discourage people from voting–starting with gerrymandering.
As I keep saying, we have our work cut out for us.