January 30, 2017
Dear Free Agents,
It is the beginning of a new week. The seven or eight days have been a whirlwind, to say the least. On January 20, we said goodbye to the first President of the United States who was not classified as “white.” Now, although we throw around the racial categories of whiteness and blackness, the category of whiteness is one that needs more interrogation that it ordinarily receives in the public square. The claiming of “whiteness” as a cultural identifier is loaded because of all the aspects of history and culture that it collapses with the objective of creating a false reality that black and brown folks are somehow an underclass of American society. It exists to further a myth of white superiority over black and brown people. It is a cultural agenda that makes all American people, regardless of the shade of our skin, less whole. And, we know that such cultural signifiers exist in other parts of the world too; in most other countries, power dynamics are not based on the particularity of skin color. The dynamics that force us to believe that to be a respected member of society, we must prove our superiority over our fellow humans. Human life is corrupt. We obtain power using any cultural bargaining chip we can find.
Anyway, ten days ago, today, we saw the end of the eight-year presidency of Mr. Obama, a multi-racial man with black skin, raised by a white mother and white grandparents. We said goodbye to his wife, partner, and our first non-white First Lady, Michelle Robinson Obama, a woman who was born and raised in Chicago and boasted an Ivy League education and successful career. We also said goodbye to her mother who had come with them to the White House to help maintain a sense of normalcy for their now teenage daughters Malia and Sasha. We also said goodbye to their two beautiful Portuguese water dogs, Bo and Sunny, both of whom had personalities all their own. We said goodbye to a black family who was at once a direct affront to everything we thought we knew about America and a direct affirmation of all that we understand the American family to be.
But, that dream was not to last. Barack Obama accomplished something that truly is in a very real sense an impossibility. He and his family, by their very presence, did something I thought I would not see in my lifetime and it is something that we might not every see again in American history. Yes, he was elected twice, but that was just giving the opposition time to brew, and swift and fast from the moment he departed from D.C., they began erasing the progress he represented. Within ten days, our newly inaugurated President has managed to recast everything we thought we had learned during the Obama Administration. It is an opposition that’s origins are well-traced in the recent article “My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates published in the January/February 2017 edition of The Atlantic. In response to a White House that was wildly inclusive (in comparison to previous administrations), we now have a President and administration that have not only supported but have also now implemented policies that are xenophobic and exclusive, and that threaten to undermine the foundations of what makes the United States the United States.
And, it might do us some good to recognize all the groups represented in the person of Barack Obama. He is, as is well-known in the black American community, not your average black man. He is the son of a father from Kenya whom he barely knew. He has half-siblings who are Indonesian. He was raised by a family that was white working class. His presidency, if we are honest, opened the door for us to mine more deeply into all the identities that make America what it is. America is more than white folks and black folks. America is colorful. We are indigenous folks and Asian folks and Latinx folks and multiracial folks. We are, as Alice Walker puts it, all the colors of the flower garden. We are better when we learn to bloom together. I love dressing in black and white because it is simple and understated. But, even when wearing black and white, I add what I often describe as a “pop” of color. That pop of color can completely change my outlook on any given day. And, so I have been devastated to see the events of these past ten days. I have been devastated to see a president surround himself with a cadre of men who look like him and either think just as he does or are too afraid or ashamed or perhaps just too cowardly to speak up in opposition. I have been ashamed to stand by while a President of the United States attempts to pluck some of the most colorful flowers from our American flower garden without any reverence for the fact that this is a nation of people who, per the Constitution, are created equal. We are nothing without our pops of color.
You will probably remember when, during the campaign season, a recording of then-candidate Donald Trump leaked. In the recording, Trump (possibly unaware that he and the other men on the bus were audible since there were no cameras) joked with entertainment reporter Billy Bush about his sexual advances on married (presumably white) women. He joked about being able to grab women by the genitals because he was “famous.” When the ten-year-old recording leaked, Bush was fired, Trump continued his campaign, and, as we know, was elected as the 45th President of the United States. There has been much discourse from about the implications of the ordeal, and it is not my task here to rehash that conversation. However, I do want to remind us of his wife’s response to the discovery. During an interview with Anderson Cooper, Mrs. Trump defended her husband. In one breath, she states that she had never heard her husband use such language and that she told him it was inappropriate. In the next breath, she says that it was boy talk and that she had heard the “boys” as they “grow up” talking about “the girls” and that her husband had been egged on by the interviewer to “say dirty things.” In his late fifties, her multi-millionaire husband was still a “boy” who was “growing up” and wanted to show off by saying “dirty things” about the “girls.” Is such a luxury afforded to black men at any age? Ask young Emmett Till, who was killed because of a white woman’s deceit. Do poorer men of any age get away with such “boy talk”? We don’t have to look any further than Billy Bush who is unemployed while Trump sits in the Oval Office signing Executive Orders.
The events of the past ten days prove that Melania Trump’s characterization of her seventy-year-old husband as a “boy” who was “growing up” was spot-on. I, for one, prayed for the best with a Trump presidency. I want to be proud of my country and its leadership. I want to see an America that is united, strong, and true to its core values. Since the hours after the inauguration, the American people have looked on as it seems like President Trump has done nothing but sit in the Oval Office signing Executive Orders that have no basis in constitutionality or policy. Now, how are we supposed to respond to his actions? Well, I think all the folks who gathered at airports around the country to support our Muslim neighbors who were unable to return to their homes in the United States because of one such executive order showed us what we must do in response to this president. The good news for each of us who are eager to preserve American freedoms is that the President of the United States is not, despite the behavior Trump is exhibiting, a King. The President of the United States is ultimately a servant of the people. Mr. Trump is not accustomed to being in the position of public servant, so, since he is apparently a “boy” who is still “growing up,” it is the task of the American people to raise him. He does what we allow, and the activism on Saturday night demonstrated that change is possible when the people demand it.
Let us refuse to lose hope. Let us remain vigilant. Let us hold our President accountable. Let us most of all hold ourselves and one another accountable. The lectionary Gospel reading on Sunday was the Beatitudes, a part of the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus teaches the ethics of the Kingdom of God. Let us embrace the ethics taught in Matthew 5, let us recognize that we are poor in Spirit that we may inherit the Kingdom, let us mourn the sorrows of this world that we may be comforted by our loving Creator, let us be meek because the Earth belongs to the meek. Let us hunger and thirst for righteousness, trusting God to fill us. Let us be filled with mercy knowing that we will receive mercy in return, let us be pure in heart so that we may see God, and let us be peacemakers because God is peace. We will resist. We will seek God. We will win. So be it.