Trump is just the latest obstacle on the zigzagging course of racial progress

Margaret Burnham

“Clearly this will not be redemption redux, and one would hope that the rule of law would hold, but it is also true that, notwithstanding the horrors of the 20th century, we don’t really understand what persuades ordinary people to butcher their neighbours and co-citizens. Americans are just as human as Rwandans, Germans and Serbians; no more, no less.

The first reconstruction opened, for an exhilarating moment, a window through which former slave communities could envision a new political life. The post-reconstruction counter-revolutions suggest that such instants of transformation can be quickly subverted, and that the challenge of recapturing what was lost is arduous and protracted.

The myth that racism is dead has been variously styled “separate but equal”, “colourblindness” and “post-racialism”. Whatever the term, it is the duty of all of us who fear for the US to remember that though racial attitudes are not unalterable or homogeneous, race will always register and resistance will always resurface. Revolutionaries holding alternative understandings of what ails America as a nation – “it’s the ‘class struggle’, stupid” – who want to win elections, or transform power relations more fundamentally, would do well to examine the politics of the redemption – and that 95-year gap in North Carolina.”

Why we stay

I’m not thinking about going anywhere.  Maybe this is surprising because of the already large increase in reported hate incidents since the election.  Maybe this is surprising because I am the child of a refugee from the Nazis who managed to escape just in time whose parents were not able to leave because they left it until it was just too late.  Despite all this and the dark reality we have arrived in and the previously unimaginable darkness ahead of us I am not thinking of leaving and these are the reasons why:

  • Because dissent and bearing witness to injustice is a patriotic duty and expressing love for your country is something that you do when it is hard and not just when things are going well for you.
  • Because if the idea of inclusiveness, of full citizenship for all and not just for the members of one ethnic / national group, dies here where it was created, then it dies everywhere.  Then there is ultimately nowhere safe to go to, or at least nowhere to go to where it will be possible to live without a permanently packed bag.
  • Because leaving and running to somewhere we feel is safe is a privilege that is not shared by tens of millions of less privileged vulnerable Americans who are counting on us to to stand by them and speak out with them.
  • Because when the Nazis came for my family they were vulnerable because no one was left to stand by them.
  • Because as Americans we have the example of our forbears who have stood against much greater darkness in the past who did not run and doubled down to force a flawed nation to try harder to live up to its founding principles.

There may be a time to leave – My family should have run much sooner – But this is not it.

We stay because we have the example of the descendents of enslaved people who maintained their dignity as human beings through centuries of racial injustice and stood up and marched and bore witness to injustice and awoke the conscience of a nation.

We stay because they did this in the face of solid organized state repression, Hoover’s FBI, lynchings, bombings of churches and other acts of domestic terrorism and the original overwhelming indifference of the majority of white America.

We stay because of the those who travelled south and stood by them and withstood beatings, dogs and the threat of renewed McCarthyism.

If they could rise up and stare down what they faced then and bear witness to injustice then what we are being asked to do now and what we are facing ahead of us are small things.  We stay.

UNSPECIFIED – MARCH 13: “Leaders of the protest, holding flags, from left Bishop James Shannon, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, Dr. Martin Luther King and Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath.” Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington Cemetery, February 6, 1968. Published February 7, 1968. (Photo by Charles Del Vecchio/Washington Post/Getty Images)