Note: The below work is excerpted from an epistolary essay I wrote for the Race, Equity, & Education course I am taking with Dr. Kathy Hytten of University of North Carolina-Greensboro (UNCG). It includes references to Eddie Glaude‘s Democracy in Black and Joel Olson‘s The Abolition of White Democracy–which I suggest everyone read, especially during this tumultuous, yet promising, political time.
7 November 2020, 1230p
Dear Dr. Hytten!
Holy shit. Biden’s the president. Exhales.
Real talk: I ain’t think he was gon get it. I was readyin myself for another four trumped up years. I was diggin a hole in the sand in which to put my whole Black head. I was holdin my breath. I was contemplatin my participation in grassroots organizations. I was contemplatin my participation w/white folks. But now: I’m breathin deep breaths—deep saturate-both-lungs-w/, extend-my-whole-belly-w/-yoga breaths; hope-filled breaths, & today, I know more than Cornel West’s call for hope. I understand it, & I carry it. & especially so after my godmother texted me, “President Biden,” coupled w/a Black woman in afro erecting a resounding “Black Power” fist. & who can see that image & not recall the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, who was doin the kind of abolitionist democracy for which Joel Olson’s calls? “Black radical tradition,” he writes,” from abolitionism to nationalism to communism, has consistently challenged common notions about American democracy, exposed the limitation of the white political imagination, enabled new political visions, and shown the radical democratic potential of efforts against white citizens” (131). That’s “democracy in Black,” which light weight implies that Glaude’s pragmatic approach to democracy is kin to abolitionist democracy. IJS.
Anyway, after I got my godmother’s text, my 11-year-old niece, Nyla, Facetimed me: “Auntie!” she said (smiling, too), “Joe Biden won.” “Yes, he did,” I said. & I talked w/her about his win & then informed her Biden’s win includes a Black Kamala Harris (“Pronounced ‘comma’ plus ‘la,’” I told her) to which she smiled even broader. & it was in Nyla’s smile, for real, Dr. Hytten, that I could tell Nyla saw her Black girl possibilities in Kamala. It’s like having Michelle Obama back in the White House showing Black girls & women the magic (although I know we don’t got no Black magic; we got, we are divinity).
After Nyla’s call, my mother’s 73-year-old husband, to whom I rarely engage any conversation beyond a touchin base, called me to celebrate Biden’s win w/me; & after talkin’ w/him, Mommy—she’s 72—phoned me in laughter, wantin to make sure I got wind of this good news. Just last night we talked, almost solemnly, about the possibility of another Trump win (or theft). But today, Mommy had a pep in her step, a song in her voice—she was absolutely carryin Cornel West’s ideas re: Black folks’ tragicomedic spirit: we laugh to keep from cryin, & we cry when we can’t hold the laughter—a laughter conjured by spirit. You understand? & so, my hope was restored because how dare I lose it when the Black young, whose experiences major on America’s terrorism against Black people, & the Black old, who literally move thru hell & back over & over again maintain hope for America’s democracy? I am the in between whose hope matters to the movement.
Now. I ain’t crazy—most of us ain’t: Black folks are clear Biden’s win brings us back—as his political campaign promised—”[t]o sav[ing] our democracy. To be[ing] a light to the world once again” (cnbc.com, par. 98)—which ignores the fact America has never been quite democratic, & it’s “light” is more an imperialist, torturous fire than it has been grace. However, today’s win allowed Black folk to breathe in a second wind of hope needed to “keep our eyes on the prize.” Today, we breathed in—I breathed in—hope that necessitates the fire we’re going to burn under Biden, as government representative, to make good on his democratic promises, which resonate with both Glaude’s pragmatism and Olson’s abolitionism.
In his Democratic National Convention speech, Biden, recalling his father’s own democratic values, said:
[My father] used to say, ‘Joey, I don’t expect the government to solve my problems, but I expect it to understand them.’ (par 103) <<< Glaude’s pragmatism (see pp. 185-197)
And then he would say: ‘Joey, a job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in your community. It’s about looking your kids in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay.’ [emphasis mine] (par. 104) <<< Olson’s abolitionism (see pp. 125-145)
Then, as Biden reminded his audience of Trump’s racialized response to the 2017 Unite the Right rally, a white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally that took place in Charlottesville, VA (pars. 135-139), Biden said, “My father taught us that silence was complicity. And I could not remain silent or complicit” (par. 140) < << abolitionist democracy in Black, lol. And so, said Biden, he knew he had to run for president (par. 140).
My hope, & I trust this is one most of us Black folks share, is that Biden does carry the Ella Baker spirit. “Ella Baker, a giant of the civil rights movement,” said Biden in the introduction of his speech, “left us with this wisdom: ‘Give people light and they will find a way.’ Give people light,” Biden said, before claiming: “Here and now, I give you my word: If you entrust me with the presidency, I will draw on the best of us not the worst. I will be an ally of the light not of the darkness. It’s time for us, for We the People, to come together” [emphasis mine] (pars. 2-3, 6-7).
This brave new world, we have entered, Dr. Hytten, holds in it both democracy in Black and abolitionist democracy—which together, is a Black woman.
10 November 2020, 7:46p
Dear Dr. Hytten—
Didn’t I just say democracy is a Black woman? Lol. I’m tryin tuh tell ya. See Madame Vice President’s tweet below. Smiling.