By Victor Bradley
My speech feels like vapor. While the tide turned Trumpward, I sat in mournful counsel with friends from around the world, drawn together both by the power of the internet and fear of the unthinkable. Our fears have been realized, and here we are. I resolved to give what meager offering I could make to my people in such a time. I resolved to write. The problem was, for all my verbosity on social media, I could find nothing to say. I listened to music—blues, spirituals—the two expressions deeply rooted enough to perhaps pry out of me what I needed to say, or so I hoped.
I read: Du Bois “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” the essay which baptized me, turning me from a 17 year old Black boy, coming to terms with the implications of being hated, into a Black man, who will be coming to terms with being hated until the day I die.
I read Du Bois’ timeless meditation on the loss of his infant son, “Of The Passing of the Firstborn,” and faced the ambiguity of existing in a world made inhospitable to my existing. Still, nothing was jarred loose. I read Baldwin—on Whiteness, on the Blues, on religion and Blackness—still, nothing was jarred loose. I thought of re-reading his “A Letter from the South,” but I knew it too well. I’ve looked many a time out into the Southern night and wondered when White hands, flushed red with the joy of gore lust, would reach into my window and carry me away into a horrible orgy of violence.
Baldwin wrote of the old man who directed him to a segregated bus: “But my eyes would never see the hell his eyes had seen. And this hell was, simply, that he had never in his life owned anything, not his wife, not his house, not his child, which could not, at any instant, be taken from him by the power of white people.” I, too, have seen snatches of this hell. The hell of powerlessness.
We thought history had, at long last, become our friend, or our servant. Our ancestors had suffered, bled and died on so many crosses; they must have bought our salvation.
As one with all the love in the world for true faith, permit me to observe that Jesus’s blood may work that way, but no one else’s does. Think me not a blasphemer, that I say our ancestors’ blood was shed to no avail, indeed I verge frighteningly close to ancestor worship. Walking the floor of my room, I mumble lines from the spirituals, turning them over and over in my mind to find the truth between the sounds: “Over my head, I hear freedom in the air, there must be a God somewhere” or “Walk together children, don’t you get weary, there’s a great camp meeting in the promised land.” But, think me not religious. Like Howard Thurman: “I believe with my ancestors, that this is God’s world.” I confess to not knowing whether that God is Paul’s, or Mohammad’s, or whether the world belongs to the all-powerful Over-God of the Yoruba that hurled Ashe into the world. Or maybe it is as Bob Marley said: “We know when we understand, almighty God is a living man.”
Either way, while I believe there may be some moral order to the world, a belief in which many have taken solace in this time, I balance this belief with something I know: History doesn’t give a damn about us.
History didn’t care when White men cut the fetus from Mary Turner’s womb and stomped it to death. It didn’t care when Emmett Till’s butchered body was discarded into the depths of the Tallahatchie river and his blood washed down to the sea. It didn’t care when James Earl Ray’s bullet broke open Martin Luther King jr.’s face or when Trayvon Martin lay dead and George Zimmerman walked free. It has never cared. We are grappling, not with God, but with history.
Du Bois described Black people as: “Gifted with second sight in this American world.” Some might say second sight is a curse. We saw, from far away, the damnation which loomed over so many in this land. Some commentators have marveled at how much Black people revile Trump, though we got off much lighter rhetorically than groups that were more divided in their disdain. Black Americans know Donald Trump as the mouse knows the snake; the newborn prey may never have seen the predator, but he’s been in terror of it all his life and knows its persecutor like he knows himself.
The snake has risen to a high place and its minions walk boldly in the land. We fear for what the bigots around us will take this as a license. We fear a hastened eroding of the legacy of the civil rights movement. We fear nuclear war. We fear for anyone around us who is not a straight, White, Christian, cisgendered, male. We fear for the speaker of something other than English. We fear for the foreigner and the eternal stranger.
We must—will—continue to protest, but what happens when the motorists who have promised to run us down know without a doubt they have a friend in Washington? What happens when Trump’s promises to restore law and order come crashing onto our skulls? What then? I’ve been more afraid of this not knowing than I could ever be of Trump.
Something about this present day has conditioned us to expect a panacea. Maybe this is natural and has always been the case. “Vote more and vote better next time.” “The young are taking over and they’re more liberal.” “Let’s just focus on economic empowerment.” Are we to forever be outrunning White supremacy at the ballot box? The White young are racist too and will not stand to see their inheritance taken away. White power answered Black Wall Street’s challenge by blowing it up. White power will attempt to answer the future as well.
We have therefore to let go of our illusions. Kill the dream of the royal road to freedom. We must, to quote Dr. King: “Turn the world upside down then right side up again.” We must recapture our sense of desperation, accept that this world is not our home. Not in the hope of being carried up into the sky, but in order to become convinced that we have no choice but to build a new one.
Reform is dead. White supremacy is the bedrock of the Western world. When the bedrock moves, no matter what you’ve grown or built upon the soil, it will be destroyed. Revolution is our salvation.
What is revolution? It is a word often uttered but rarely lived. We can argue about specifics in another venue, but in the realm of the eternal revolution means: “Before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my God and be free.” If these words scare you, revolution is not in you.
It means what Mamie Till said as she stood over her son’s destroyed body: “This will not pass.” If you don’t feel this same conviction—with the same conviction—when you see a Black person gunned down on video, revolution is not in you. If you see mindless violence ripping apart human bodies all over the world and it doesn’t attack you so that your peace of mind threatens to evaporate, revolution is not in you.
Self-care is important, but if you are not regularly assaulted by a cruel yet loving voice inside your head screaming itself hoarse that you are not doing enough, revolution is not in you. I am not speaking to you as a role model. I am a vessel rife with flaws. But, having lived in the world, this is the truth I see. It is a truth which scares the hell out of me, which plunges me into self recrimination. But, it also allows me to stand before all the hate and evil which a sick humanity can muster as though I were one who had never known fear.
So I welcome it. No more will we make history, we shall create it.
Victor Bradley is a writer, thinker, Pan African revolutionary and grad student-in exile from Orangeburg South Carolina who blogs at: thenegrosubversive.com tweets @negrosubversive and Facebooks at facebook.com/negrosubversive