Black Americans: Stay and Fight? Or Book a Flight?
On this episode of democracy-ish, our hosts debate whether to leave it all behind. America, that is.
Our country is deeply unwell, and not just because of COVID-19. Or Trump, actually.
America’s never been all that great, especially for people of color. Is it our responsibility to work towards its promise, or can we seek a life free from fear outside its shores?
Wakanda might be fictional, but our wanderlust is real.
Toure and Danielle come to you this week in yet another perilous moment in the history of our nation.
“If it was a soap opera, we would be saying: Look at them, ravaged by a moronic leader, a disease, struggling to deal with racism,” says Toure. “Will they survive until next week?
Stay tuned … or, if it’s too much to bear, should we change the channel entirely?
If you’ve been watching this story a while, you know America’s shitstorm made landfall well before Hurricane Trump ever blew into Washington.
So, is our democracy irrevocably broken? Or should we keep fighting for it?
“There has to be a better life,” Danielle says. “Even as just an intellectual exercise, we have to be able to think about something else than what we’ve been given.”
Episode Highlights –– Should We Leave America?
America’s in critical condition
On Election Night in 2016, Toure’s wife, who immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon, suggested that perhaps they could just ... leave.
“The idea of moving to another country is not foreign to her,” he explains. “But I've never lived anywhere else other than America. I asked her: If your friend, or your mother, God forbid, was in a very serious medical condition … would you run from her?”
“Or would you say no, I'm sleeping overnight at the hospital until she gets better?
America is critically ill right now, Toure says.
“If the well-meaning, thoughtful, progressive Black and Brown people were to leave for Canada, Jamaica, France, wherever –– what would happen to America?” he asks.
“I don't know,” Danielle says. “White people can have it.”
We can’t abandon this country in its hour of need, Toure counters. We need good, smart people to protest, vote and work to make it better. “We do that at a certain risk,” he adds “Perhaps I have male privilege … and you're like, my body is at risk. But I want to stay and fight.”
Stay ‘free-ish’ or seek liberation?
In the framework of Toure’s analogy, Danielle asks: “What if it's terminal? What if America has been on fucking life support for 500 years?”
Using the 1964 Civil Rights Act as a marker, “we've only been free-ish for 56 years,” she adds.
But it’s 2020 and Black people are still being murdered in the streets ––– and trying to convince white people of their humanity.
Danielle wonders: What if we think America may not recover?
“Do I stop living?” she asks. “Do I stop trying to seek joy and freedom in a different context? Do I stay imprisoned in this place that has never seen me more than an animal to be caged?”
Danielle loves America, but she’s fearful of where we are and where we’re going.
“I’m not under any false assumption that a free and fair election will take place in November,” she says. “And even if it does, that anything is substantially going to change.”
She thinks we should ask ourselves what liberation and exodus proponents asked in the 1960s: “Is this country worth more of our blood, tears and pain –– if, in return, we're getting nothing?”
Democracy is an ongoing project
Toure isn’t losing hope quite yet.
“I don't want to say this in some grandiose way, but a lot of us are connected to the long-term project of hundreds of years of Black Americans: demanding that America lives up to what it claims to be,” he says.
He points to Jelani Cobb’s argument that ‘liberation’ on Juneteenth didn’t represent Black folks reaching something new. It marked a point when white people reached a new plateau of understanding –– that slavery was wrong.
The whole of our history has been a process of persuading white folks that America isn’t the greatest country in the world, Toure notes.
“Everyone from the Black Panthers in the civil rights movement to Black Lives Matter is like, what the fuck are you talking about?”
Black Americans are the ones who’ve been consistently pushing our country toward living up to its promise, he adds. And because America is special on the world stage because of its economic, cultural and military power, we have a disproportionate impact on the whole planet.
“Abandoning America, in a way, is abandoning the globe. We have a special duty as global citizens to fight to make America the best it can be.”
A passport as creative license
“Black people have been in this battle with America since we were brought here,” Danielle says.
Even if we don’t consider all those centuries of oppression and violence and focus on just the past four months, “this place is a fucking dumpster fire,” she adds. “And if you occupy a Black body, you are at risk of being tossed in that dumpster alive, while it's lit.”
Other Black leaders, authors and activists –– James Baldwin is one of the most famous –– have made the choice to leave for the sake of their own personal growth and creativity.
“I want to fight for this country, I do,” Danielle says. “But does that necessarily mean I physically need to be on the front lines to do so?”
She points to a recent New York Times op-ed by Tiffany Drayton: “I am a Black American. I had to get out,” subtitled, “The racism was too much. I fled.”
Drayton, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from Trinidad when she was a child, returned there. She now considers herself a refugee.
Is she onto something?
Progressive wing and a prayer
Toure feels the pain that sent Drayton to Trinidad, and sent James Baldwin and Richard Wright to Europe.
However: “If a horde of us were to leave America, does that not impoverish this powerful nation and give an exponentially large amount of power to people who are racist and stupid and deplorable?” he asks.
He understands Danielle’s pessimism, anger and fear, as well as her all-too-realistic vision of a terrible future. But he also sees a rising progressive wing of the Democratic Party, even if it isn’t necessarily embodied by its presumptive 2020 presidential nominee.
“It’s embodied by a growing number of people to his left, some of whom are in Congress, who are out in the streets … I don't want to leave when there's a chance.”
But what if Trump wins reelection? There won’t be any chances left, Danielle says.
She wishes we’d never heard the phrase this election is the most important election we’ll ever have. But “this one, in particular, is really about life or death.”
Danielle won’t be satisfied by anything less than Biden winning by a landslide. If it’s remotely close, “they [the Republicans] will take this election,” she explains.
Toure, the eternal optimist
It’s not likely it will be close, Toure says. He feels fairly confident –– at least based on polls –– that Biden enjoys wide support from seniors, a constituency that hasn’t voted for Dems in 20 years. Add them to the majority of Black people and women, and Trump is toast.
“I see America lining up for a rejection of this kidney stone that has passed through its body,” he says. “Maybe I'm just eternally optimistic––”
“I know. It's bizarre,” Danielle replies.
“Maybe that’s what is American about me,” Toure suggests. “I remain optimistic even in the darkest days.”
Say his name: Elijah McClain
We are in some pretty dark days: While we’re still calling for justice for Breonna Taylor, we learned about Elijah McClain, who died due to the actions of Aurora, Colorado, police almost a year ago.
“This beautiful, kind, 23-year-old, happy-go-lucky boy who played violin for cats –– somebody called the police because he was walking down the street in a ski mask,” Toure says. “The 911 caller fully concedes he's not committing a crime, and he's not a danger to anybody.”
Even so, the officers who responded tackled him and placed him in a chokehold. Later, a paramedic called to the scene injected Elijah with ketamine “to minimize time struggling,” the local district attorney claimed.
Either due to the ketamine, the police brutality or both, Elijah had a heart attack in the ambulance and later died in the hospital. Because that’s unclear, the police were cleared of wrongdoing. And it’s unlikely that will change.
Back to the notion of emigrtion: “This country is just fucking exhausting,” Danielle says.
“It’s about a fucking reprieve from this. Sometimes I think to myself, I want to know what it is like to live without fear –– as a Black woman walking down the street, as a queer person wanting to hold the hand of the person that I'm with. Just to be able to exist.”
She wants to think that her 20-year-old cousin, when “he’s fooling around with his friends, because 20-year-olds are stupid, isn't going to end up dead.”
She wants a reprieve for her friends who worry about their husbands and children, because they're Black. Those kids are having their childhoods stolen from them, she says.
“They’re forced to grow up recognizing that the world doesn't see them as children.”
She wants them to know what it's like to live with real freedom.
“I'm not saying that there is a Wakanda –– a beautiful, magical place in the world where Black people exist free from government corruption, misogyny and other forms of violence. But white supremacy is just so suffocating, which is why we are all talking about the fact that we can't f*cking breathe.”
Black Mirror or Black Panther?
The idea of going somewhere else, where we can watch what unfolds in America, as if it was an episode of “Black Mirror” instead of our everyday reality, “sounds like a beautiful sedative,” says Danielle.
The idea of a place where we’re free from oppression, and can demonstrate to the world what a government looks like without it, shouldn’t be a utopian idea, Toure notes.
If he could just plant a flag somewhere and declare it Toure-land, he’d be all about it.
But if the wokest among us simply absorb ourselves into an existing nation, we’ll have to deal with problems that pretty much any country does. And America will suffer.
“I'm not interested in that,” he says. “But if you want to do this Wakanda thing, we can talk about it.”
Black trans lives matter
Before we disappear into #WakandaForever, we’ve got to say it.
In addition to the “horrific roll call we all know off the top of our heads” –– those that figure prominently in protests and on t-shirts (say their names), we often overlook our trans brothers and sisters, says Toure.
If we build it, y’all can come
In order to envision a future worth fighting for, we must think big, Danielle says.
“We need to be expansive about those possibilities. Maybe it is possible to build a life, one that is rich and full, free of anxiety and stress and grief and sadness and paranoia, outside of the U.S. I wouldn't mind spending six months of the year building that, and six months of the year trying to fix this f*ck show.”
“All right,” says Toure. “I think we've fully solved that issue.”
“We’re going to build Wakanda,” Danielle adds. “Y'all can come.”
Are you packing your bags, or staying the f*ck home?
In that spirit, we’re curious to hear from democracy-ish Twitter fans: Are you committed to staying and fighting to make America better? Or is the U.S. just as canceled as “Cops,” and you want to leave this place à la James Baldwin?
“Folks, get at us,” Danielle says. Don’t forget to tag #democracyish.
We’ll be back next week, if there is a country, assuming Toure and Danielle haven’t left yet.
Pray about it.
Get your weekly rundown of the presidential election from a Black progressive point of view on democracy-ish. Consider Danielle Moodie and Touré as your tour guides, flight attendants and/or therapists as we move through this dumpster fire of an election cycle — together!