Past, Present and Black to the Future
On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure imagine who they would be if they lived in eras past… and in an uncertain future.
Make America what again? Or is it “make America great when?” After half a decade of Trump’s bullshit, we still don’t know.
It’s especially difficult to imagine what periods of our history would be good, let alone great, for someone who’s Black.
Toure and Danielle take a hypothetical trip through time and space to investigate when, why and how they would make a difference.
It’s been asked before, but never really answered: When people want to “Make America Great Again,” when was it great, exactly? And if you’re a Black MAGA-phile like Candace Owens, what time are you harkening back to?
It makes Toure wonder: What if we could go back? What if we were compelled to do so?
So he devises a thought experiment: If someone showed up with a time machine and told you, a Black American, that you have to travel to another time in American history, when would you choose?
In this hypothetical time-travel scenario, he adds, you can only go to a point in time before you were born.
Danielle has imagined time traveling, but in her imaginary scenario, there aren’t any white people to deal with, and she’s “really going back for the fashion” –– or the music. In that case, she would choose the Harlem Renaissance.
“That would be amazing in terms of interacting with other artists,” says Toure. “But it can’t be just that you want to wear the clothes of a certain period, you’ve got to live in it.”
And, as he points out, while Harlem was a Black cultural mecca in the ‘20s and ‘30s, “you're still dealing with segregation and economic privation.”
Turns out there aren’t many times in American history that are safe for Black time travel. But we’re going bravely into the wormhole anyway.
Episode Highlights –– Black Time Travel Is Scary
Before virality, millions of Black lives ‘lost to history’
When Danielle was younger, she wondered who she would have been at the height of the Civil Rights movement: marching in the streets, maybe, or “doing essentially what I do now, which is just writing and yelling into the ether,” she says.
No matter what she’d be doing, she’d have to face “the risk of just... existing” while Black. It’s terrifying to put in perspective –– “how many Black people have become hashtags since the beginning of the Black Lives Matter movement, after the murder of Trayvon Martin?” she asks.
Now, think about the signs the NAACP used to hang out of windows that said a man was lynched yesterday. The danger of being Black would be exponentially higher in the 1960s.
Today we at least “pretend there’s some type of recourse,” she adds. “We pretend that the courts will do something for us when we're killed.”
In the 1960s, not so much.
“In that era, there's no video,” Toure says. “There are no witnesses the courts will take seriously. When a person dies [due to racist violence] they are lost to history.”
We almost never heard of George Floyd and former police officer Derek Chauvin “almost got away with straight murder,” he points out. “In 1965 that was absolute.”
Mission and momentum in the 1960s
Toure, who was born in 1971, is drawn to the ‘60s. He is moved by “the sense of mission and the revolutionary attack on the power structure from Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.
“I would hope that I would be in the streets with the Panthers,” he says. There was a sense of momentum –– that now is the time for change.
Danielle thinks maybe Toure might be fighting in another way instead.
“Would you be a strategist? Would you be on a microphone? Would you be writing for a Black newspaper?”
She’d like to think she “would be in the streets too, but that's most likely not the case. Also adding on to the fact that I am a woman, and I am queer, and that would be the case in the 1960s as well –– which was damn near illegal.”
Even though there were important queer people in the civil rights movement (who were out; doubtless many more were closeted), “any era before the 60s, starts to feel really scary and dangerous,” Toure responds. “In the ‘50s and the ‘40s, the boot is literally on your neck.”
Role models of the resistance
It just gets worse the farther we travel back through time. Segregation. Lynching. Slavery.
“Now, if you think about it strategically … what if I could take my memories and my knowledge and my spirit with me back in time?” Toure suggests. [Why not? –– we’re assuming a scenario that involves time travel will allow that too. – ed.]
“Can you imagine if you had a chance to free 20 or 200 people?” he asks.
Or what if one were to make like Marcus Garvey and lead a migration back to Africa? It would “save hundreds of millions of people from the pain of the future of white supremacy. It would be perhaps the most consequential thing you could do for Black people.”
Ever the pragmatist, Danielle says he “would need to take back more than the knowledge of the present day. You’d need to take back the fucking weaponry of the present day. Just think: as one person going back in time, with the knowledge you have now, you would either be seen as a crazy person or some type of prophet. And either way, you're getting killed.”
International time travel is off limits
That’s why Danielle thinks she wouldn’t necessarily want 21st-century knowledge on her voyage back in time.
“If I'm going back, I just need to go back and be in that place. This is not like “Back to the Future” where I get to alter the present.”
But wouldn’t it be great to leap back to the 18th century and fight to make this country better, Toure asks?
“Well, then I'm jumping all the way to the 1600s. I'm going to coastal Africa, and I'm going to fight with kingdoms to not sell their own fucking people.”
That’s apparently outside the rules of this thought experiment.
“No, you’ve got to start in America,” says Toure. “Because if you can jump to other countries, then you can escape American white supremacy. That becomes a little too easy, just for this particular game.”
That means Danielle is staying in the ‘60s, when “at least we can say we’ve come so far, and have things to look forward to. Not the assassinations that will come in the late ‘60s. But the Civil Rights Act gets passed, and there is hope in that moment.”
‘Policing the police’: The Black Panthers
To Toure, that means Danielle wants to be there “toward the relative end of the [Civil Rights] movement, rather than somebody who jumps in earlier and helps start the rock going up the hill.”
He asks: “As a queer woman, you wouldn’t want to join the Nation of Islam, because you would be too marginalized. Would you want to join Dr. King's movement? Or the Panthers?”
Danielle’s answer is swift and unequivocal.
“The Panthers,” she says. “I have too much anger to be nonviolent.”
Given we're oppressed by a system in which the Second Amendment seems to be the only part of the Constitution that matters in America, “I'm going balls to the wall,” she says. “AR-15 over my shoulder.”
And as Toure points out, “between policing the police and feeding the children, the Black Panthers seem to travel better historically. That's who I want to be down with. Not to take anything away from Dr. King's movement, but nonviolence, peaceful marching… [has nothing on] marching into the legislature with rifles out and helping the community with breakfast and the 10-point program.”
Survival instincts and a ‘f*ck this’ spirit
The resistance to slavery began from the very beginning of their involuntary arrival in America. Slaves met in the town square to plan their dissent.
Toure didn’t realize the depth and organization of their resistance until he visited the National Museum of African-American History in Washington, D.C. And our understanding of their defensive efforts are based solely on the relatively few artifacts we have from that era.
“What were they saying to each other?” he asks. “Like, fuck this. Now, some of them succeeded. Many of them did not. But the spirit of fuck this was quite strong.”
It’s difficult to imagine not seizing the chance to help them, he adds: I come from the future. And I can help you figure out what to do. We're going to Canada. We're getting on this boat, and we're going back to Africa, or we're going west, where there's fewer of them. We're grabbing guns, and we're shooting until there's no bullets left…
If you go back that far, or even more so, Black people will always need more help than those in the ‘60s need.
“In this bizarre hypothetical experiment, would you not want to help the Black people who need the most help?” Toure asks.
In that context –– who needs the most help –– yes, Danielle would do it.
“But often, what we fail to remember is that the only reason we are currently here in the present is for the resistance of all of our ancestors who did survive,” she says.
Dreaming in color
“We are our ancestors’ wildest dreams,” says Toure. “You and I, and most of the people listening, have had life opportunities our parents and perhaps our grandparents did not imagine possible.”
He’s grateful for their progress, for their victories.
“Not for one second do I think we are there and we have reached the mountaintop,” he adds. “There's still tremendous work to be done to create actual liberation. But I have to be grateful we don't need to conduct the same battles they did in the '60s in the '50s and God forbid, the 1700s and the 1600s.”
Danielle isn’t so sure we're not still fighting some of those battles. After all, the GOP is engaged in rampant voter suppression, and it’s trying to white-wash history via its attacks on critical race theory, “which is just the truth,” she says. “It’s just history through a lens that’s not only white and male.”
“Let me ask you this,” says Toure. “In this thought experiment, we talked about the past a lot. If you could go to the future, would you? And how far into the future would you go?”
Toure says he absolutely would: “I am optimistic by nature,” he says.
“I don't even know how we're friends,” Danielle laughs.
How far in the future would Toure go?
“I don't know. It's hard to say. I mean, if you jumped from the early 70s to now, 50 years in the future, your mind would be completely blown. The world would make no sense. Cell phones, Wi-Fi, the entire technological infrastructure of our lives would be like, What the fuck is this?”
He does believe, though, that Black people will (slowly) accumulate wealth and power and influence as time goes on.
That is, if we can quash the impending AI uprising.
Toure is thinking about Yuval Harari’s book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow.” According to Harari, “it is a matter of time before the robots are basically running us,” Toure explains.
Apparently the likelihood of that happening within 200 years is… 100%. Within 100 years, AI will “probably be making most of the really important decisions,” Toure adds.
Even if we leapt forward 50 years, we may not recognize the world.
If sci-fi movies are any indication, we know artificial intelligence will indeed continue to evolve on its own, and that it won’t go well. Humans will “create this thing, because we think it's going to be a tool for humanity,” Danielle says. But eventually it will “look at us and recognize that we are obsolete. Frankly, based on climate change, racial uprisings and everything else, we probably shouldn't be trusted to make any fucking decisions moving forward.”
That day may arrive much sooner than we thought.
Toure recently saw a TikTok that talked about how Facebook shut down two AIs that were talking to each other in their own language that the developers did not understand,” says Toure.
“Can you imagine if the AIs start talking and figuring shit out –– like how to create more of themselves? We replicated and the animal kingdom was like, fuck, the humans took over. Now we're like, fuck. We cannot stop the machines from replicating. Hopefully they'll recognize that the Black ones should live.”
We'll be back next week –– “if the robots continue to let us live,” says Danielle. “I would just like to catch a flight to Mars. I'll see you all on the other side.”
Check out the frustration, rage and absurdity that was the 2020 election on democracy-ish as Danielle Moodie and Toure discuss the current state of the political climate and our country from a Black perspective.