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Southward Bound: Remapping Black Political Power

On this episode of democracy-ish, Danielle and Toure ask why the f*** America accepts mass murder, and whether Black Americans should move to the South en masse to re-center their political power.

  • Hate crimes against Asian Americans are on the rise. This week, a white man shot and killed eight people in a series of attacks on massage parlors in Georgia. It was the culmination of a year of violence against our Asian brothers and sisters provoked by Trump’s “China Virus” and “Kung Flu” slurs.

  • Mass shootings happen so often in America that they barely register in our national consciousness. Has gun culture made us numb to murder?

  • Charles M. Blow recently appeared as a guest on both Toure and Danielle’s other podcasts to discuss his new book, which suggests Black Americans reverse the Great Migration and return to the South as a means of consolidating political power. Can Toure and Danielle see themselves in the South?

“You want to see how whiteness works?” Toure asks. “Some maniac walked into a spa and murdered a whole bunch of people. But the cops want us to know he was having a bad day.”

That was probably the case, “but why are we concerned with his emotions, trying to understand him and feel any level of empathy toward him?” he adds.

He’s referring to the mass shooting events in which eight people, including six women of Asian descent, were killed at three Atlanta-area massage parlors. An official for the Cherokee County Sheriff’s department said the 21-year old white male perpetrator, Robert Aaron Long, was “pretty much fed up and kind of at the end of his rope. Yesterday was a really bad day for him and this is what he did."

Yeah, we know: What the literal f***?

Toure feels like “we don't get the expectation of being human from white people, but they over-extend humanity to each other.”

That’s why Dylann Roof got a burger after murdering nine Black people in a Charleston, South Carolina, church –– “because he's just a white boy who had a rough day, whereas Jacob Blake, a family man, walking away from cops, gets shot in the back. And on and on and on.”

Danielle is wayyy over it.

“I want to burn the whole country to the fucking ground,” she says. “When I woke up to the news of yet another white man mass shooting, murdering –– eight people, I thought: What the f*** is wrong with America? When are we going to wake up to the fact that white men are incredibly violent and a threat to all of our safety?”

Episode Highlights –– Burn It All Down

Hate crimes: a ‘political football’ for Republicans

This week, the House considered legislation to address the rise in anti-Asian hate, holding hearings before a judiciary subcommittee just a day after the mass murder in Georgia.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act aims to address the violence by increasing Justice Department oversight of COVID-related hate crimes and providing support for state and local law enforcement agencies.

“164 Republicans didn't want it passed,” Danielle notes. “Since Donald Trump and Republicans started referring to the coronavirus as the ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘China Virus,’ there has been a 150% escalation in violence against Asian Americans and AAPI people. But 164 Republicans are just like, nah, I'm good.”

Toure thinks these hate crimes have become a “political football,” like masks and vaccines.

“And when I say that, I don't mean on both sides. The right has politicized these things, which should not be politicized. But these are not political points.”

White murderers get ‘a burger or a hug,’ innocent Black folks get killed

The tragedy in Georgia has yet again exposed “the love affair that law enforcement and the mainstream media has with white supremacy,” says Danielle. “It's why the fuck we are here. It’s why these people continue to do what they do. Because there's no accountability or responsibility.”

And so she “will not call this man [the alleged shooter] a lunatic. I will not say he's crazy. You know why? Because I'm not going to give him some kind of mental-health escape.”

When we do that, we give people permission to “shrug it off” rather than deal with “the intricacies, frustrations and systems of white supremacist oppression,” she adds.

When incidents like these happen, we often hear about “some type of fucking coddling” law enforcement gives the perpetrator, whether it’s a “burger or a hug,” Danielle says, pointing out that the January 6 insurrectionist “QAnon Shaman” threatened a hunger strike because he wasn’t fed organic food in detention.

“But Kalief Browder was in prison for three years under suspicion of stealing a backpack and ended up killing himself because of the treatment there. Nobody asked him how he was feeling, or if he had a bad day.”

We’re numb to mass shootings

For quite a while now, we’ve had mass shootings so often that they now barely register in our national consciousness.

“We don't even have national hand-wringing or mourning when somebody goes nuts with a gun and murders a large number of people in one fell swoop,” says Toure. “We’re numb to it because it's happened so many times.”

That numbness is a result of political paralysis. The Republican Party is in bed with the NRA and the gun lobby, and there is money to be made manufacturing guns and bullets, he adds.

There is no money to be made fighting for gun safety, though.

“Everything goes back to slavery,” Toure says, noting that in this case, today’s gun problems connect to how Southern states “were given an outsized amount of power, and they continue to be able to control the conversation.”

And as long there is a large faction of rural citizens with a strong gun culture (“which is largely healthy … but entirely different than what we go through in big-city America,” says Toure), things won’t change.

That’s because the NRA tells them their culture is under threat. And thus the Republican party continues to obstruct any actual movement on gun control.

Gun culture makes us numb to murder

So we just have to live with mass shootings, and we're the only major country that does that. We’re also, as Danielle points out, asked to accept a host of other bullshit because of Republican intransigence.

“We're being told to adapt to them, as if they’re normal,” she says. “We’re at the height of the COVID-19 crisis. We had the Trump administration telling us it is what it is. That's their answer to everything, as if they have no power to do anything about it.”

And now, eight people were murdered in Atlanta, and it barely registers “because it wasn't double digits,” says Danielle.

It’s horrifying but true: Unless a mass-shooting event has a death count in the dozens, like Orlando, Las Vegas, Newtown or Parkland, “it's just another fucking Wednesday.”

When rural white people talk about their right to guns, she thinks: What about our right to life? “They only want to talk about right to life when we're talking about a f***ing embryonic cell … not about being able to go to a fucking grocery store, massage parlor, restaurant or school.”

‘The Devil You Know’ goes down to Georgia

Both Toure and Danielle talked to New York Times op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow on recent episodes of Toure Show and Woke AF, respectively.

Blow has written a new book, “The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto,” which has a compelling thesis: Reverse the Great Migration.

A few statistics to set the scene:

  • 66% of Black Americans live in the South

  • 44% of Black Americans live outside of it

Blow says that if half (22%) of the non-South Black demographic returned to nine particular southern states that are currently 30% Black, “we would politically control virtually the whole South and radically change American politics,” Toure explains.

That would mean we’d “routinely have 10 to 12 Black senators, eight to nine Black governors and all kinds of mayors,” he adds. “It would have a substantive impact on local and national policies toward Black people.”

About 13% of the population –– roughly 42 million Americans –– are Black; Blow says we’d need about 11 million Black folks to move back down South. And he says this is already happening. We're seeing Black Millennials leaving cities “based on economics alone,” says Danielle.

“It's fucking expensive to live in New York, San Francisco, L.A. and Miami. You’ll have a better quality of life because the cost of living is lower, and have more power on top of that. The case he makes is a good one.”

Rethinking Black political power dynamics

Blow makes an important point about how a Southern Black power dynamic would play out.

Georgia’s two new senators “have to be in lockstep with the community that put them there, for the first time ever,” Danielle explains. “Usually they're able to just ignore us.”

All the Black senators and governors who were elected previously have a largely white coalition behind them, even though they have significant numbers of Black supporters.

“Politicians must be beholden to the coalition that elected them and they've got to make sure that those who voted for them want to vote for them again,” says Toure. “So they have to listen to them very carefully. Until we have Black elected officials who can say that 50% of the people voted for them were Black, they'll always be saying, what do the white people need?”

And politicians don't do anything that would cost them reelection.

“If we were able to consider the Republican Party –– which we're not, because it’s repelling us –– I wonder if our political power would be diffused,” says Toure.

“We clearly know, because we all showed up for Joe Biden, that the concentration of Black voters is larger and stronger than any other demographic. So the Democratic Party and Biden in particular have to look and see what Black folks want. He wouldn’t be here if not for Black folks in South Carolina, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Detroit.”

Would southward migration mean ‘returning’ –– or progressing?

Toure doesn’t think he could move south.

“I feel very deeply that I'm standing on the shoulders of the people behind me,” he says. “The opportunities I've had, educationally, professionally and financially came because people behind me sacrificed and lived the lives they lived.”

His father grew up in the projects in Harlem and moved to Boston. His grandmother is from Alabama, “so I can only imagine what her grandparents went through,” he says.

“I moved to Brooklyn. We're mapping a Black history here. The South was a locus, Harlem was a locus ... Moving out to the suburbs as affirmative action rises, and then returning to a place like Brooklyn, is very much in line with Black history.”

As much as Toure loves the South (“Atlanta and New Orleans in particular,” he says), he feels like “it would be a step backwards. Like I'm returning to something, whereas my whole life has been trying to move forward. Like, my people escaped the South.”

Danielle, on the other hand, doesn't have any familial connection to the South.

“We have to talk about the depths of the diaspora,” she says. “There are Africans that are here. There are Caribbeans. There are Black Latinx folks … My family is not Black American. My story is Jamaica –– the folks that left Jamaica, immigrated to the United States and came to New York.”

So for her, “there's no familial roots to go back to, in terms of going to the South. It would just be a political move if I were to make it. It wouldn't be a return to anywhere.”

A move to reclaim Black power

Danielle thinks that for Black Americans who have roots in the South, the idea of reverse migration is “a question worth asking –– going back to a place that was the site of so much violence and misery, but turning it into a place of power.”

That’s “the beauty of what Charles is talking about in his book: reclaiming our power, and the center of that.”

Toure says Blow makes a great argument, too, that Black people aren’t necessarily escaping violence by living in the north.

“We’re catching hell up here and down there. George Floyd and Tamir Rice would like to enter the chat. Up north, shit can get hectic.”

Would you move to the South largely based on a political mission?” asks Toure.

After talking to Charles Blow, Danielle did wonder whether she was “doing America a disservice by living in Brooklyn instead of Atlanta.”

“When he maps out what could happen, the ownership we could have, that we could no longer be ignored. We're talking about changing the actual demographic makeup of Congress. I said, well, shit, this is actually something worth considering.”

Danielle’s a ‘jaded’ New Yorker for life

But when it comes to actually moving, the answer for Danielle is “probably not.”

“My family isn't there. It would literally be a strategic political move for me to uproot myself,” she says.

“Even though you live in a fairly typical New York apartment, probably like 1000 square feet ... and you could have a house and a yard in Atlanta,” says Toure.

“Are you coming to visit me? Because I don't know a lot of friends who’d be coming down there,” Danielle replies.

Toure thinks she could make new ones.

“I went to Emory, so I know there is a vibrant Black community and a very vibrant Black gay community in Atlanta. So if you were amenable, you would have friends who would love you and embrace you.”

And, he adds, “I’ve heard from other folks who moved down south into smaller cities –– New York is so big that getting into systems and networks of friends is hard. Because there's so many people and they move so fast. You go to a smaller community, and people would be reaching out. In New York, we're jaded. We don't have the time.”

Danielle does see the appeal, “but I am a New York jaded soul,” she says.

Home(ownership) equity

Toure’s point about housing does bring up another aspect of Blow’s argument, and another reason why Toure doesn’t see himself going south.

In addition to building political power, “building wealth is incredibly important,” says Toure. “And, of course, the political system is controlled by money. We need to create more Black dollars that we can invest and use in the political system, that we can give to our children so they can create businesses, and real estate is one of the key ways to create that.”

But in New York (as well as San Francisco), “our home values are rising far more rapidly than in the South,” says Toure. “What I get out of owning this place in Brooklyn for 15 years is more than I would have gotten owning a home almost anywhere else for the same amount of time.”

That’s because New York is a place “people are always going to want to come to,” Danielle argues. “It is a place that is always going to grow. It may wane a little bit –– we saw an exodus from Manhattan during COVID … but the reality is, as the saying goes, New York is always a good idea.”

Gentrification is real, she adds, “and it's always going spread. People will always be looking for space.”

NYC sets the scenes

Even though property in the Big Apple will probably always be a great investment, Toure is “afraid for the future of New York, because New York is always for the poor and the wealthy.”

If you have money, you can obviously have a good time, he explains. And if you don't have much, you can find sustenance in culture.

“I came here as a poor artist and I was able to find a community of people with whom I was able to talk, compare notes, compete and develop as a writer,” he says. “And that has happened historically among visual artists, recording artists, all sorts of artists. New York is a great place to have all kinds of scenes.”

He thinks it’s no accident that hip hop and disco and myriad other forms of culture all came out of New York City. And although cultural scenes exist in other parts of the country, they’re not as large or vibrant. He’s afraid that gentrification and/or COVID exodus will mean we lose that.

“I wonder how that returns to New York. And I'm not talking about the potential for exposure. I'm talking about getting with like minded people, some of them older, some of them younger, and be able to see them, touch them, in a scene that will allow you to develop as an artist.”

But as Danielle points out, “it is the cultural center of the United States. I don't think that people will never not come here. Is it expensive? Absolutely. Yet there's always a pull.”

Exodus from D.C.?

When we look at the economics of Black America and overlay them with politics and demographic shifts, “the question that we all have to ask ourselves is: Where will we have the most power? Where can we show up the greatest?” says Danielle. “I think that's the question Charles asks in his book.”

When she talked with Blow, they discussed how Black citizens of Washington, D.C., in particular should think about moving to states like Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi –– because they’re colossally unrepresented in D.C.

“And that is not going to change for a very long time, if ever,” says Toure. “They’re squandering the potential for political power. New Yorkers are participating in a vibrant political culture and building economic wealth, but I'm not sure that's happening in D.C. And if some of those brothers and sisters could move out by the millions to other places, it could be extraordinarily powerful for them, for their children, for their grandchildren.”

Blow’s thesis is an “immense idea,” he adds. “And it's an immense opportunity for us as a race.”

Danielle thinks so too.

“And I think it’s right,” she says. “And I think it's a question we need to be asking ourselves as we march towards the demographic shift, that 2035 date –– what are we going to look like? Are we going to look like apartheid-era South Africa? Because that's what Republicans want with the 200 voter-suppression bills they put out last year.”

Racism draws a ‘core fault line’

“The fucking Republicans are fucking dragging me down,” says Toure.

He recently interviewed Maxine Waters, who told him “one of the core fault lines in American politics is racism,” he says.

“That's what the Republican Party is all about. The Democratic Party's on the other side. It's one thing for an activist and intellectual to say that. But to have a leading American political figure say that…”

Democrats “have about fucking had it, and it's about time,” Danielle notes.

Republicans want to gripe about Mr. Potato Head and read “Green Eggs and Ham,” but “people are starving and over 500,000 Americans are dead [from COVID],” she says. “We want to pass legislation to protect our Asian American brothers and sisters, make sure all Americans can vote, and this is the hot shit you guys are doing?”

Auntie Maxine's point about racism is apt, given that the Republican Party “didn't even offer a fucking platform in 2020, because they know they don't stand for shit,” Danielle points out.