How did we get here?” “This is not America!” “I didn’t think it would be this bad.” You’ve probably either said or heard plenty of people saying these things in your community after the assault on our nation’s Capitol Building on January 6. In the African American community, the tone is much different, however: “We tried to tell y’all.” Black America—made up of individuals like my 82-year-old African American grandmother who experienced firsthand segregated life in America and can spot wildly deceptive and destructive tropes a mile away—saw this coming from over four centuries ago.
Since before Donald Trump started gaining traction in the Republican Party’s primaries, Black people of America have consistently prophesied the warnings of trusting this man to lead our country. We knew his character. We knew his ideologies. We knew he’d befriend just enough African Americans to try warding off factual accusations that he was racist. We knew he’d be all about himself, deny the truth of his failures, and deploy a win-at-all-costs war on our democracy. How did we know all of this? He told us. He told everyone. And when he wasn’t telling us, he was showing us. This isn’t meant to diminish or demean the warnings that came from our brothers and sisters of European descent. This is only meant to highlight the overwhelming differences of discernibility between our communities (and that such a disclaimer is required only belabors the point). The differences in the African American community’s ability to discern danger rooted in White supremacy is directly related to our concrete historical experiences of injustice. Though it’s fairly easy to say, “We told you so!” out of spite, it will be more helpful to take a look back at old warnings from Black America as a roadmap for where we might go from here.
When Trump was elected, most African Americans did not shrug off his victory. We knew there would be no reasoning with him, nor any of the people who exuberantly supported him in the face of mountains of evidence he was willing to put himself above the country. We lamented, cautioned, regrouped, prayed, and braced ourselves; because most knew what beast had just awoken and was about to be unshackled. Though many in America allowed the veneer of progressivism lull them into believing we now lived in a post racial society, Black people could see straight through the dark veil of what making America great again meant and used every cultural means to communicate it.
When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was murdered by George Zimmerman, a growl could be heard from the belly of the beast when President Obama dared to show sympathy and identify himself with the victim. When 12-year-old Tamir Rice was murdered by police officers for playing with a toy gun in a park, America’s world kept spinning without the slightest hesitation while the beast enjoyed protections and was beginning to flutter its eyelids. When nine parishioners were gunned down during their Bible study, inside of a church, by an unapologetically self-proclaimed white supremacist, America might have paused briefly, but inevitably we ignored the sounds of the beast’s chains violently rattling. When Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were gunned down by police officers and left for dead, the American conversation was preoccupied with the conversation as the beast began to prowl. America was sold a bill of goods that led us to believe this beast was laid to rest in the late 1960s and early 1970s so when it flared its nostrils and smugly grinned at us we continued with inaction, calls for patience, and “all the facts.”Though many in America allowed the veneer of progressivism lull them into believing we now lived in a post racial society, Black people could see straight through the dark veil of what making America great again meant and used every cultural means to communicate it.
However, when five police officers were mercilessly gunned down in downtown Dallas, Texas, America was suddenly forced to stop in its tracks and take a moment to grieve how we got to that point. Blue lives matter, back the blue, and all lives matter mantras started to arise. Confederate flags started flying higher and more visibly. A call to take up arms reemerged. A White rage started calling for the beast to once again be unchained in our society. And one man in his lust for power saw an opportunity to tap into that anger and agreed to unleash the beast in exchange for unchecked power and undying support.
Black people saw what was happening. The warning signs were visible. Trump’s racist comments, dogwhistles, discriminatory rhetoric, and bigoted actions before and during the election race let us know exactly what he was going to be about. The reports of Trump’s treatment of Black and Brown workers at his facilities, his incessant obsession with President Barack Obama’s citizenship status, and the full-page op-eds he took out to advocate for the execution of the Exonerated Five in the Central Park jogger case, were all signs of his character and what his presidency would be about. We knew the type of courage he was capable of inspiring for White supremacists/christian nationalists to go public through his resentment politics. He craftily became a rallying symbol for White supremacists while hiding behind the christian nationalist sentiments of abortion, economic freedom, and eurocentric values that excluded the diversity of thought from whomever White America deemed to be “outsiders.”
Through every cultural avenue possible, Black America has been prophesying to America what was coming every step of the way. With music, movies, literature, religion, and sports, Black people have waved the “wrong way” caution banner, echoing Martin Luther King Jr.’s verity that: “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” A large majority of Black Americans still know just where those “anywheres” exist and White America, along with Trump’s African American supporters, finally got to see it in the one place they thought they never would: the nation’s Capitol Building.
Black America knows where to find injustices, because they prowl and hunt us no matter where we go in this country, no matter how much money, fame, health, or right-wing political affiliation we might acquire. Black America told and showed y’all.
In Black music, artists like Kendrick Lamar rapped about the plight of Black life in America from its inception in his album To Pimp a Butterfly. He revealed exactly what was in our country’s “DNA” and where we’d be headed if this sickness went unchecked with his album DAMN.
Lecrae used his lyrics to show White Christians the dangers of ignoring the Black struggle in America: “Aw man now they actin’ like I’m suddenly political/Told me shut my mouth and get my checks from evangelicals… Hey, you want unity then read a eulogy/Kill the power that exists up under you and over me” (“Facts,” All Things Work Together).
Music videos like Childish Gambino’s “This is America” portrayed an America that is comfortable with shocking images of gun violence, murder, and domestic terrorism, but is too uncomfortable to actually do anything about it except run from it in search of the next thrill.
Comedians like Dave Chappelle—who has a long track record of truth-telling—carefully explained the detriment of our toxic society, but we were too shallow to do anything but ponder and laugh at his warnings as nothing but mere jokes. After George Floyd was murdered and protests ensued, Chappelle provided a sermon that should have rocked our society to its core and told us the idea of Trump is a tragic peril to our democracy. Instead of action, America laughed some more.
Movies like Jordan Peele’s hit thrillers Get Out and Us displayed a dystopian America for African Americans and an America that was headed toward God’s judgment for our ignorance and unwillingness to care for our neighbors.
Podcast shows like Truth’s Table and Pass the Mic truthfully spoke to the power complex in America, offering ways that those in power could put hand-to-plow to close the unnecessary gaps that plague our nation. Organizations like Be the Bridge by Latasha Morrison even provided the necessary tools to close these gaps.
Books like Woke Church by Pastor Eric Mason, Between the World and Me by Ta-Neheisi Coates, and I’m Still Here by Austin Channing Brown—and many more—were written by Black authors to outline the dangers of being Black in America. Ta-Neheisi Coates’s run of the Captain America Vol. 1: Winter in America comic series all but outlines exactly where America was headed if it continued to sacrifice power for White supremacy. Their accounts of Black life in America shows that the uncertainty of our survival ultimately degrades—not only our dignity as victims—but equally that of the oppressor and the “moderate” okay with the status quo. Because if it’s dangerous to be Black in America, there’s potential danger for anyone to be anything that opposes White supremacy in America.
Black pastors and prophets warned about the inherent dangers of radical racist movements like the alt-right and organized (with controversy) White brothers and sisters to condemn such organizations. Prophets like Ekemini Uwan blatantly urged White Christian women (with controversy) to divest themselves from the concept of whiteness, as embodied by the President, for a better and truer identity that isn’t destructive. Black parishioners started quietly leaving White Evangelical churches during and when Trump was elected as a signal of how dangerous the church’s neutrality (at best) or approval (at worst) of Trump truly was.Because if it’s dangerous to be Black in America, there’s potential danger for anyone to be anything that opposes White supremacy in America.
Sports stars like Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reed, and Lebron James brought attention to the horrors of police brutality on Black and Brown Americans and proved that it doesn’t matter how much success one might attain, as long as you are Black and call an injustice wrong, you will forever be an outcast.
What were the responses to all of these warnings? When Kendrick Lamar rapped about America’s faults, Fox News pundits tried to radicalize his message. When Lecrae rapped and spoke out about social injustice, White Evangelicals condemned and all but crucified him. When movies and music videos were made, we danced, sang, and talked about them until we were blue in the face. When podcast hosts like Christina Edmondson, Tyler Burns, and Latasha Morrison spoke the truth, their messages were widely misconstrued, twisted, and dismissed. When books were written, they were debated and sat nicely on bookshelves, but little action was taken to hold accountable the leaders who they called to hold accountable. When Southern Baptist Convention Black pastors formally called for the organization to condemn right-wing, White extremist hate groups, they were initially ignored and are now instead debating the legitimacy of Critical Race Theory and not the areas where White supremacy remains enthroned in its institutions. When Ekemini Uwan was invited to speak at a multi-racial Christian conference, she was blackballed and was met with White rage. When Black folk started a quiet exodus from White Evangelical spaces immediately following the presidential election, half-hearted apologies were extended (at best) and whitelash condemnations were made (at worst). When Lebron James shared his experiences as an African American leader, he was told to “shut up and dribble.” Other NBA stars like Milwaukee Bucks guard Sterling Brown were terrorized by police. Colin Kaepernick was eventually blackballed and called a “son of a bitch” by Trump for kneeling during the national anthem before football games and still does not have a job despite showing he still has an elite ability to play in the league.
And on and on it goes. Now news pundits who benefitted from giving Trump so much airtime are unironically asking themselves, “How did we get here?” Some even lie to themselves, proclaiming, “This is not who we are.” Meanwhile Black America has been exclaiming all along, “This is exactly who we are.”
Black Americans have been prophesying to the rest of America about these injustices, because we’ve lived these stories time and again. History is not far from us. We knew that if southerners were willing to commit treason and kill their fellow countrymen in the name of “states rights” to continue owning people, they were capable of such heinous acts again for any other reason. We knew that if mobs of White citizens were capable of destroying Black Wall Streets, mutilating Black bodies, and using violence to disenfranchise Black people, they were capable of doing it to your precious democracy too. It was only a matter of time.
The unfortunate response has been to try reasoning with this beast of White supremacy. Some tried arguing it is merely economic insecurity that fuels the hatred. Some, like senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, have taken part in the uneven exchange of their integrity and character for the power this beast promises to give them. And now, even in the wake of an all out insurrection America’s “temple of democracy,” some are calling for “peace” and continuing with business as usual—for they do not want any harm to come to their precious beast who has all but swallowed them alive.
If leaders like Trump, Cruz, and Hawley—and many more—aren’t punished for their baseless conspiratorial lies that incited an insurrection at the Capitol, we will follow a pattern of hazardous mistakes following the Civil War. During the era known as Reconstruction, scores of treasonous Confederate leaders were exonerated for their crimes and continued terrorizing minority citizens. They just found ways to legalize the terror (i.e., Jim Crow).
My grandmother, who was born in 1939 and lived through Jim Crow America and witnessed firsthand the slippery sleight of hand America continually plays—from gerrymandering tactics to rhetoric blueprinted by Atwater’s “southern strategy” five decades ago—texted me a grim prediction that I pray doesn’t come true: “You just wait until 45 is out of office[.] He has a large group to work with. It is going to get wors[e].”
The question remains if you will heed Black America’s prophecies or continue excusing away the “few bad apples” that destroy our democracy. And who better to listen to than a people who have found countless ways to survive a democracy filled with hypocrisies and doublespeak and yet continue to believe there is hope for this country? Maybe you will follow the examples of allied countries who destroyed themselves in the quest for power fueled by hate, and finally take concrete, legal steps to do away with divisive symbols and White supremacist institutions that have no real interest in equality or a real democracy.
Maybe someone in the next administration will listen to Black grandmothers, like mine, who believe organizations like the KKK and Proud Boys need to be abolished once and for all.
Maybe your church will finally heed the call of Black truth tellers and the Confessions of an Ex-Evangelical like A. D. Thomason, and relinquish its current power structure in exchange for a more true picture of Christ that budgets mainly around the poor and disenfranchised than on sound systems, lighting, and iPads for church “ministry.”
If you won’t listen to my grandmother and the countless other African Americans who’ve incessantly tried to warn you about the dangers of Trumpism and the White Evangelical’s obsession, maybe you’ll listen to this White Evangelical who is and has been an avowed “never Trumper” from the beginning:
“If you can defend this, you can defend anything. If you can wave this away with ‘well, what about…’ or by changing the subject to a private platform removing an account inciting violence as ‘Orwellian,’ then where, at long last, is your limit?”
My grandmother would tell you there is no limit. There is only a bottomless, gluttonous appetite for power in the belly of the beast of White supremacy, and it will continue feeding until it has devoured itself. That is, unless, we collectively heed the warnings embedded in Black culture and finally starve, and ultimately destroy, the beast once and for all.