What does it mean to be a Black patriot in the era of Trump?
by Ronald Collins (Solidarity Correspondent, ISC)
As the U.S. military, under the direction of Donald Trump, begins to take a more aggressive posture around the world (Syria, Afghanistan, growing tensions on the Korean Peninsula) it is forcing many oppressed people inside the country to take a look at how we relate to the empire. This renewed use of blatant imperial military power, in the name of American security, forces American citizens to grapple with our own patriotism while understanding that the actions being taken on our behalf are infringing upon the sovereignty of others. Black patriotism in particular comes with the deep contradictions of knowing that while we are oppressed here in the United States, there are others who are oppressed in order to maintain the lives we live. Black folks have struggled with the idea of patriotism since the inception of the United States and has changed with the political climate of the time. Ultimately, being a Black patriot means struggling to realize the kind of inclusion that our ancestors died to create and understanding that America may never be that country no matter how much we may want it to be. It is in essence the hope that the ideals of the United States can be made a reality for all of her citizens.
To understand Black patriotism, it is essential to understand that Black communities have been treated as colonies within the nation since the Jim Crow era, and this informs the way in which we relate to the empire. After slavery, during the time just after the Civil War known as the Reconstruction Era, Black folks were actually allowed to run for office and take up positions in the national assemblies. In fact, during the Reconstruction Era, 1863 - 1877, more Black people were in the national assemblies than during any other time in American history. However, as the country began to rebuild itself and Jim Crow laws started to take effect, Black folks were systematically pushed out of government and dissuaded from voting all together. For years southern Democrats, who were supposed to represent every citizen of their state, passed Jim Crow laws, turned a blind eye to lynchings, and let organizations like the Klu Klux Klan have free rein in southern states. The problem ran so deep that in the 1960’s, civil rights activists created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party as an attempt to highlight the lack of representation for Black folks inside the Democratic Party and have Black folks on a separate ticket that represented our interests. Essentially, the United States has spent much of the past 60 years attempting to disenfranchise Black people and silence them from the political system.
While the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was not successful in nominating their candidate, it showed the limits of Black patriotism inside the American government of the time. Throughout American history, Black folks have struggled to feel, not only included, but patriotic about a country that proved time and again that it did not care about us. Some writers like Marcus Garvey advocated we move back to Africa and reside on land that had been purchased for repatriation where we could build our own society, govern ourselves, and live lives full of dignity. Others like Malcolm X advocated the Black community fight for our place in American society by consolidating our political power and creating the kinds of communities that we wanted to see in America by any means necessary. Still others maintained the necessity for the creation of a Black nation – a completely different country within the current territory of the United States – where we would be given sovereignty over the lands that our ancestors worked as slaves. All of these forms of Black nationalism came as a way of coping with the reality that we lived in a country that did not see us as fully enfranchised citizens worthy of humane conditions.
Black nationalism was a result of the exclusion of Black people from the formal democratic and governmental processes of the United States, and it wasn’t until 2008 that this exclusion was shattered. With the election of President Barack Obama, there was, for the first time in our history, a man who shared our history and our struggle sitting in the very highest seat of power in the land. This meant for many of us that we were no longer excluded from government and politics but inextricably linked to the fabric of American governance. We had achieved a measure of equality that was hitherto unimaginable. As with all progress in America, the election of Obama was met with a racist backlash known as the Tea Party movement in which a small group of incredibly conservative people were elected to the House and Senate and functioned to stifle any policy put forth by President Obama.
These are largely the same forces that aligned with Trump and made it possible for him to take power after the end of the Obama administration. In response to the racist backlash to the election and policies of President Obama, we saw Black folks for the first time begin to defend the president. Whereas in the past, Black intellectuals, politicians, and artists were openly critical of the president of the United States as the pinnacle of the tower of oppression, we now saw those forces defending Obama. This meant that the people were starting to feel included in the government and that there was a renewed sense of patriotism that was more defiant. It was as if the election of President Obama gave Black folks the impetus to say “This is our country too!” and rather than despair or recoil from the racism of the Tea Party, we fought it on the internet, in the streets, in Congress and anywhere else we could.
Understanding the Tea Party movement is essential in understanding the current state of U.S. policy because the same social ideology that allowed those congressional members to be elected informs the way that Trump is governing. The Tea Party functions as the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party in the United States, and the members’ stated goals are to bring America back from the “neoliberal social welfare state” created under the Clinton administration and continued under the Obama administration. These are the people who accused Obama of being a Kenyan Muslim and attacked his “American-ness” because he was a Black man, and they have continuously voted for laws that disenfranchised Black voters all over the American South. The Tea Party is also largely responsible for the reinvigoration of the police state by calling for unprecedented uses of force against Black Lives Matter and supporting tax cuts that would largely harm poor Black communities. In recent years they have also been at the forefront of calling for cuts to social services, tax cuts for the wealthy, increased border security, military spending, and military action. This has laid the groundwork for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” platform which coalesces many of the aforementioned policies into a single vision.
Under the Obama administration, many Black people felt the necessity of political engagement through a variety of methods that included taking to the streets, but also included taking issue directly to the government. Public officials were held to account by the Black community, if not by the law, for attacking or trying to circumvent democracy in a way that we had not done before. Rather than calling for a separate Black America many of us saw the election of Obama as a signal that the time to become involved in government and to be included was at hand. Black patriotism and faith in America was renewed under Obama, and that renewal is what fueled the racist Tea Party backlash. It must be understood that Trump’s rise was a reaction to the rising political power of minority groups all across America, in particular Black folks.
With the country moving from a leader like Obama to a leader like Trump, many of us are forced to assess how we feel about the backlash from having a Black president. It is clear that the inclusion of oppressed people in the governance of the United States ebbs and flows and it is incumbent upon us to create a strategy that will solidify our inclusion. The challenge for the Black patriot now is to decide whether this country is one that can be made to include all of its citizens or if Black Nationalist ideology still rings true as the surest way to find full equality. Furthermore, we must now navigate what it means to be governed under a leader who is not sympathetic to our causes and has blatantly called our movement a disruption to the law and order state that he wishes our country to be.
Under this new regime, each of us must decide whether we will fight for the fickle inclusion that we felt under Obama or if we will return to our revolutionary roots and fight for a Black Nation. I am an idealist who believes in the promise that the United States can be a country where each and every citizen is given all the tools that they need to live happy, healthy and successful lives. If we are to make it that country, then as Black patriots, it is up to us to create an inclusion that, to this point, has not existed. We must infuse ourselves into the very fabric of American governance and change the nature of how the establishment relates to the Black community. If the establishment finds itself unable to accept this infusion of equality, then it will be incumbent upon us to create a new nation that recognizes us as full citizens no matter what the political climate may be.