I spend most holidays with my mother, my brother and his family and occasionally with his in-laws (my sister-in-law is one of seven children). Things can get loud, with all their children, and occasionally you’ll hear debate among the men on college and professional sports. We come from all walks of life, whether coming from the ‘hood or having gone to college and attained professional positions. Most of us attend church somewhere.
However, if you attend one of our family gatherings you’ll never, ever hear any debate on politics, and when the subject does come up we’re pretty much on the same page. To make a long story short, we all maintain a healthy contempt for the right-wing worldview.
In other words, there are no Republicans in the family.
Does that sound strange? Well, consider that we’re all African-American except for one white man who also married into that family (and even he’s with us). And if you understand the history of the black man in America, you’d understand why modern conservatism is so extremely radioactive.
For openers, we tend to be a cynical lot, rarely taking anything at face value — in other words, we assume that people are trying to do a snow job on us. Yes, we pretty much recognize propaganda when we see it, and as a consequence our trust has to be earned over time. We need to be engaged, to learn how a particular issue would benefit or hurt us. (Just like anyone else, the truth be told.)
We are very suspicious toward people who would try to remove power from us because historically we haven’t had all that much, if any at all. It’s why we react so strongly when groups try to keep us from voting, especially when they know they won’t get our votes.
When folks denounce black leaders as “stirring up racial trouble for the sake of feathering their own nests,” we roll our eyes; that empty charge is as old as the hills because it represents a distraction from the reality that they don’t want or intend to deal with us on equal terms. (By the way, that charge was also directed toward the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., especially during the campaign to desegregate Birmingham, Ala. in 1963.)
We no longer routinely call people racists just because they disagree with us, but when they promote policies that harm us down the road our collective antennae go up.
When people hear us complain about being victimized by police, keep in mind that we have a history of such; many of us have been stopped for no good reason except “suspicion.” Rapper Ice-T did the controversial song “Cop Killer” — including the line “I’ll get you before you get me” — in response to the abuse of Rodney King by Los Angeles officers. Although I’m not justifying rioting, that’s the kind of thing that often happens when, as Dr. King once said, people “are not being heard.”
When black conservatives are touted as potential Messiahs, we shake our heads because we suspect they’re being paid. (In 1997, I learned that to be true.) When folks try to insist that the Republican Party fought for civil rights and the Democratic Party opposed them or that Dr. King was a Republican, we scorn those tidbits of misleading revisionist history.
When people arrogantly say that we overwhelmingly voted for Obama in 2008 and ’12 just because of his color, we look at them cockeyed, as if to say, with apologies to John McEnroe, “You cannot be serious.” Were Obama white and his opponents black we still would have supported him.
We can forgive but are not about to forget these things, for as the late philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” Not for nothing do the Jewish people say — justifiably — “Never again” in response to the Holocaust.
Most people probably don’t understand what I just wrote, but only because they haven’t spent much or any time with us. They don’t know our history or perspective, which we will gladly share if they would sit down and talk with us. We wish that people would get to know us as individuals within our cultural framework and understand that there are certain things that we cannot and will not accept. Perhaps they need to join us for one of those gatherings and really connect with us.
Although I can’t tell you just where we’re holding Christmas dinner.