On her 1967 album Silk & Soul, Nina Simone recorded the classic song "Go To Hell." With her weary, melodic wails, she prophetically warned:
“You’re living high and mighty, rich off the fat of this land. Just don’t dispose of your natural soul, because you know damn well you’ll go to hell."
As I look at our country's current political circus, rife with dishonesty and corruption, the line “just don’t dispose of your natural soul” rings in my ears. After all, there is a certain soullessness in the way many of our leading politicians operate. They pantomime deep emotion to gain the trust of citizens and assume positions of leadership on empty promises. Once in power, they abuse the truth and hope placed in them for their own personal gain, and for the private interests of major corporations. One might think that these politicians would have a fear of eventual consequence, personal shame, or karmic retribution. Yet for so many of our country’s highest leaders, no such fear or guilt exists.
In live performances, Nina Simone added a portentous verse:
“Some say that hell is below us, but I say it's right by my side! ‘Cause I see evil in the morning, evil in the evening. You know damn well that we all must be in hell!”
Indeed, what should be a life filled with liberty and the pursuit of happiness is reduced to a hellish existence in the current state of our Union. Racism & xenophobia have exploded back into the nation’s forefront. In a historic election, the brilliant and almost king-like, Barack Hussein Obama II ascended to the rank of President of the United States of America. In a country with a history of abuse and hatred of people of color, when Mr. Obama, a black man, was selected as POTUS, a sense of unity, progress, and change vibrated across the globe. It truly demonstrated the beautiful audacity of hope. Yet, unfortunately, it also unearthed the virulent racism that had been swept under the rug in the illusory “post-racial” world. The deaths, retirement, and exile of many of the great civil rights leaders left a void in the struggle that effectively brought the Civil Rights Movement to a point of stasis. We entered a world where the walls of hate were torn down, but the lines in the concrete remained as silent borders. The election of a black President was all it took to break the fragile truce between the communities in our country, and it raised the voices of hatred once more.
An increasing sense of white rage began to build within those who were afraid of the changing structure of the country. They feared the loss of their privilege, and the prospect of living in a world different from the patriarchal, white supremacist place which they were conditioned to accept as normal. Congress worked against him, racists blamed him for everything, and disrespect of the presidency rose like never before. Now, in what some have called racist America’s last ditch effort to undo progress, a new administration has been ushered in that promises to “Make America Great Again.” Some fear this is merely code for “Make America racist again.”
Many of our country’s issues can be traced back to the politicians and leaders who create and enforce laws that are destructive, toxic, and limiting to black communities. Thus, I propose that black millennials must begin to seek political power in our country if we ever hope to secure change.
I have yet to see a strong concerted effort by black millennials to promote and elect young black people with political knowledge to our country’s seats of power. Our attempts to battle systemic inequities, outside of protests and social media, seem to be rooted in convincing those in power to change the laws or reconsider their stances. Yet, I fear that route may be scorched earth, considering the difficulty of it and lack of effectiveness in the past.
We must work to help new black politicians rise to the seats of power that are filled by our oppressors. Congress is still lacking in complete diversity and is disproportionate in its demographics: more than 75% of representatives are white and more than 85% of senators are white, and the predominant gender is male. Many of the black politicians of the old school are either disconnected from today’s issues, resting on their laurels and wealth, or exhausted from decades of carrying the banner. The few black politicians who are pushing for liberation are so strongly outnumbered that they are politically invisible. In a bureaucratic structure where representation is necessary, we are strongly lacking. Black millennials must work together to find black political leaders, and band together to assist them in gaining the recognition, power, and momentum to receive larger support and take office.
We have arrived an interesting crux in black liberation where there are no heroes left to call upon because those with the potential to become a hero are waiting for one. We grew up being told that we were the future. Well, we’re not anymore. We’re the present; and we will quickly become the powerless past if we don’t lead the charge for representation, visibility, and political power.
Until our government reflects our country and is filled with people who understand our struggles, we will continuously be begging a master who does not love or understand us for a space to live; and we will continuously receive nothing but the barn of the mansion, instead of a seat at the table.
Until we have representation in every part of the government, and until we have politicians who are committed to black liberation and unwilling to compromise, our progress will be limited. President Obama showed us that it is was possible and led with grace and skill. We owe it to his legacy to carry on that work.
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