by Samuel James
by Samuel James

Shock and Awful

Yeah, it happened. The Electoral College had its say and that billionaire will be our next president.

Like many black people, I’m not surprised, but I’m definitely shocked. Like when you’re certain your significant other is cheating on you. When you find out it’s true, you’re not really surprised, but holy shit, is it awful. A lot of people are still talking about moving out of the country. I get it. I can’t even bring myself to type out his name, but I’m not going anywhere and neither should you.

I know it’s crazy. Yes, for the first time in this country’s history we’ve decided to put someone in charge who not only has no experience, but clearly has no idea what the actual government does. It’s like that time you got that new, inept boss. Remember all the extra work? How much you started to hate your job? The way he talked how he thought bosses were supposed to talk? Can you feel your skin crawling? Can you almost feel it peeling away in a nuclear firestorm? I know I can.

Among the most shocking aspects of this election were the many things we all thought mattered that ended up not mattering at all. We thought party allegiance mattered, but he went against his own party throughout his campaign. Party allegiance doesn’t matter. We thought campaigns mattered, but he constantly undermined his own campaign. Campaigns don’t matter. He lost the popular vote, so you don’t matter. He frequently contradicted his own positions, so he doesn’t even matter.

What did matter?

Well, staying on message is supposedly one of the most important things a candidate can do. Repeating the same points over and over works. Ever notice how Bernie always talks about the same handful of issues? He did pretty well, considering. The president-elect, on the other hand, was all over the place on almost everything. Everything except for his racism. Since that birther shit began, racism has been his only consistent message.

Racism is what mattered.

When I say that, the response I get usually invokes the idea of poor, white people taking a stand, and the fact that some of his supporters voted for Obama twice; so, they say, this can’t be about race.

But racism is not that simple.

Here’s a little peek behind the curtain. Every person of color you are likely to meet has stories of white people saying things like, “You’re so well spoken!” These are people who think so poorly of people of color that our ability to coherently converse astounds them. These are racists. Are they in robes and hoods making little cross-shaped candles for their Klan kid’s birthday cake? Not necessarily, but they absolutely view people of color as less than white people.

Now, Obama did not run in ’08 as a black man. After the election, his campaign managers talked openly about their strategy. They said they knew a black man could never be elected president, but a great man could — even if he just so happened to also be black. Obama was presented as a great man. He was the most charming, charismatic, visionary, smart, etc. He embodied the qualities we all admire, and was presented that way to all Americans, including those who are impressed simply by a person of color’s ability to speak. (Imagine how impressed they were by him!)

That leaves two options to explain what happened last November: a) A team of political geniuses figured out how to brainwash voters; or b) A reputedly racist candidate who deliberately courted racists, and whose only consistent message was racism, won an election in a country defined by its racial issues at a time when racial tensions are especially high.

I know race wasn’t the only factor here, but one of those options seems much more likely than the other.

Although race tipped the scales nationally, that was not the case at the local level. Maine went the other way. Yes, Maine, even with our back-dated, Tea Party, racist governor. Rachel Talbot Ross just became the first black woman to be elected to the Maine Legislature. Portlanders elected Pious Ali, an African-born Muslim, to the City Council — another first. Maine also passed ranked-choice voting and legalized marijuana.

Yes, I get the impulse to leave this country. It makes me angry, too. But if you have to move, move to Mississippi. Or Texas. Or a Carolina. There are organizations in all those states that want the same kind of country you do. Fight at the local level. Maine proves it can work.


Samuel James is an internationally renowned bluesman and storyteller, as well as a locally known filmmaker. He can be reached at racismsportland@gmail.com.