During my formative years of the 1960s and 1970s, the political unrest driven by race and racism churned somewhat innocuously for me in the dim background. Several aunts and an uncle lived in Asheville, North Carolina, and their school lives were punctuated with protests, my mother receiving frequent updates by phone as we lived about an hour and a half south of there in South Carolina.
The working class white racism of my family and being a son of the recalcitrant South significantly skewed the ongoing version of history occurring around me—the othering of black people (protests in Asheville were always “riots”) and the discrediting of the Civil Rights movement and its black leaders.
Then, “black power” existed for me in two forms—pop culture versions of blaxploitation media, including Luke Cage, Hero for Hire and Shaft, and real-world protest such black gloves and fists raised, John Carlos and Tommy Smith at the 1968 Olympics.
After the election of Donald Trump as president, many have continued to scramble to explain the rise of Trumplandia, often falling into two opposing camps—one arguing Trump’s support is because more people were hurting under Obama than the pundits ever admitted and the other demanding that we admit Trump’s rise was fueled by racism, now neatly cloaked in terms such as “nationalism” and “alt-right.”
I am of the second camp because the data are overwhelmingly compelling about how white men and women voted for Trump in large percentages:
We stand in 2017 continuing a corrosive tradition confronted by James Baldwin—”this rigid refusal to look at ourselves.”
“White” remains unspoken as the normal, as the given, and then any excuse is embraced in order to ignore the lingering weight of racism in the U.S.
As might be expected, “black power” in 2017 is before us in the form of economic power, a rising economic autonomy by blacks that likely played a major role in motivating Trump’s supporters who seek to keep the U.S. white.
Two recent controversies may serve as evidence of this: LaVar Ball creating a a sports brand around his soon-to-be-drafted son, Lonzo, and former president Barack Obama’s speaking engagements and fees.
The backlash against both Ball and Obama are interesting and telling since the critics are often those who elected Trump—a bravado and hollowness that dwarf anything Ball has said or done—and who worship Ronald Reagan—who earned millions speaking in Japan after leaving office.
The problems are not bravado, self-promotion, or capitalizing on political careers; the problems are when blacks seek the same avenues as whites to fortune and power.
Moments of this racial anger occurred under George W. Bush as well when his administration sought to dismantle affirmative action, racial preferential treatment for college admission; although Bush himself had benefitted from legacy admission to college.
Trump’s wealth and political success began with an inheritance, one that he has squandered and continued to grow on the backs of others, at the expense of others. Trump now right in front of the entire world works daily to pass on that unearned privilege to his family.
But we are somehow offended by Ball and Obama’s speaking fees—somehow offended that these black men are doing exactly what the capitalistic American Dream says we are supposed to do.
And swirling around all this are black superheroes returning to pop culture prominence—Luke Cage on Netflix and The Falcon as well as the Black Panther in the Marvel film universe.
And just as it did when I was growing up, as long as these black heroes generate money for the right people (“right” means “white”), all is good.
But those same people paying to watch black superheroes, as my family did about Carlos and Smith, turn their scorn on #BlackLivesMatter, rigidly refusing to look at themselves.
Twenty-first century black power is LeBron James, who demands not only the wealth he earns but the power to control that wealth.
Trumplandia is a self-defeating racist response to black power, one that is a real-world dystopia not far removed from another message of pop culture begging for our viewing dollars, The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu.
We must admit black power spawned Trumplandia, a white fright, and we can only hope, in part, black power will be able to dismantle it.