by JB Borders
I haven’t commented publicly about economic, political, or many cultural affairs since Barack Obama’s election in 2008. That event was such an unexpected, historic surprise; a moment-hopping harbinger of what could have become a more mature approach to race relations and power-sharing in this country.
It would be nice to say that the Obama election left me speechless – and that it shunted my usual skepticism and replaced it with some new-found optimism and respect for my fellow Americans. It would have been swell, in fact, if that had been the case.
But no, the truth is, I didn’t say anything back then because I was actually holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop – the blowback, the predictable negative counterstrikes from white supremacists. If Obama had been the actual change agent he purported to be, he’d have been assassinated in a year’s time, I was convinced. And if he wasn’t all that we had hoped he would be, it wouldn’t matter. He would just be another small building block to grow from in the future. After all, how far-fetched would it be for the first Black president to be truly progressive in a country where the power structure remains so deeply racist and exploitative? (And truth be told, it wasn’t all that long ago before Obama came on the scene that many of us would have almost-happily settled for Colin Powell if his wife had allowed him to vie for the POTUS position.)
So I bided my time, glad, at least, that brother-man survived the presidency without any physical harm to him or his family. And though he was constantly stymied in his attempts to push the country forward, at least it didn’t slide too far back on his watch.
Of course, the inevitable blowback to the Obama presidency came in 2016 with the election of Donald Trump, the white supremacists’ mouthpiece. Posturing like Benito Mussolini, Italy’s blowhard fascist prime minister of the 1930s and ‘40s – but far more imbecilic – Trump has helped sharpen the vision between the equitable and just world we deserve and the wildly absurdist one with which we currently struggle.
Nevertheless, it was clear that 2020 would offer a critical inflection point in the history of this nation that would have ripple effects across the globe. This inflection point has arrived, however, from a surprising direction and with far greater intensity than I had anticipated at this point in the battle for global economic equity, which is the overarching struggle of the 21st century.
I thought we’d have to wait for the presidential election this fall for the fireworks to begin. After Trump is defeated at the polls and thrown out of office, I assumed the angered white militias would dramatically increase their attacks on people of color in this country in their attempts to ignite a race war that would instantiate naked white supremacist rule – like in the post-Reconstruction era of the 19th century. I thought that would give Black folks and their allies no choice but to fight back – fire with fire, not just love against hate. This would be hot war in the streets and countryside of this nation, from Idaho and Michigan to Georgia, Alabama, and Texas. The outcome of those protracted race-based skirmishes would then determine the course of our existence for the next thirty or so years.
But then along came COVID-19, the global pandemic that has made the whole world go topsy-turvy, bringing with it a tremendous loss of life as well as setting in motion a batch of conditions that make it possible to accelerate the drive for a more just world in one great leap. The first step has been to put an end to business-as-usual. That’s the Rupture. It started earlier in 2020 when whole nations across Asia and Europe shut down completely. Work ceased. Social life, too. People were ordered to stay home lest they contribute to the spread of the virus. In time, Australia, North America, South America, and Africa followed suit. The whole world effectively ceased functioning for a couple of months.
This Rupture has unleashed a cauldron of forces and conditions in an unprecedented American Spring – millions of people suddenly out of work, students out of school, a pandemic disproportionately killing Black folks, law enforcement and racist white vigilantes blatantly murdering black men in broad daylight with cameras running. For the moment, it seems things can never go back to the way they were. And that has prompted a grand Reckoning. We’re in the midst of it now.
Everybody and their mama now openly proclaim that Black Lives Matter. Corporations, foundations, and wealthy individuals have collectively pledged billions of dollars to combat racial and economic inequity and to dismantle white privilege. Even NASCAR has banned the Confederate flag at its events. People are stumbling all over themselves to make public pronouncements of contrition. We’ll see how sincere they are when the weather cools off, schools are back in session, workers are back on the job – all practicing the appropriate measures of social distancing, of course.
As several observers have already pointed out, these society-wide confessions, apologies, expressions of disgust and embarrassment with the state of policing in this country harken back to 1963 when global news media broadcast images of Birmingham, AL law enforcement turning high-powered water hoses and snarling canines on children demonstrating for equality. The viciousness of those attacks almost singlehandedly turned the tide in the Civil Rights Movement.
Now the filmed murders of George Floyd and others have catapulted the Black Lives Matter from the fringes of American public discourse and policy considerations to dead smack in the middle of everything that counts.
But even as the Reckoning runs its course – “every tongue has to confess,” the old saying goes – we have to step up the push for the Reset. This will be the longest and hardest but most concrete and beneficial aspect of this 21st century freedom struggle. This is when wealth, real wealth, and opportunity, real opportunity, finally start getting redistributed.
Of course, this entails reparations. The price of justice isn’t cheap. For starters, that means roughly $130,000 for every Black and Brown household in this country to be used for investment and savings purposes only. That will close the black/white wealth gap significantly. Next is universal healthcare for all Americans (including intense addiction counseling for alcohol, tobacco, sugar, salt, swine, grease, depression and anger) and the reform of a federal Food and Drug Administration that permits so much poisonous chemicals to be infused in supposedly edible products that are sold in both domestic and foreign markets.
In housing, the most consequential first step would be to provide no-interest mortgages along with home-buying grants to Black Americans. Same thing for Black farmers, too, only the no-interest loans and grants would be extended to equipment purchase as well.
The criminal justice reforms now underway will need to accelerate and the usurious system of bail bonding largely dismantled post-haste.
Funding formulas for public schools will need to be leveled within and across districts. Public colleges need to be free or affordable and all profiteering on student educational loans needs to be abolished immediately. Loan forgiveness should be granted immediately to all African Americans.
Black entrepreneurs deserve fair and equitable access to investment and working capital. It’s time we made that a priority. After all, our goal is to be able to take care of ourselves as soon as possible.
There are many more necessary ideas for generating real equity in this society. Now is the time to put them in motion, correcting and refining along the way. The key notion is to start walking down the Justice Trail and not look back. Black people all over the globe are now leading daily protests, marches and demonstrations for decency, fairness and unity. And it’s having an impact.
A hundred years ago, the world was reeling from the shock of an event called the Russian Revolution. It had been unthinkable that such a poor, largely feudal society could in one fell swoop oust a decadent monarchy, skip a whole phase of economic development, and catapult itself into a position of major geopolitical power within thirty years. Imagine now that the descendants of enslaved Americans could likewise come from the bottom rungs of society and lead its transformation into the world’s first truly equitable superpower. That is no longer beyond the realm of possibility; it’s on the edge of inevitability.
We have a long, treacherous and probably extremely violent path ahead. Let’s not kid ourselves. The euphoria of the moment cannot endure indefinitely. There will be grim and confusing days ahead. But we will know we have arrived at our destination when all of resource-rich Africa and the Caribbean, as well as us, enjoy a standard of living comparable to any of the most prosperous and principled places on this planet. We should not let the 21st century pass without making this a reality.
This is our challenge. And this is our moment. If ever there was a time that epitomized what Dr. King called “the fierce urgency of now,” this is it. Let’s not dawdle or fritter away this opportunity. Our allies will not always be with us or approve of our actions. No matter. Our enemies will regroup and attempt to counter our progress. No surprise there. Let’s keep moving anyway. Eyes forward, hearts open, minds clear, resolve unwavering, unrelenting, unceasing.
Change can be uncomfortable sometimes, but we won’t get better if we’re not willing to do it, to challenge ourselves and those around us to improve our lot. It’s as simple and profound as that.
The founding editor of The New Orleans Tribune, JB Borders is the author of Marking Time, Making Place: An Essential Chronology of Blacks in New Orleans since 1718.