Before Barack Obama was inaugurated as president, he was someone I believed was synonymous with joy and hope. It happened on the very day of his election, I was in my 17th year, unable to vote, but I watched the polls, I saw the announcement, and I saw in my parent’s eyes something unforgettable―joy and hope. Pure innocence is rare to see in adults, it’s a gift given to children when they are born that is taken away as they grow older and more aware of the world. To see them believe in such a man, to trust the change he promised to bring, it filled me with a naive sense of optimism. Before Kendrick Lamar uttered the words, it was President Obama who made me feel as if this country would be alright.
The last eight years weren’t the easiest, or always the most joyous in America, but it was a counterbalance of beauty; beams of light that would shoot through the darkness. In all his years as president, Obama continued to be a symbol that change did occur, and despite all the resistance that more change could come. I believe this is the reason my parents were so adamant about visiting his palace before the new tenants arrived―if they couldn’t meet the man, they could tour his home, and have a memory connected to his legacy. After an extensive background check and months of waiting, we were accepted to tour the White House. Our date was set for November 8th, the day a new president would be elected. It was a strange twist of fate that would bring us to DC on election day. There was a sense of hope that we would see the White House right before Barack left, and on the day that Hillary would be crowned as his successor.
Day 1: The Drive
We set out for DC as the sun was breaking through the clouds on the morning of November 6. My company included two aunts, one uncle, one mother, one father, one grandmother and one great aunt―three generations of black Americans who lived through two terms of a black president. We took two SUVs, plenty of room for the nine-hour voyage. The drive would allow time for reading, music and the ability to enjoy being in motion toward the epicenter of America. One of the first albums I played was Black On Both Sides while reading Mos Def’s first-ever cover story from the year 2000. The interview is insightful, reading his views on hip-hop then and seeing how far we’ve come made for an interesting juxtaposition. At the very end, while talking about his role in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled, he speaks on race, and how everything is designed to keep black people from appearing as human beings. He mentioned a name that I had never heard before, Amadou Diallo, an unarmed black man who was shot 41 times in 1999. He was murdered by four officers who were eventually acquitted of all charges.
White folks been dealing with black folks in America… Everything is designed to keep you from being a human being. ‘Cause if they have to look at you and deal with you as a human being, then they gotta start sharing the pie. They gotta start divvying up the pot equally. There’s a parable, it says, “you want for your brother what you want for yourself.” And that’s the measure of brotherhood. If somebody’s really down with you, and they sitting at the table and there’s a pie, they gonna give you an equal piece. They may want the last piece and waiting to see if you want it. It’s not like that with black people. We not viewed as human. Some people contest that, but it’s like, they shoot Amadou Diallo 41 times. He was unarmed, and now the argument is, “well, they didn’t mean it.” Which is just like, that’s sorta besides the point—whether they were defensive or not is not the argument. The argument is that they did it, and it was completely unjustified. - Read Mos Def’s First-Ever Cover Story From 2000
Amadou Diallo’s name stuck with me as I began reading James Baldwin’s "A Report From Occupied Territory"―an essay written in 1966 about an event that occurred in 1964. The essay begins with the story of Frank Stafford, a salesman who was brutally beaten by police officers after he simply asked, “Why are you beating him like that?” to an officer who was attacking a child. A question that would get him beaten, handcuffed and taken down to the station where he felt the brute force of their assault. It was a beating that would lead to him losing his eye and one that forced him to wear a patch, a visible symbol for other police to know who he was. The fear of a second attack was so severe his lawyer asked him to keep someone with him at all times. The essay digs deeper into The Harlem Six and police brutality and gives a glimpse of what it meant to be black in America back in 1966―an image that sadly has too many similarities to 2016. You can't escape it through music, magazines or literature, at almost every turn there's a reminder of what it means to be black in this country.
Three of the policemen beat up the salesman in the streets. Then they took the young salesman, whose hands had been handcuffed behind his back, along with four others, much younger than the salesman, who were handcuffed in the same way, to the police station. There: “About thirty-five I’d say came into the room, and started beating, punching us in the jaw, in the stomach, in the chest, beating us with a padded club—spit on us, call us niggers, dogs, animals—they call us dogs and animals when I don’t see why we are the dogs and animals the way they are beating us. Like they beat me they beat the other kids and the elderly fellow. They throw him almost through one of the radiators. I thought he was dead over there. - A Report from Occupied Territory
We were in the eighth hour of our journey when we were forced to pull over due to issues with the car. There were some problems that became apparent back in North Carolina, but a quick trip to AutoZone left us with the belief that any issues with the battery were resolved. Flashing lights indicated that a police officer had arrived behind us. The sight of his car sent a slight chill down my spine. It wasn’t an overwhelming feeling, more of a tickle; a tickle of fear. Maybe it was seeing my uncle standing outside of our broken-down vehicle that inspired the emotion―a big, black man who in that moment seemed to resemble an older Luke Cage, except he isn’t bulletproof. As the white cop stepped from his patrol car, Terance Crutcher came to mind―innocent, unarmed, needing help to get home, and the Tusla police decided that he would return home in a casket. The duality of still having to face this kind of anxiety while in route to visit the home of our black president left me with a deep feeling of grief.
He did his job, and went about his business. It’s all we want from officers, to do their job―protect and serve all Americans, not whom they choose to. It would be an hour-long wait for the tow truck to arrive. The furthest a truck could tow you is 100 miles, and we were 99 miles from our hotel―God or some higher power was on our side. It was cold in DC, much colder than the weather in Atlanta. We arrived safely in the night, roaming through the downtown area underneath the glowing streetlights. It felt strangely quiet, a place of such importance should feel like New York and not Alaska. We arrived at the hotel to fill our starving bellies and rest our weary souls. I played Daniel Caesar until sleep arrived.
Day 2: The Girl On The Bus
The next day began as a slight failure―we overslept and missed our chance to acquire tickets for The National Museum of African American History and Culture. They’re very strict about the time you must be in line for a ticket, and since you can’t buy your way in, there was no way to enter. We jumped on one of the buses that traveled to Martin Luther King’s Memorial instead. Along the sides of the big statue read, “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” I wondered if you could build a mountain of hope from those stones, a thought that I would carry well past the election.
Our next stop was the Lincoln Memorial―a place swarming with people. When I stood at the very top, taking in the gorgeous view, there was a feeling of empowerment knowing that this is where Martin Luther King Jr. professed his dream. He looked out at those people and believed he could say all the right words to keep their spirits high, to keep them believing we were headed in the direction of better times. Then it was a sickening feeling, a moment of realization; of why he gave that speech, why he was fighting, and why he was killed. This feeling reminded me of what brought us to DC before―to march for Jena Six. That seemed so long ago, almost ten years. It was November then, cold, but thousands of people came out and marched. Walking through the nation's capital, feeling like you’re at the center of America, there’s a feeling of both pride and confliction. It eats at you how you could be born in America’s bosom, raised on her soil, but treated as some lesser stepchild because of your race and skin color. You never get a chance to forget you aren't equal. Such heavy thoughts while in front of such a beautiful view.
On the bus ride back to our hotel a young woman sat beside me. She carried in her arms a little black girl—tiny, a toddler that knew nothing of this world. She knew nothing of Lincoln or Martin, Trump or Hillary, hate or racism―she was pure innocence. When she lifted her head to look at me, I saw the most beautiful brown eyes. In those eyes I realized that she had a chance to grow up to see a woman president, would go to school and learn of a black president, and it gave me hope that our small changes could be big for her future. Those innocent eyes knew nothing of this country’s evils, of man’s darkness, and of all the obstacles that were built against her before she was even born. She deserved to see a better tomorrow. Deep down, beyond all my conflictions, I still believed in the America that I call home. Home didn’t always love me, but it doesn't always hate me either. Hopefully, it would never hate her, and a step in that direction would be electing our first female president over her opponent.
Day 3: Inside The White House
The next day I woke up and put on a sweatshirt that said, “Kanye West For President.” There's a very slim chance that I will ever have the opportunity to endorse Mr. West at the White House again. Just know that the shirt received tons of attention throughout the day. It was early morning when we left the hotel, we saw a guard moments after exiting the taxi―strong, serious and holding a gun that most will only see during war. There’s a sign that tells people not to pet the dogs, they aren’t friendly. You have to go through two I.D. checks, one metal detector, and one thorough pat-down before entering the East Wing. As you walk through the security check there are pictures of Barack and his family along with the walls, it’s almost like a scrapbook of moments from the last eight years. People stared happily, but we all knew that in a few months these photos would be removed, and another family would take over this space. It wouldn’t be the same.
There’s something magical about walking through the White House with your grandmother knowing she never imagined that she would be here during a black man’s presidency. She’s a strong old sport that remembers darker days in America. I thought about how my mother is from a small town in Alabama, and how she can remember being one of the first black girls to attend an all-white school after the end of segregation. I remembered how she faced boycotts from adults who didn’t want her there, how she faced their children who mistreated her, how she had to fight for no other reason than being born black and in Alabama. She's a strong woman who had to fight from an early age, and yet, has not an ounce of malice in her blood. She deserved to go into the White House and joke with a black Secret Service agent who was from a small town in Alabama that shared her surname. Watching my mother and her mother try and bribe him to meet the president with red velvet cake was priceless.
Gorgeous is an understatement when trying to describe the beauty of the White House structure. It truly feels like a palace fit for a king. What I loved the most are the giant portraits that hung from the walls. All the presidents and their wives are painted and placed somewhere in the enormous home after their term is completed. They all look like nobles or aristocrats―painted to appear big, bold, and powerful. These are the men of America’s past, who held the most honorable position in the country, and Obama's will be hung along with them after he leaves. Ronald Reagan didn’t look like a devil, more like a man that would host late-night television. The portrait of Bill Clinton got a lot of attention; people still love him like they love Michael Jackson. There was a portrait of Hillary hanging in a restricted area, but people still got as close as possible to take a picture.
At the very end of the tour, I saw an image that was unlike all the others. It wasn’t vibrant, nor strong, but grim and melancholy. It was a painting of John F. Kennedy, and I stared at him for a very long time. Out of all the presidents, he appeared as the only one who was shouldering the burdens of an entire country’s past sins and future promises. If a leader is supposed to represent his people, the portrait of Kennedy was the only one that resembled a mirror. In the last eight years, Obama's appearance has aged like all men have aged, but there’s a grayness to him, a weariness that wasn’t there before. I see that grayness in Kennedy’s portrait, maybe it’s the inheritance of anyone that is fighting for the betterment of this country. The grayness that comes before the color of change. Or it could be the gray of knowing this country will kill you before ever changing.
The Day Trump Won
We were leaving DC when the votes were being tallied. Our vehicle was in Baltimore, in the hands of family who was getting it prepared for our trip back home. During the drive, I got a chance to reflect on the energy that I felt while in the downtown area. All day, everywhere I turned, Hillary’s name was on the tip of every tongue. In the gift shop, in the elevator, in the taxi—even the children seemed to celebrate her victory early. The people of DC believed they knew who the next president would be. It felt as if Trump wasn’t running, that he was just the opponent who had already lost. To say they were hopeful would be an understatement; they were certain. I guess we all were if I’m being realistic. Trump reminded me of Heath Ledger’s Joker―he has a quote that goes, “As you know, madness is like gravity...all it takes is a little push,” and Trump was pushing with all his might. He was a man of malice, a disgusting balance of racism and sexism, who made it this far by feeding hatred. The racists and bigots ate up his message, devoured his views, and knighted him the leader of their revolution. I saw the rallies, I saw how that hatred was building up to something, but I never imagined it would erupt into a victory for him.
When it was announced that Trump had won, I was with my mother, and there was no joy or hope in her eyes. All I could see is deep disdain, as if she put all her trust into someone, and was hit with the realization that they had lied. The lie was that America had progressed beyond the country that it once was. Not only did he win, but we had to face that fact people voted to elect him. It's sickening that there are real people who don’t believe in the dangers of climate change, that want to ruin the lives of immigrants, that could give a damn about woman’s rights; people so full of hatred they would rather elect an unqualified madman than put this country’s future in the hands of a woman. I didn’t agree with Hillary on all of her views, but I hated the idea of a Trump presidency more than anything else. I hate that this is our reality.
Our president-elect is being backed by the KKK and the American Nazi Party. They celebrated when he appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. His vice president is Mike Pence―the Lex Luthor to Donald’s Joker. Their combined evil is overwhelming. They are backed by a league of people who are violent, hateful and racist, who want nothing more than darkness. It feels as if we are living within two Americas, and the one that was victorious is the America that would rather our blood spill into the soil of this country than help build it up to be great. For all its beauty, for all the gifted freedom, America still has issues that need to be resolved. Issues that we have to face.
I hate to live in a world where I have to question if my uncle will be murdered by a police officer just because he’s big and black. I hate to live in a world where my children might come home and repeat to their grandmother and great grandmother the very things that were said to her 50 or 60 years ago. I hate to live in a world where I’m texting my Muslim friends trying to show my support knowing that they are frightened. I hate to live in a world where my colleagues and peers are trying to find the right words to explain to their sons and daughters why this man is our president and what that means about this country. This is a nightmare, our nightmare that we can’t awake from. Yet, in a way, these are problems that would be here regardless of if Trump won or lost. Going to Washington felt like recognizing all the progress America has made, and by the time I left I was facing that we still have so much more progress to make.
My fight doesn't end here no matter the outcome. I could have felt a bit more comfortable but a felt sense of security had Hillary won, because the things that I've been talking about this year and going hard on are the same. Those things have not changed. They've just manifested themselves in slavery, Jim Crow Laws, segregation and mass incarceration. Even the conversations people have about mass incarceration don't get to the issue. They always talk about nonviolent crimes. They don't even get the issue and how different this nation treats its prison system. It's not just nonviolent offenders that need to be re-evaluated. It's the entire mother----ing system. - Vic Mensa Pleads for Change After Trump's Win: 'We Need to Unify
America is the only home that I know. It’s where I was born and where I was raised. It has taught me both love and hate. It has taught me both security and fear. I’ve seen possibilities to exceed all limitations, and I’ve seen the cage that traps all your potential. I’ve seen America elect a black man who promised change, and I’ve seen America elect a white man who promoted hate. To be black in America, to be a minority in America, is a constant state of confliction. This is the land of opportunity, the land of freedom, but you have to fight for it. Trump is just another challenger to fight against. I pray that this is a fight that will bring us closer, and from the darkness, an ultralight beam of change that will take us into the future. It’s a bit naive, but to have any hope for the future is to be naive enough to believe that we can overcome.
I don’t have the answers, but I’m searching for them—searching for the right steps so that I don’t have to live in a world that is more of a nightmare than a dream. I just know that if you’re angry, you must organize that anger. If you’re frightened, we have to organize that fear. I still believe that more Americans want what’s better for this country. This isn’t hell, and if it was, what matters most is how you walk through the fire. So let's decide to walk together. Trump is a wake-up call for some, but for most, he's just a reminder that there are many more fights ahead.
May YG's words help us through these tough times. Fuck Donald Trump.
“I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her” - James Baldwin
By Yoh, aka Y.F.K., aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Yoh