As the USA’s political passion heats up in response to Donald J. Trump, here is a reminder that we have been here before. Undoubtedly, we have even been here before in the most literal sense. So, if I may, let me preface my fact-and-fiction connections with two easy substitutions: 1) read “Anglo-Saxon Association of America” as “Conservative Republicans” and 2) read “Knights of Nordica” as “Ku Klux Klan.” Cue literature:
[The Anglo-Saxon Association of America] is a group of rich highbrows who can trace their ancestry back almost two hundred years. You see they believe in white supremacy the same as [the Knights of Nordica] but they claim that the Anglo-Saxons are the cream of the white race and should maintain the leadership in American social, economic and political life. […] This crowd thinks they’re too highbrow to come in with the Knights of Nordica. They say our bunch are morons. […] Well, what I’m trying to do now is to bring these two organizations together. We’ve got numbers but not enough money to win an election; they have the jack. If I can get them to see the light we’ll win the next Presidential election hands down. (p 100-1)
Scary stuff, huh? Sounds a bit like the inner-workings of a particular candidate’s mind, eh? I know. The good news, or at least the palatable news, is that this quote is from a marvelously funny satire about racism in America.
The quote is taken from Black No More, author George S. Schuyler’s laugh-out-loud novel published in 1931. It’s available on Amazon and worth reading, particularly if you presently live in the United States of America and you are of African ancestry. I do not want to give too much of the plot away — because jokes are best when you do not know the punchlines — but I will say that Black-No-More is a product and a process that makes black people black-no-more. Genius, right!? The fictional inventor of Black-No-More, Dr. Crookman, creates this product because there are only three possible ways for black people to solve their problems in America: “To either get out, get white or get along.” Since Dr. Crookman himself was not able to leave, and was only “getting along indifferently,” the only option was for him to “get white;” thus, Black-No-More is born (p 8). Unselfishly, he decides to offer this race/ism “cure” to America. The novel explores what if anything changes when racial diversity is taken out of the equation. Are America’s problems erased? Don’t worry, I won’t spoil your reading with an answer.
Via Dr. Crookman, George S. Schuyler raises some contemporaneously worthwhile questions. As an African diasporan dwelling in these United States, what is one to do? Get out? Get white? or Get along? Racial passing has its issues and Vybz Kartel’s
Black-No-More-like claims about his brand of cake soap is just plain shameful. So I’m going to say that getting white is off the table. President Obama’s successful elections in 2008 and 2012
proves that gestures towards the idea that getting along has been working. But the inability of a divided system to pass progressive legislation, the necessity of the Black Lives Matter movement, the violence that once surrounded the Tea Party patriots and is now surrounding Trump’s events, suggests that getting along is not on the immediate horizon. So, perhaps Marcus Garvey was on to something. Is now the time for America’s dark others to seek alternate shores? Is now the time for diasporans to return to prior lands? Is it time to get out of America?
In his memoir, Sand for Snow (2003), Robert Sandiford chronicled his move from the Canada of his birth to the Caribbean island of his parents’. Even though Sandiford had “known for a long time [that] there are options available” to him in Barbados, as he prepared for departure to the island, he recognized that “this move will be a challenge, physically, mentally, culturally, socially, and, of course, financially. Setting up home and shop will not be easy” (p 17-8). In his 1995 book Going Home to Teach, celebrated author Anthony Winkler wrote about the difficulties of his return to Jamaica in 1975 after living in the States for thirteen years. Jamaica’s political instability notwithstanding, Winkler writes, “Shock, disbelief greeted me when I said that I was on my way back. Back to Jamaica? I was clearly out of my mind. Some of these new arrivals [to the States] said so with looks; some said so plainly” (p 33). And in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah (2013) when her fictional protagonist Ifemelu, says that she has decided to leave Princeton, New Jersey to return to Nigeria, her favorite aunt replies, “will you be able to cope?” (p 20). Like Ifemelu, I ask: cope with what? Despite the mostly positive portrayals of their respective repatriations, these literary examples all point to the perceived greatness of America and the presumed less-than status of Barbados, Jamaica, and Nigeria, in comparison. If Adichie, Winkler, or Sandiford had set their stories in a time like now, in a time of political intensity, in a time of racial hostility that is being goaded by a presidential candidate, would their protagonists still have encountered doubting naysayers?
Trump’s viable candidacy has done a lot for America. Most notably it has exposed the racism, the sexism, and the xenophobia that has always been a part of America. It also exposes America as hypocritical. Think about it. Doesn’t America try to “save” developing nations from candidates like Trump? Alas, as he marches closer to November’s election and if Hillary Clinton is there to meet him, he will also attract the votes of the most subtle “ism,” the one coded simply and publicly as “preference.”
Get out, get white, or get along, wrote Schuyler. Dabbling in the speculative genre and a socialist himself, Schuyler used the space of his novel to satirically stick it to W.E. B. DuBois and DuBois’ powerful assertion that the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line. And now, even though we are a quarter way into the year 2016, America’s problems remain rooted in racism. DuBois was right. But so was Schuyler. Capitalism is also to blame. I mean, hey, history shows that the one has fueled the other. So what do we do now? We vote. We vote like our lives depend on it. And, in the meantime, we have a suitcase ready.
I have several reactions:)
On voting: You’re right that we must vote. I hope that the visible and successful attempts to restrict and reduce voting rights make people see that “Anglo-Saxon Association of America” has zero intention of being subtle or discreet about how they feel the country should be and who should be able to participate. I hope everyone sees that and that it motivates them to vote hard. We, the people, cannot allow complacency or sheer exhaustion to contribute to this insult. At any rate, I’ll keep my suitcase ready because even after this election is all said and done, the exposed blatant hypocrisies and alleged “preferences” are going to have to be addressed.
On the grass being greener elsewhere: Ta-nehisi Coates spoke at my school last week about his experiences as a black American man living in Paris now and he said he had a wave of sadness at one point when walking by people just sitting around outside hanging out along the Seine. He said he was sad because he never experienced the feeling of just chillin’ with friends outside night/day without having to consider what it looked like because all he knew growing up in Baltimore was that he had to constantly be aware of how he was being perceived as a black male (which was negative), who he was with (because groups of black males are negative), what he was wearing (because clothing worn by black males is negative) etc. He said school wasn’t a positive experience because it was presented as the place you went so you wouldn’t go to jail. That, he felt, was a terrible message to receive. What happens if you don’t like one of your classes?? I share this to say, my suitcase is always ready as well because I also enjoy the “lighter” feeling of not being perceived as something negative when I leave this country. You have a point that in those different books the fictional protagonists may have received a much different reaction if they were leaving the US during this presidential campaign instead, but to be fair, I don’t get how at any time in US history there could be a question as to how a person of color would cope not being in the US. I was like “Really??? You believe that constant yelling ‘we’re number one!’ with no mention of who the ‘we’ is and furthermore, this country has a well documented history outlining how the ‘we’ ain’t ‘us’?? come on, aunty!!”
And on getting along: Isn’t the default to this option only indifference? One of my students mentioned that the increased numbers of trump signs in her neighborhood has made her anxious and want to move. But she’s a kid. She has no choice but to get along… indifferently at best. I think this might be the case for millions of kids at the moment. All of our parents taught us to play without hitting/biting/pushing/yelling etc, to include our little siblings when we didn’t always want to, to use our words rather than throw tantrums when things didn’t go our way. At this very moment a million kids are watching their parents contradict that very message and a bunch of these kids are resigning themselves to getting along indifferently. That’s tough. I assume the “get out” alternative is in some of their minds in the way of college or their 18th birthday and of course, there’s the “get white” alternative which is the one where these confused kids just dutifully do what they see around them and become part of the vitriol thus leading to repetition. Sigh.
The grass will always be greener. You are right. Especially when faced with immediate danger and immediate fear. Instinct warrants flight for survival. Instinct also activates memory. Surely there is a way to get along, a way to be inclusive, a way to make progress without dividing the nation, the world. On the one hand I am hopeful that these dreams can be a reality. On the other hand, I am fearful that it will not be any time soon. We will likely need the patience of centuries.
The corrupt political system neglects economic injustice at home, distracted by aggressive engagements abroad. Private funding of elections has rendered government criminally negligent. Mass media broadcasters bear some responsibility. Newer media platforms promise a healthier marketplace of ideas and yet we seem stuck for good with Godwin’s Law.
It seems we’re entering, globally, an era of greater estrangement from government and so, perhaps, a suitcase should wait always ready. Still, one must persuade and deliberate wherever one can to make our communities more inclusive.
“Estrangement from government”- yes, I think you are right. And, yes, new media- social media- has the possibility of curbing or furthering the estrangement. It seems that community building is what we need. Neighbors knowing neighbors. Not neighbors policing neighbors, as Ted Cruz has suggested. Better must come.