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.