I have been rolling my eyes — smiling, happy, and annoyed — all day. I feel so indifferent.
I’m the daughter of a retired schoolteacher-ish Black woman who was 13 years old in Tylertown, Mississippi, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. She grew up in the height of Jim Crow segregation, and her senior high school class was among the first in the Deep South to integrate.
I’m the step-daughter of a proud Army Special Forces vet who, after retiring, drove trucks — a man who fought in Desert Storm and led several missions he can’t tell anyone about and twitches a little if you mention certain things. My dad isn’t a conservative, but he is still a man from Monticello, Mississippi, who grew up poor and uninvolved.
I’m the granddaughter of people who got to breathe and digest all they’d done in the civil rights movement. They’d grown fatigued after Medgar, Martin and Malcolm were killed, but they reengaged in local matters and built community with the folks in Walthall County. My grandpaw had a garden that grew greens and other fresh vegetables that he let anybody take. The family owned a funeral home and would help folks who needed assistance burying their loved ones. It was a selflessness that couldn’t be taught.
To honor this moment when Biden and Harris were sworn in, my mama wore chucks and pearls. My daddy wore his Army Special Forces hat. They sat in the living room in complete awe that they lived to see a Black man become president and a Black-Asian American woman become vice president.
My parents and grandparents lived in a time where this moment was a wild dream and never completely fathomable. They are proud and happy today, and it is so pure. I understand their excitement on a deeply personal and unexplainable level.
But as they fell asleep on the couch after Biden and Harris took their oaths, I immediately began to feel my politics take over and my own contradictions take center stage as I processed this moment in history.
I have recently begun to wrestle with a lot of my values and beliefs — my upbringing and the world I want to see in my lifetime. All of it is real, but often, it’s all contradictory. I feel that especially hard today.
I cringed as Jennifer Lopez sang “This Land,” and not even four minutes later, one of the Indigenous folks I follow reposted on Instagram: “… As it’s sung at the inauguration, it is a reminder of how this country came to be. It is erasure of the Indigenous history and anti-Indigenous. This IS stolen land.”
After reading that post, I was undone. I thought back to all the things Mississippi Studies and no other History Class in my public schooling ever taught me. I thought about the truth of who and what both Biden and Harris represent, and who they have been and not been in their political careers.
None of us are perfect, and all deserve grace. But I am struggling with what we are holding ourselves as hostage to in our choices and within the possibilities for our democracy.
All we have done with this election is borrow more time.
I, myself, made an intentional decision last year to help us borrow that time. In 2016, I supported Bernie Sanders. His policies and ideas align closely with mine. But after talking to my mama last year — my mama understands something about this country that I will never know — I made a conscious decision to vote for Biden. I felt he gave us the best chance to defeat Trump.
I was strategic, learned and calculated in that decision AND clear that my vote was a deliberate and intentional decision to buy more time.
Today, all I hear is Angela Davis saying, “… we cannot rely on governments, no matter who is in power, to do the work that only mass movements can do.”
I want us to keep imagining beyond. For the life of me, I don’t want us to become complacent.
Complacent is what we became in the Obama era. I’m petrified that this moment will feel so symbolic, just like it was in 2008, and that we get comfortable. The electoral work of our movement shouldn’t cease. I want us to recalibrate and reassess what our collective agenda will be over the next four years, across ideologies and practices that center the lives and wellbeing of Black folks.
I want us to all get comfortable in our contradictions — those of us who call ourselves organizers, thought leaders of/in movement, freedom dreamers, “political operatives at the intersection” of all of this, or whatever fancy titles we’ve given ourselves. Because when we get honest, we can work.
My mama wouldn’t believe this, but the honesty and love of Black women in Mississippi, especially her, have been my moral compass in this complex electoral work I do. Because of her and a few of my elders, I’m not tethered to any idea of political purity. I learned early on when I began my nonprofit electoral organizing work to not stress myself out with ideological purity, either.
I am the daughter of that schoolteacher, the step-daughter of that truck driver with the military background, the granddaughter of those selfless community builders. I really do understand my parents’ happiness today and what it would have meant to my grandparents.
But I am also a girl who came of age in the 1990s, a millennial who is a student of the freedom struggle, Ella Baker style. I’ve learned the teachings of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and I have a deep respect for the Republic of New Afrika. I AM INDIFFERENT!
I’m not happy. I’m not unhappy. I’m just clear.
Never doubt that I am always clear and always calculated in my work. As are my people. The South — Mississippi, more specifically — continues to show this country, especially down ballot, that this ain’t the Old South.
So, here we are in this moment and we still have work to do.
We still must organize.
We still must become more clear and more aligned as a movement.
We must know our roles and play them well.
And we must get honest about the contradictions so that we can clear the air and move.
It’s the first step in the path forward.