Dear graduates of the never-ending 2020 election nightmare, thank you for being here, on Zoom, for what should be a momentous occasion, but will forever be remembered as the year we nearly, almost, kinda, but not really rejected fascism.
I think we, the generations before you, fucked up big time. We should have been working hard at making sure Trumpism (which had existed long before Trump) was eradicated like the measles and smallpox. But somewhere along the path we grew complacent. And here we are, again. Oh, and the measles are once again a thing, too.
White people celebrated the Black president, and worshiped at the feet of our queen Beyoncé, and so we all thought, shit…we’re taking huge leaps forward! White people got woke, and so we all caught the spirit—all of sudden things aren’t as fucked up as they have seemed! And so we got book deals, We grew audiences, fostered a culture. We anointed new knights and more queens. Celebrated hot, new, now social justice warriors. And we cut corners. And as a result, we landed in a place that helped us sell the blueprints to our individual success, but continued to make the map towards equity—the one that we all had first set off in search of—that much more abstract.
Because we thought we were much better off than we actually were, we took our collective eye off the ball. Trumpism (which existed long before Trump) flourished, fed by resentment, fear, and existential dread. Even though Trump lost, we now find ourselves, in many ways, even further back on the path to equity.
And here is what you have to deal with: Trump is gone but he has emboldened a whole army of people who have always felt like things should be done their way and only their way. They were relatively quiet before Trump. White people who have always lived in a world where their experiences, expectations, and perspectives are what create the backdrop of everyone else’s personal narratives—the events that shape my experiences—yet and still, they complain that they are forgotten, ignored and left out. Trump’s rise fed these people. Trump’s defeat does not affect them. They too are now woke, and more importantly—not all of them voted for Trump.
You are graduating into one of the most devastating economic landscapes since the Great Depression, with a biomedical disaster threatening your existence and an ecological nightmare waiting for you in the wings should you survive the Rona and that’s the good news. The good news is that those are the tangible things you are dealing with.
You are also graduating into a world that was not satisfied with run-of-the-mill liars, grifters, and snake-oil salesmen, and so your new world exalts and props up the shittiest of all people—the gaslighters, the low-budget despots, the wanna-be thugs, the small-dick/big ego morons, the self-entitled self-appointed experts, the red-pilled Red Bull-powered patriotism zealot. You are stepping into the middle of a shitty excuse for a coup, but a coup nonetheless. You are surrounded by a lot of folks—some 70 million—who reject science, logic, and empathy and who embrace racism and xenophobia. People who know that cruelty is the point and call that cruelty patriotism.
You deserve better than ongoing oppression, never-ending financial instability, all-encompassing bigotry, and constant dehumanization. You deserve better than rampant conspiracy theories; ignorant and dangerous Army cosplayers; misunderstood statistics; opinion being passed off as research; selfish, shameless, spineless politicians; sore losers with guns, badges and pride; racist television networks acting like they are The Word while testifying that they are entertainment. You deserve more than a president who leads with fear and offers nothing but grievance. You deserve better than the uncertainty that is our current state.
I’d like to end with a story about the Before Days.
One night my younger brother, who lives in New York City, was riding an empty train back home, to Washington Heights, after work. It was the middle of the night. The car was empty so he put his feet up. He leaned back, like I had done so many times before him, and planned on getting a little snooze in before his stop. He had a long way before he would be at 191st Street. A cop got on several stops later. He walked right up to my brother, while he was sleeping, woke him up, and wrote him a ticket for “loitering.”
When my brother got home he called me. He was furious. He was hurt. He insisted that the cop just wanted to fuck with him.
“My dude, just be happy he gave you a ticket and not a death certificate,” I replied. There was a long silence.
“Yeah, whatever,” he said.
And then we talked about football. Although I felt horrible for telling him that, for not taking his side in the matter, my desire to see him alive outweighed my desire for racial progress and police enlightenment. I vowed to do better, to be better. This won’t be a thing by the time he has kids, I told myself.
Donald Trump was not the president when my brother called me that night at 3 a.m., crying, asking for answers. 2020 is still ongoing, somehow Trump is still the president for the foreseeable future, and my brother’s daughter just turned three.
You deserve better.
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