by Reggie Barbour
It’s kind of strange to be a part of a country that celebrates a man who fought against racism on a Monday and swear-in a man who many believe to be a racist as President of the United States on Friday of the same week. It’s strange in an “only in America can something as crazy as this happen” kind-of-way. It’s strange because not only is this country witnessing this craziness, but I live in the city that hosted the infamous March on Washington with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The same city that also hosted the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Donald Trump.
What’s stranger is, I don’t really feel anything other than sorrow. There’s no gleefulness in my soul as I write this. Gone is the joy in my heart that I felt eight years ago when it was President Obama’s turn to be sworn in as President and again, four years later. All I feel now is sorrow and a collective despair that is very familiar to my community.
We realized a long time ago that racist white men do not have our best interests at heart. In my adult years I have had conversations with these types of men and women as they smiled in my face and inwardly felt such disdain for me and my existence that they really never gave me a chance to be anything but a Black man who scared them. I knew that then but I never gave into their feelings because I didn’t want to. For some reason, I felt a hedge of protection around my soul and my being that allowed me to deflect a lot of the racist comments and attitudes put towards me because to me, those things showed the ignorance of the messenger rather than the meekness of me.
I understood the fact that if you don’t know any better or anything different then you’re bound to repeat only what you’ve heard and only what you’ve learned from others. When you don’t take the time to learn about things yourself then you too can also be ignorant to what may be a truth that you will have never known.
That’s how I feel about the backlash against Black entertainers and athletes meeting with the President-elect. Because I am a person who believes in people being able to do whatever they want and not have to explain a damn thing to anyone, I allowed myself (and Steve, and Ray, and Kanye) the option to do the same. I didn’t need to know why they went nor what they talked about. Because frankly, I didn’t care. One conversation with Steve Harvey or Ray Lewis or Kanye West isn’t going to change the trajectory of my life or those of my children. They met with the President-elect because they wanted to - regardless if they were asked or prodded. They did so because they wanted to.
I believe there’s power in learning what you don’t know. Perhaps there were questions these gentlemen had that they felt having the meetings would provide answers to. Perhaps they went because hell, it was the damn President of the United States calling and they felt like they needed to answer, regardless of who the President was. Either way, I don’t fault them for going because I don’t attach anything to myself for their actions. Just like I don’t jump for joy every time Steve Harvey puts out a new book or gets a new television show. Why? Because I don’t have a nickel in that quarter. His life is exactly that - his life. Now outside from providing entertainment for mine (when I decide to tune in) me being personally affected by his choices mean absolutely nothing to me. He has a life to lead as do I. As does Ray and Kanye.
However, the two men whose decisions have and will affect me personally are the two men who we celebrated in the same week of the new year. Because of Dr. King I am able to have the life that I have now with my own set of privileges. And because of President-elect Trump, some of those privileges might be altered or taken away altogether. And while I celebrated on Dr. King, there was no celebration in my house on Inauguration day. The fact is that sorrow and despair describe the feelings that many of my friends and family have. None of us know what the next four years will hold, nor what they will mean for our progress as a race of people. We do, however, know how to hold our heads high, and understand that without struggle there is no progress. And so while we may have to endure through the night before joy comes in the morning, let us do so in a manner that allows us to find answers before assuming, to understand before blaming, and to choose love over hate. This was Dr. King’s message. Let’s allow it to resonate and lead us as we move forward as a race of people who shall not be moved.
Reggie Barbour lives in Washington, DC and is a husband and father of two sons. As an accountant by trade and fierce education advocate by nature, nothing is more important than ensuring his sons receive the best education possible for their lives.