“Politics and hypocrites is turning us all into lunatics.” — Marvin Gaye
The great author Ralph Ellison wrote, “I’m an invisible man, and it placed me in a hole—or showed me the hole I was in if you will—and I reluctantly accepted the fact.” He reminds us that there is more to creating spaces that are liberation focused than just knowing what’s right – you should also do what’s right. In his 1952 book, Invisible Man – a story of a young, college-educated black man struggling to survive and succeed in a racially divided society that refuses to see him as a human being – Ellison opens up a conversation about civics, education, and financial independence. This story points to how being our authentic selves can help us bounce back from this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis.
Not long ago, I received a call from a Black Lives Matter activist asking me to be her Congressional campaign manager. We knew each other from past work and shared a close relationship through a civil rights leader that lived in the district. After talking with him and coordinating living arrangements, I traveled to the state, to be her campaign manager.
My first day on the ground was a bit unusual; our every step was being filmed for a movie scheduled to air on Netflix, which meant our every conversation was public. It took a few weeks to build electoral momentum, but we soon hit our stride and took the lead in our Congressional bid. Soon after, we began receiving public criticism for our campaign theme #BeThe1st — asking voters to make her the first woman represent CD-1. We were ridiculed on social media for her “body type,” and it affected her confidence. She began to question if she “looked like” a Congress member and wanted to change her look. I advised her, “Inquire within, the answer to every question in any situation lives within you. The intelligence inside you has all the answers, so consult your inner wisdom. Don’t question, analyze, or doubt the first answer it gives you. Listen and obey, and we won’t go wrong.”
We doubled down and ran as our authentic selves. Later, we experienced a devastating car accident that forced us to decide to suspend the campaign for health reasons. She wanted to continue our rigorous schedule, but the doctors recommend “bed rest,” and I decided to put her health above the campaign. We did not win that race, but she ultimately won that congressional seat in the next election.
After teaching in schools of color – schools with a significant student of color population, I’m reminded that “it takes good policies from good leaders to make a good change.” Leaders should not use “inappropriately” targeted messages and “hyper-partisan” mobilization campaigns to disrespect others. Using culturally insensitive terms or twisting offhand remarks about gender, race, or religion, sparks reactions, and unintended consequences. Underneath these micro-aggressions are subtle references to our values that feed a sense of cultural paranoia and or suspicion.
The use of shame and fear to motivate partisan supporters also triggers a downward spiral that adds to society’s dysfunction. We are in one of the toughest periods in American history. There is a campaign to suppress emotions through unhealthy activities while ignoring the looming financial crisis. What’s worse is that tactics like these produce anti-public education leaders. Our goal should be to acknowledge the current environment and work to fix the problems while addressing culturally relevant issues related to it.
Back in the 2006 elections, extremists unleashed a harsh “cultural war” to get their base to vote. The political atmosphere is similar to that of today. However, there’s strong evidence that things may be different this time.
- We’ve had four years of new registrants, and many young voters plus voters of color (VOC) will vote for the first this year.
- Political geography is surging in majority-minority cities like Norfolk; the population grew 3.4% to 242,803.
- This gives Norfolk more than 83,000 “key” Voters of Color.
- People of Color are over 26% of Virginia’s Citizen Voting Age Population — they were 24% of vote share in 2008 and about 23% in 2010.
It’s incredibly important for students of color to learn to address unique cultural concerns at an early age when the mind is most active. Studies show us that learning the appropriate way to heal, grow, and stand up for what they believe in during this cultural storm will stay with them. I like to compare helping students of color to address their unique concerns to self-advocacy and self-management – everyone needs to respect and set healthy boundaries.
As Ellison states in his prologue, “I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” Suppose a new coalition of conscious Whites, Latinos, African Americans, Asians, Native Americans, Women, and Young Voters all demanded honest and trustworthy leaders. Our nation could quickly bounce back after this global pandemic, economic, civil, and human rights crisis. If we all are civically engaged, this turmoil we have today will give way to a full, coordinated community experience. Moreover, we should continue to develop transformational relationships that dramatically impact education, leadership, and civic engagement. If we unify, the entire nation will discover a renewed sense of civility. Students of color will develop a healthy self-confidence, see themselves as capable learners, and become authentic leaders. In turn, they will be the first generation to live free from the fear of poverty, violence, and premature death.
To be continued …
Kirk Clay is the President of Capitol View Advisors — a collaborative acting on its values in creative and strategic ways to connect communities with the information and resources they need to support and further their aspirations.