How Much Will Black Lives Matter In Trump's America?

"It’s no longer the case that the white fringe dwellers are on the fringe — they are literally in power now."
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Roosevelt Institute Fellow, MSNBC pundit, Columbia University professor, author (the upcoming The Three Faces of Unions) – Dorian Warren is or has been all these things, along with chairing the Center for Community Change, and serving as Research Associate at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies. Often called to television roundtables and policy conferences to speak about race, economic inequality and labor, Warren talked to Capital & Main last week on the coming Trump years.

Capital & Main: So after this unprecedented presidential campaign, what can we all do now?

Dorian Warren: Number one: We need to build a defense around immigrants. We need to mobilize non-immigrant folks around this deportation issue, which is immediate. Making schools sanctuaries, et cetera. Two: We have to defend the social safety net– Social Security, welfare, everything. Those are all in danger. Without them, people are going to suffer and people are going to die, without question. We have to raise up those stories of harm. Even if mainstream or legacy media don’t do it, social media can do it, for younger folks especially. The media landscape has changed to the point where there are options.

And as we do these things we have to keep the long-term vision in mind. We need to be recruiting people to be engaged all the time, not just for the short term. I’m hopeful that this Trump victory will mobilize everybody. Frankly I don’t think we have a choice — our backs are to the wall now. Republicans are going to be drunk on power, and there’s a lack of compassion and a lack of apology about it.

How do we mobilize black people around immigration? What’s little discussed is that African Americans have complicated feelings about immigration and always have because of their struggles with employment and discrimination that cuts across color lines. It’s one reason why some black folks voted for Trump.

Black people are immigrants, too — even though we don’t think of immigrants as black, especially in California. But what worries me is that if the new administration has a law-and-order posse rounding up immigrants, they could come for us. So we have to link our fates, protect groups that are as targeted as we have been, historically. But it won’t be easy because [the] Latino leadership has ignored black crises. We’re going to have to figure it out.

Black Lives Matter is related to the deportation question—Republicans will deploy the same troops to quell our protests. That’s scary. We’ll all be targets. So what does pushback look like? I think in this period we have to be really local. There’s some silver lining there. In Chicago, where I live, we won a really important DA race, replacing a conservative Latina with a progressive black woman. It didn’t get a lot of media attention but that’s the kind of thing that could make a big difference. We could still offer transformative policy and reform on the local level. It’s part of something else bigger that we have to do, which is developing a deeper bench—training progressive people, running them for office and really holding them accountable. I’m over electing Democrats and hoping they’ll do the right thing, voting [while] keeping my fingers crossed.

Columbia University professor Dorian Warren.
Columbia University professor Dorian Warren.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

What power do black folks have at this point in enacting their own agenda of change that has some momentum going, mostly around Black Lives Matter? In the current atmosphere of blatant racial intolerance, that agenda feels like an uphill battle, to say the least.

Race is a big issue that we don’t want to look at fully. The voters who scored high on racial anxiety voted overwhelmingly for Trump. But there’s this other story perpetuated about the white working class: We say they voted against a bad economy, but really they voted their self-interest in being white. It wasn’t a class vote, it was an emotional vote. I go back to W.E.B. Du Bois who talked about “the wages of whiteness.” He talked about whites benefiting by allying with the planter class and getting a psychological wage, not a material wage. We’ve seen this story before, and black people have certainly seen it. But the bottom line is that a lot of whites can’t admit to this tribal dynamic, it’s too painful for them.

White supremacy kills us, but it also kills white folks on food stamps. Black people have always been trying to hold up the mirror, from Frederick Douglass on. We were lulled to sleep because of the Obama years, all that post-racial talk–a lot of white people believed that. Then we were waking up — because of the attention being focused on police brutality, and some of us just assumed that white tribalism wasn’t a thing anymore. But it is. There’s not much we can do, white folks have to step up and have courageous conversations amongst each other.

It’s no longer the case that the white fringe dwellers are on the fringe — they are literally in power now. I’m really worried about vigilante violence, about this idea of putting people back in their place. George Zimmerman showed us that. This election for Trump is a big Zimmerman on steroids, and everyone out there is Trayvon Martin.

Are there certain civil rights gains that Americans will absolutely fight to protect?

I’m at a loss as to what will persuade whites to take action or do the right thing. I don’t think they’ll even stand up for civil rights, because some white folks see civil rights as not affecting them. I don’t think Republicans will try to roll back gay rights, but they will go after reproductive rights for sure. They’ll try to defund Planned Parenthood. Will women stand up for it? I’m not sure. What’s certain is that white folks in need will be very hurt overall, and our job as a progressive movement is to lift these things up and explain to people that this is a result of Trump. Keep saying that over and over.

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