Editor’s note: This was written the day before the election.
Right now, my only aim to is write words I may need to read when I wake up on Wednesday, Nov. 4. With many votes still uncounted, and fear still swinging about violently and unchecked, what words might possibly bring me comfort?
Clearly, I am extremely anxious. But I am trying to think past the despair and chaos and horror and hopelessness — all things I have felt over the past four years. Instead, I hope to remind myself and everyone I know that we will survive and thrive, no matter what happens. How do I know this? Because we have done it before!
In the most literal sense, when I say “we,” I mean African Americans. But I also mean everyone whose human and civil rights are threatened by a government system that tolerates burning black churches, 2020 poll taxes, separating immigrant children from their parents, and then storing them in cages. “We” survived oppression before, and we will do it again.
My family is from the American South, with roots in precisely the parts that you imagine when you think of violent racism. Not only did my grandparents survive not being permitted to vote (not because it was illegal but because they would have been killed), but they raised a joyful, raucous tribe of children, several of whom later became Election Day poll workers.
They raised happy, ambitious children, who raised happy, even more ambitious grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They bought a home. They danced. They created memories. They didn’t just survive. They sought peace and joy. None of it was easy, but even in the midst of America’s particular brand of legal terrorism, our families dwelled in productive, joyful things.
And my people in a broader sense, African Americans? What a history! In an America that has always stood willing to deny us every civil right the Constitution sees fit to tease us with, my people created jazz and the blues and R&B and hip-hop. My people painted, took photographs, wrote poems, and cultivated a powerful form of Christian worship. Not only did they fight for their civil rights, but they also birthed the Jacksons and The Supremes.
They had — we have — movies and books and musicals and the best dance moves. We have grand cultural movements in the arts and sciences, not just in politics. We educated ourselves and our children, making progress, socially and financially, that no one could have envisioned 100 years ago. In fact, resentment over that progress appears to be at the heart of the most racially divisive political positions today — many don’t wish to share space, resources, or opportunities with African-American citizens, having long ago accepted the narrative that we are inherently unworthy and unqualified for anything good.
In other words, my people are amazing. We never just fought; we have always lived, too.
As for me? I chose to live in Oak Park. More than any other place I have lived, it is intentionally populated by people who are open to seeing the ugliness in America, and then being better. Obviously, Oak Park makes a lot of mistakes. But I can’t imagine ever again living in a place that is not intentional about trying to be a better version of the American promise. I know many of my white neighbors still struggle with implicit and unconscious bias. Still, the fact that every other house and every single church seems to have a Black Lives Matter sign means so much to my spirit. I feel free to seek joy and justice here.
So no matter who is rioting after the winner of this election is determined, I want to remember that although there will be pain, but there will also be survival, with a plethora of things that are worth surviving for. There will still be joy. We will still move intentionally toward justice. And we shall have dancing, literature, music, fellowship and friendship along the way.
Losing an election would not mean that we are defeated. That said, may the promise of justice and equity win the day.
Khara Coleman is an Oak Park resident, and the promise of justice and equity did win the day.