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Red, Black and Blue in Trump's America: How to Live King's Dream in the Age of Trump

Your survival checklist for getting through the rest of the 45th presidency.

Art by Tylonn Sawyer

It takes practice to make history.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. presented an early draft of his "I Have a Dream" speech during the Detroit Walk to Freedom event on June 23, 1963. A precursor to that iconic moment on Aug. 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., King articulated the measure of a country's conscience and appealed to the higher natures of a society deeply divided by race.

The man who would embody that dream in the most unexpected way was born two years earlier on Aug. 4, 1961. Barack Obama became the 44th president of the United States. In his own speeches, Obama would frequently reference King's remark that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but bends toward justice."

Then came Donald Trump. And all hell broke visibly loose. Like a supernatural force lifting itself from the shadowy recesses of an anger that was bubbling up during the infancy of the first black presidency, we saw a horribly distorted mirror image of the country that countered King's utopian vision.

The result?

We gave America our best and the country – not the electorate, but the Electoral College – responded by giving us its worst. "What do you have to lose?" Trump asked black voters while on the campaign trail. Then, swiftly, white supremacy got its chance to bathe in the sunshine, scrambling out of the darkness and into our Facebook feeds and Twitter streams and onto our scorched highways. Torches were lit, and we saw a harbinger of the next four years, starkly, unforgivably real, or surreal, depending upon your line of sight. The optics hardly matter, because we've been here before. It's the dissonance – the discontinuity – that's so damn unbearable.

When we celebrate MLK Day on Jan. 15, it'll be hard to ignore that five days later marks one year since Trump was sworn into office. With rhetoric of "American carnage" and "America first, America first," he set the tone for what turned out to be a tumultuous 2017. As we stare at the precipice of 2018, the canvas, if not blank, is unknowable. Let us remember that the tea party was to conservatives as the Black Lives Matter movement is to liberals and the defenders of freedom. Both movements demanded something of its government – only Black Lives has an undercurrent of dread, death and hints of a Reconstruction Era fracturing of the black soul.

And yet …

We don't have to sit around complaining about it every time a tweet threatens national security or embarrasses us. We can get active. We can mobilize. We are a people who brought with us the melancholy of the blues, the improvisational majesty of jazz and the distinctive backbeat of rock 'n roll. We can be what we are all called to be – Americans. Whether we're black, Latino, Middle Eastern, LGBTQ or any other label you want to cast on us, we can be King's dream. Because we already are.

This Trump survival guide has some tips to keep you actively engaged in the fight.

 

DO

...laugh whenever possible.
Find catharsis in whatever corner of the world makes you happy. Comedians such as Bill Maher, Steven Colbert, Dave Chappelle and others are showing us how cathartic a laugh can be. We laugh because it's true. We might even laugh to keep from crying. Just. Don't. Stop.

...join a group.
No one should ever exist in a vacuum. If you have ideas, share them. Collaborate. The Detroit Branch NAACP is a good place to start – even the ACLU or the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

...vote.
It borders on cliché, but whenever there's a disruption in the status quo, we're reminded how crucial our votes are. Yes. Every. Vote. Counts. Just ask Senate hopeful, and candidate for the sorest loser in modern American politics, Roy Moore. Not only did the black vote upend Alabaman forecasts, the black voice was resoundingly effective.

...your homework.
Read James Baldwin's nonfiction writings for revelatory context. There's a reason he's been called prophetic. We've seen Trump before. His name, then, was McCarthy. And before that, Hoover. Learn all you can about American and African-American history.

...your thing, whatever it may be.
Whatever it is you're good at, wherever your passion lies, do it well, but stay connected. Don't just write an angry post. Go beyond that.

 

DON'T

...panic.
Seriously. What's the use? At this point we've seen Trump's greatest-hits collection. That's not to say he doesn't have a few surprises in store for us this year, but we're ready. You know it's coming. Now, we all anticipate the chaos.

...wait for someone else to fix it.
It's our collective problem, so if that means anything to you, take it up. Plenty of people are creating art, T-shirts, movies, books and interpretative dances. Don't just complain about it. Do your part.

...lose your respect, especially for black people who disagree with you.
If there are 10 million black folk in America, then there are 10 million ways to be black. Embrace it.

...blame your white friends for supporting Trump.
People make mistakes. Even massive, epic mistakes that cost the country. For better or for worse, we're all in this together.

...give up. Ever.
 You can't. It's not an option. Now, more than ever, your country needs you.

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