Editor's Note:As the US Presidential Election draws near and the battle between Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump gains more teeth, it might prove instructive to examine the constituency at which the twin campaigns are directed; to understand what America means to its citizens and what these men and women seek from their politicians. To do this Firstpost assembled profiles of a broad section of people, each telling a story that speaks of the (anticipated) state of the union.
In the fourth part, 27-year-old Kedarious Colbert, an urban planner living Longview, Texas talks about the Black Lives Matter movement and his idea of America.
What is your favorite American city, maybe not just from a design standpoint, but also emotionally?
(Washington) DC is one of the most incredible cities. The narrative of how DC came about is interesting. It’s history. Additionally, it’s on a grid, it’s well planned. You can really navigate DC with your eyes closed if you look at the plan one time. You can get around through transportation and it literally has our nation’s secrets. It has kind of preserved our nation’s history in such a small area. I love DC, the local side, outside of the federal side, because it’s a very unique community in itself. And I think it’s evolved from the 1800s. It’s had its periods of different communities and now it’s undergoing a major dislocation. Different people are coming in, different people are kind of being pushed out or migrating out to the suburbs. However, I think the city in itself has an identity, which is kind of unparalleled to other cities. You have your Atlanta, your Houston, San Antonio, or New York, or other major U.S. city, but I love DC just in the fact that it’s a big, small city and so much is happening that impacts the world. And that place, that’s unincorporated, it’s not even a city really, it’s a district. It’s a really cool place, just multifaceted.
Can you identify a symbol, image, or cultural touchstone that’s uniquely American?
Initially, I want to say there’s nothing uniquely American because America is a melting pot. However, at the backdrop of America is slavery, and slavery produced a lot of things. First off, the black American identity, that particular culture, is specific to the US. And I’ll say soul food, the food of African-Americans, is truly American. It’s not found on any other continent. It’s just truly American food. I will go out on a limb and say it’s the only American cuisine because it’s truly a product of America, even though it’s a product of the negative history.
Speaking of DC and the black experience in America, have you gotten a chance to go to the African American History Museum in DC and how do you feel about it?
I’m excited about it! It’s important. It’s so important and I’m glad you asked that questions because the reason why I talk about DC and why I feel like DC is such an important city is because it preserves so many of our histories in America. And African American history is one that is often omitted because we don’t want to tell the ugly story of slavery in this country. We don’t want to talk about the ugly period of civil rights and we don’t want to talk about the movement that we’re in right now, the Black Lives Matter movement. But it’s true to who we are as Americans and we can’t erase that particular history because it in fact makes us who we are as Americans. It has allowed us to be one of the greatest democracies on earth. That’s really born out of our mistakes. I haven’t had the opportunity to personally experience it. Multiple friends have been there, I’m going in the spring. So I’m looking forward to the opportunity to go and experience you know, an era that is reflective of experiences that my grandmother and my great-grandmother had and that are finally on display. So I’m excited about that. And the fact that the daughter of a sharecropper and a black president were able to ring the liberty bell that opened the museum was I think something people would never have imagine would have occurred in America. It gives weight to how far we have come and also how far we have to go. So I think it’s truly symbolic of American progress.
We’re coming off of eight years having a black president. What do you think has changed since Obama was elected, if anything?
In America, I think a lot has changed. The treatment of the most powerful man in the world has changed because he is an African-American. We’ve seen the disrespect from Congressional representation, from American citizens who call themselves patriots. We’ve never witnessed the type of disrespect that President Obama has experienced as a sitting president in the Oval Office. President Obama is a politician just like any other politician. He just happens to be African American. So there were expectations I think people desired of him. There were people on the far left who were demanding reparations and people on the far right who said Obama would not provide any difference. I think he’s met us in the middle. We saw the culmination of years of policies by the former Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy, come to life with the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare. He successfully brought that to fruition. We’ve seen “don’t ask, don’t tell” repealed in addition to a number of advances for the LGBTQ community. We’ve seen a lot of mandatory minimums change, and he’s attempted to create policies to reverse the trend from the Clinton administration and we’ve also seen a man who has redefined the role of the Oval Office and what it means to be president. He’s the first sitting president on Facebook, on Twitter, to have a Blackberry. We have seen a technological revolution of the White House. Him giving those speeches, going live, and really embracing the technological future has revolutionised technology in the White House. He has raised two beautiful daughters there, which we haven’t seen since the Kennedy’s. I think President Obama has changed the way in which American politics will be experienced forever because we can now in this moment say we have a sitting African American president. Will we be able to say that in the future? I don’t know. He nominated incredible Supreme Court justices, one of Latin descent. He did a lot of stuff, I could go on and on. I can’t say that he filled my pocketbook, but what American president will? He’s done a lot. He’s what I would expect a politician to do.
Could you talk a bit about how you’re seeing current movements like Black Lives Matter contributing and where do you see it going in the next five to ten years?
I think it’s gonna go, hopefully, into some type of political formation that pushes for policies. I think that is the direction that it needs to go in even if it’s not going. There is a push for unification across the mission of what Black Lives Matter means because in different communities, Black Lives Matter means different things. For BLM, the meaning in Detroit or Flint, Michigan could mean creating equitable infrastructure and having water. Black Lives Matter in D.C. could be having equitable transportation, access to rail lines and buses. Black Lives Matter was a response to police brutality but is a reverent call to communities and to the government saying, “Don’t forget us. We’re here, we exist, and you need to treat us as if our lives matter.” And that is ensuring that resources exist for us, that experiences that we have are comparable with our white counterparts. That also means that that the justice system should work for us, not only work against us. African Americans are tried, convicted, and incarcerated at rates higher than our white counterparts. When people say “black lives matter,” it comes from so many different emotional points and experiences that you never know truly until you ask, what do you mean by that? And it really creates a conversation. So I want policy formation and responses of major policy changes to be the movement of Black Lives Matter. I think Black Lives Matter should really pick up where the Civil Rights Movement left off. I think that movement should pick and really advance some of the policies to ensure that we don’t reverse our trend or that racism and inequality isn’t just covertly maintained in institutions. I truly hope Black Lives Matter does that, but more so than Black Lives Matter, I really hope that people began to value people and see others’ humanity.
What does “Black Lives Matter” mean to you?
As a city planner, as an African-American male, as a Texan, and a privileged black cis male, Black Lives Matter to me is ensuring that my future as an African-American in this country is equal, equitable, and experienced at the same level as other Americans of any color. Black Lives Matter is more existential to me because I just believe in being. I just want black people to have the ability to be, whatever that is. And not have to be contextualised, like, “Oh this black guy went to a particular school,” or “This black guy dresses a particular way.” I just want the ability to be an American. Black Lives Matter is just a protection of who I am and my ability to exist and be, like every other person. We just want our lives to matter, to not be shot, to not be targeted, to not be discriminated against, to not face inequality and less access to greater education, to live in great communities, to afford to get home and not have to face illegal bank impractical. Black Lives Matter is just the assurance that black people get the experience that Americans are deserving of. I just know my life matters!
Can you tell me what your “ideal” America is?
My ideal America is when people, whoever they are, wherever they live, are able to exist and experience their ideal of America without imposing upon my ideal of America. And it is kind of an extension of the previous answer of being. I realise we live in a country where some white folks have never experienced or been around black people, and they want that experience to remain that way. And that is okay. That is fine. I have a problem with white people who haven’t experienced black people and they begin to impose particular beliefs on us that result in harm, whether physical, mental, or other. I love our country because everyone should have the ability to be.
This is the time when we create our ideals of America. This is the time when we demand local change from our local government, from our state legislators, and stop looking for top-down changes and look for bottom up changes, and start with the grassroots movement. If every community makes a change, then we really won’t have to worry about federal issues, but I just want my ideal of America to not be hindered by others ideas of America.
Do you have anything to add?
I went to the polls to vote, and for the first time in my life, I realised the magnitude of this ability that I have as a black man in America to vote that my grandfather didn’t have when he was this age. I have had the opportunity to vote twice for an African American and once for a female president. To me that speaks volumes about where we are as a country. It speaks volumes about where we have come from and where we have the potential to go.
Although we’re in a muddle-y moment, where we don’t know what’s going to happen on 8 November, and some people are vying for different candidates for different reasons. I know why I voted for my candidate. I’m voting for a Supreme Court justice. However, at the same time, I know that there’s so much work to be done, and I just encourage others to do the local work. That’s what brought me back home. I know that I can’t continue to talk about making changes and not actually be about the change. No one wants to do the work, but someone has to stop going to Wall Street and working, stop getting the fancy job, stop passing the buck and do the work. That’s what America needs, people who are really about doing the work, and that doesn’t start in the White House.