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  • CrisisDanger, Opportunity, and the Unknown
  • Robin D. G. Kelley (bio)

Crisis: the decisive moment (as in a literary plot) ... an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome: a financial crisis, the nation’s energy crisis . . . a situation that has reached a critical phase: the environmental crisis, the unemployment crisis.

Merriam–Webster Dictionary

We completed this special issue of south: a scholarly journal on the first anniversary of Donald Trump’s election, an event to which all three definitions of “crisis” apply. When editor Sharon P. Holland proposed the theme of crisis : opportunity and asked me to join her as a guest editor, Trump’s victory was months away and still inconceivable to most of us. Needless to say, the gravity—if not the focus—of the theme shifted beneath our feet. Trump’s campaign trafficked in explicit racist messaging, mobilizing white supremacists (the so-called “alt-right” and “white nationalists”) of every stripe. His victory gave them a voice in the White House, the chimera of legitimacy, and even license to kill. This part was to be expected. Prior to the election, self-proclaimed white supremacists were on the rise again, and the battles over Confederate flags and monuments, along with the massacre at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, were among their many declarations of war. [End Page 3]

Trump’s victory produced another predictable outcome. As traumatized liberal Democrats scrambled for explanations, many laid the blame on the South—the region they are quick to dismiss as a political backwater and home of racist right-wing reaction. In California, where I live, this became a kind of mantra along with smug, self-satisfied slogans calling for Left Coast secession. How quickly they forget the state that gave us Ronald Reagan, Prop 187 waging war on undocumented communities, Prop 209 eliminating affirmative action in public universities, the blueprint and model for the modern prison nation, and Tom Metzger, the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan who actually won the Democratic primary in Southern California’s 43rd Congressional district in 1980.

While it is true that the South has been the site of intense struggles against white supremacy, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, not to mention resistance to the general assault on democracy, Phillip Gordon’s contribution, “Night Train Across America: Mapping EthnoHeteroNationalism in the Age of Trump,” reminds us that these are national, not regional, struggles. He warns against directing “our ire at a mythic South run amuck in bigotry” and insists that “the South” is now only a region in our mind, a metaphor that obscures as much as it reveals. It has always been this way. Slavery, dispossession, white supremacy, and patriarchy are the basis for ethnoheteronationalism, and the foundation stones for the entire nation, from sea to shining sea. Besides, by scapegoating the South, we not only “miss the degree to which the rest of the nation is involved in this same EthnoHeteroNationalism,” but we end up erasing the black and multiracial groups at the forefront of resisting Trump’s authoritarian agenda and building power outside the mainstream Democratic Party. Many are in the former Confederate States. Among them are Project South, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the Moral Mondays Movement, Kindred: Southern Healing Justice Collective, Cooperation Jackson in Mississippi, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) in Louisville, Asian Americans Advancing Justice in Atlanta, and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights.

Most of the essays gathered in this issue are not reactions to Trumpism but strike broader themes, attend to endemic crises, introduce new analytic and conceptual categories, and leave us with new lenses through which to see the world. But they also take up the issue’s challenge, which is to complicate the crisis : opportunity dialectic. It is all too easy to treat crisis : opportunity as a kind of maxim without ever interrogating what it means and what it obscures. The oppressed are rarely in a position [End Page 4] to benefit from, or take advantage of, the crises that beset their lives. For example, the economic system’s periodic crises are opportunities for...


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