The Septuagenarians’ Sankofa Dialogue


  • Kalamu ya Salaam Temple University Press
  • Jerry W. Ward Jr.



Salaam: We might call this the Sankofa Dialogue because we are looking back in order to orient ourselves as we move forward. Approximately eight years ago, in 2008, there was a great brouhaha and hope because of the upcoming election for the US presidency. For the first time in the history of the United States, a Black man—and it’s befitting that he was truly an African American—was running for office. We don’t generally have such pivotal moments in history, either as individuals or as a people.

Ward: But I would suggest that in the closing months of the second term of President Obama, we had a devastatingly pivotal moment. As we scrutinize the behavior of Donald Trump, we ought also to be concerned about what is driving people who, under other circumstances, might have hesitated to elect a clown. Those voters were so full of disgust, disappointment, and dismay that they saw Trump as the Great White Hope. Many of the voters wanted a president who might restore the bogus privileges of “white superiority.”

Salaam: I concur, but I would broaden the dialog a bit. I think this historic moment, this turning point, comes at a critical moment in what defines what it means to be American. I don’t think there’s a post-Obama era as such. I think Obama was just part of this era where we are grappling with what it means to be an American now that it no longer means what it has meant from the beginning of the United States up until Obama. We’re still struggling with that. What we see right now is a repetition of what happened at the closing of, and in the immediate follow-up to, the Civil War in terms of the identity questions that were being raised.