In South Houston, Texas, there is a snow cone stand about a fourth of a mile from the apartment complex I spent my early childhood. Since it, the corner taqueria, and a McDonald’s were the only three spots within walking distance, my cousins and I frequented the Snow Hut pretty often. It was where we could get a cheap treat during the summer using only couch change. It was where I learned that I loved grape as an artificial flavor. It was also where I was called a beaner for the first time.
I didn’t know what that word meant. I was five years old. South Houston was, and is still to this day, a largely latinx community. The only white people I knew were a few administrators at my elementary school, Shari Lewis on Lamb Chop’s Play-Along, and the Snow Hut’s owners/operators, an elderly married couple.
The official definition was lost on me, but what wasn’t was the inflection, the meaning, the hate behind it.
My older cousins picked up their selections and were waiting along the side of the building while I placed my order. The total for a small grape snow cone purchased in the mid 90s eludes me, but it couldn’t have been more than a dollar. Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out a handful of nickels and proceeded to count them out on the counter as the old woman glared at me through thick bifocals. She tapped impatiently and loudly, sounds echoing a horse galloping at high speed. When I finished, she put the snow cone down in front of me, slid the pile of coins over to her side of the surface and muttered to herself, “Goddamn beaner.”
I never told anybody what happened. I didn’t stop going there. I actually tried to be more accommodating by not paying for future purchases with anything smaller than a quarter. Being considered a good kid was important to me and it was rattling that someone had spoken so harshly — that I had screwed up enough to warrant those words.
As I got older, I had more brushes with simmering racism. Whispers when my back was turned, security guards following me around electronic stores, mothers gripping their children tightly as I passed them in the street. Fear and distrust frequently follow me. But they were always accompanied by shame. As of late though, pride seems to be taking shame’s place in the lineup.
The Racism Renaissance
In 2015, a businessman stood in front of a national audience and launched his presidential campaign on a platform of unfiltered, raw hate.
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you,” Donald J. Trump shouted over hollers of encouragement. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Trump established from the beginning of his political career that he wasn’t going to hold back by being politically correct. He wasn’t going to pull punches. To him, the nation had become a weak shell of its former self. And by playing off the fears of the ignorant, disillusioned, and the indignant, he managed to convince them that HE was the messianic figure they’d been waiting for. He would do what others wouldn’t: he’d put America First.
That phrase “America First”, it wasn’t just good marketing. It was chosen as an intentional nod to the aforementioned indignant, those fed up from the years having to watch a black president on the nightly news, those sick of having to keep their hateful words at a whisper. “America First” was a slogan taken right from the Ku Klux Klan. Those were the people he was appealing to.
It was only the beginning. Despite the odds, Donald Trump managed to pull off a victory and has been mean tweeting from the Oval Office since 2017. Since then, he’s referred to black athletes protesting police brutality as sons of bitches. He has ordered Muslim travel bans. He’s implemented a cruel policy of detaining migrants attempting to cross the southern border in facilities run so poorly, they’re drawing direct comparison to Nazi concentration camps. He’s begun utilizing ICE as militarized police for raids throughout the country. And he’s told Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to the “crime infested places from which they came.”
The question is being posed to every Democrat running for President: Is Donald Trump a racist? Most have acknowledged that yes, Trump has expressed racist behavior. The most critical has been former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who has gone on the offense against Trump after a mass shooting carried out by a white supremacist in his hometown of El Paso.
The debate is academic at this point. The best case scenario regarding Donald Trump is that he says the things he does because he knows how to pander to a group that will support him in droves at the ballot box. Even if Trump weren’t racist (he is), he has succeeded in reigniting a revulsion in this country that had previously crawled into the shadows in the decades following the civil rights movement. He brought it back into the daylight. He encouraged these people to express and act on their repressed emotions. He is responsible for the Racism Renaissance of the 21st Century.
And people are proud of it.
The El Paso shooter wrote a manifesto decrying the Mexican “invasion” of Texas. Hate crimes are on the rise across the country. It seems there's no shortage of cell phone footage capturing a Trump supporter antagonizing a person of color. Gone are the days of simmering racism. Why should they try to hide it when they have a voice on the world’s stage?
In the end, this is the true threat of the Trump administration. Policies, laws, and deals, those will all be overturned once a Democratic president takes office. But what’s been lit aflame will continue to burn through America and divide it’s citizens further and further apart. Eddie Glaude Jr., a professor at Princeton, has made the claim that the nation is in the middle of a cold civil war. The proof is there. And I fear that it will continue to worsen as Trump and those who support him feel their grip on the White House grow weaker.
Being a father, it absolutely terrifies and enrages me to know that there are those out there who would seek to harm my children because of their ethnicity. I sometimes try to convince myself that they’re light-skinned enough to pass, hoping that maybe they’ll be able to avoid the hatred aimed at anyone different. Then I remember that accommodating five-year-old boy tearing the house apart for quarters to spend at the racist lady’s snow cone stand.
No one should live in fear because of who they are. Just because the 21st Century Racist is loud and emboldened to act on his unjustified anger doesn’t mean that we should move out of their way. If we do, we’re just giving in and society will regress to a time when it was not only encouraged, but one had the legal authority to act on racially-charged aggression. We cannot allow that. We have to meet any evil encountered with a greater expression of love.
The major test that lies ahead is the 2020 Presidential election. Whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be, we have to arrive at the polls en masse in support for them and remove the current administration from power. Only then can true leadership step up and begin healing the country from the fissures initiated by Donald Trump.
White supremacists think they can take the country back and “Make America Great Again”. We, however, will not let them. America’s greatness has always been in spite of those small-minded bigots, not because of them. And they will return to the shadows where they belong.