Black In The Time Of Trump
Last Friday I found myself sitting in an NPR studio, discussing the week’s news. I’m a frequent panelist on this show, and I have yet to sit with another person of color. It is me and a room full of white people. As always, my blackness is palpable, even over the airwaves. But this is a good show, one of the few I actually enjoy being on. They value my input, even if they don’t always understand it.
We are talking about this election. We’re always talking about this election. I hate this election with every fiber of my being and this is a sentiment shared by most of my friends of color. The host asks a panelist, a conservative-moderate white woman, what she thinks of the rhetoric surrounding Trump’s campaign.
“It’s so fascinating,” she says.
“Fascinating” is a word used for reading about scientific discovery or watching a documentary. “Fascinating” is a word for observers, not participants. Things are declared “fascinating” when you can crouch down and watch the goings-on without getting your hands dirty. “Fascinating” has no skin in the game.
For people of color, Trump’s rhetoric is as “fascinating” as being kicked in the stomach repeatedly. We’re as likely to refer to the thousands of angry white people shouting racist hate while spitting on black protesters “fascinating” as we are to write a Yelp review for a mugging we received.
When Obama was elected, I — like so many other people of color — cried like a baby. I did not cry because I thought that Obama was the second coming. I did not cry because I thought reparations would soon be mine. I cried because when the math was done, I finally had proof that more than 50% of this country did not want to kill someone like me. It was the first time I felt that I could with confidence walk into a room and think, “less than half of you hate me.” It was the closest I had felt to having a country.
It’s likely the closest I’ll feel to that for a very long time.
But the time for celebration is over. These last few years have highlighted how little even a black president can do to steer this massive ship first built to transport slaves in a different direction. I’ve spent the last three years watching video of my people being gunned down in the street with the confidence that only a gun and badge issued by this state can provide. I’ve been reminded time and again that the slight majority of Americans who decided they did not want me dead will draw the line at being mildly inconvenienced. I have learned that the slight majority of Americans who decided they could see the competency and leadership of a man who looked like me, will use that one benevolent choice to refuse to see the rest of us.
And I’ve seen what happened to the rest, to those who did not want hope or change. They have revealed themselves to be what we always feared: entitled, violent, hateful, and willfully ignorant. We always suspected that the vaguely racist white man would turn violent when his ability to casually oppress was threatened. When his ability to at least see himself as above us was taken away. They have spent eight years cultivating their rage at the loss of power the election of a president who did not look like them represented. They have spent eight years nursing grudges at those who they feel stole their American dream. They have spent eight years gearing up to take back their country. They are armed, with their second amendment, with their fists, with their angry mobs. And they have a presidential candidate who will set it right for them.
Their faces are the same faces that used to have picnics at lynchings. Their angry hurls of spit in the faces of black people are identical to those hurled at blacks who dared sit at lunch counters. Their anti-Muslim hate is the same hate that rounded up our Japanese citizens into internment camps. Their fear of “Mexican rapists” is an updated version of their parent’s fear of the black brute.
I know these people. These are the people who shout at homeless people to “get a job.” These are the people who gleefully share videos of drone strikes. These are the people who blame racism on sagging pants. These are the people who shout “black-on-black crime” like it’s the only kind of crime that exists. These are people who shout at others to go back to where they came from. These are people who talk of American values, and when they do, you know they are talking about the real American values of conquest and exploitation.
And they are all in one room. They are packing colosseums. They are shouting in unison. They are dominating the news cycles. They are being legitimized as a simple reflection of dissatisfaction with “party politics.” They are running for president.
And to white people — good white people — they are “fascinating.”
When I tried to express what being black in a time of Trump is like, when I tried to do so without succumbing to the tears that were filling my entire being, I looked around and met with blank faces. Another panelist, a white male news analyst, was next to respond.
“Eventually America does the right thing,” he said.
400 years of waiting.
Lead image: flickr/Jamelle Bouie