Donald Trump’s America Doesn’t Care About Black Women
By Bridget Todd
I was writing about race and politics for my college newspaper when Don Imus called the Rutgers women’s basketball team “nappy headed hoes.”
“What did those girls ever do to anyone except be Black and exist?” I wondered to myself.
But you would not know that I found this troubling at all from the column I published about Imus’ firing. I went out of my way to explain that I wasn’t bothered by his comments:
“I’m probably the only black person in the country who doesn’t think Don Imus deserves to be fired. His ‘nappy headed ho’ comment didn’t upset me.”
Why did I write that? Why did I publish something that wasn’t the truth about how I was actually feeling? If I’m being generous about 19-year-old me’s intentions, I might say I wanted to snap people out of the idea that all Blacks are a monolith. But I think I just wanted the white people at my college to like me. I wanted them to smile at me when I made eye contact with them on campus. I wanted to make sure my white professors and classmates didn’t see the “nappy headed hoe” in me.
The white people at my college were generally nice people, but this was the south. Tension bubbled just below the surface — a clutch of a purse, crossing the street when I pass, a casual assumption about my background rooted in some racist stereotypes. A close friend said Carrie Bradshaw’s necklace was cute on Sarah Jessica Parker, but “looked ghetto” on me. Each and every one one of these remarks stung and I began to feel I was dying a slow death by a thousand tiny cuts. It ate at me. At the time, I thought being bright, agreeable, and upbeat was the key to navigating race in a white world. I was convinced it was something I could work out by changing something inside myself.
A few days after my own piece on Imus ran in the paper, I remember reading the late Gwen Ifill’s editorial in the New York Times. Imus had been annoyed that Ifill ignored his calls to be a guest on his show. “Isn’t The Times wonderful,” Imus was overheard saying. “It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.” This for the crime of not thinking a shock jock radio DJ was worth her time.
The intention of Imus’ comment is crystal clear to me and every other successful Black woman in America. Ifill holds dozens of honorary degrees. Ifill won a Peabody award. Ifill has been honored and valorized by every institution under the sun. All of the things well meaning white people tell us we need to do to resist racism — be bright, work hard, be successful — Ifill did, and she did it in spades. But none of this mattered. She was still a Black woman and Imus was a white man, so he felt entitled to her time. If Imus called Ifill to be on his show, he probably expected that she at least respond, but she didn’t.
You may be asking, in what world is an accomplished White House journalist who has interviewed presidents and world leaders obligated to return the calls of a some radio DJ? The answer is simple: It’s in the world of white men who expect that someone more powerful than they are owes them the time of day because that person is a Black woman. Ifill threatened Imus’ ability to feel more powerful than she is because he is a white man. This is more than a simple bruised ego; it’s the feeling of his white superiority being threatened.
Imus needed to remind her of her place. He needed to make her remember: It doesn’t matter how much more powerful and successful than me you become, you will always be beneath me because you are a Black woman — just some nobody Black cleaning lady.
What did Gwen Ifill ever do to anybody except be Black and exist?
If you haven’t read Ifill’s full response, you owe it to her to read it in its entirety right now because it is truly a glorious piece of writing. In it, Ifill stands up for Black women and girls, those same women who have spent our entire lives being knocked down for hard-to-pronounce names, our hair, our bodies, and everything about who we are. The Black women and girls who have learned to put on our Black w0men fight faces, what Ifill calls “the sort of carapace many women I know — black women in particular — develop to guard themselves against casual insult.” Black women and girls who are just trying to exist, but are knocked down for even that. Wrote Ifill:
“Every time a young black girl shyly approaches me for an autograph or writes or calls or stops me on the street to ask how she can become a journalist, I feel an enormous responsibility. It’s more than simply being a role model. I know I have to be a voice for them as well.
So here’s what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.”
I read Ifill’s piece about standing up to her bully when I was a 19-year-old writing about race in politics at my college newspaper. I reread them again last night as a 31-year-old writing about race and politics online. I could tell you that after I read her editorial in the Times, I wondered if she somehow was writing about me personally. I could tell you how I used to stare at Ifill as my parents watched PBS and wonder if whatever was in her that made her successful was in me too. I could tell you that I looked up to her. All of those things would be true, but even they don’t paint a full enough picture of what her life, and subsequent death, meant to me in light of the recent election.
The timing of Ifill’s death, right on the heels of Trump becoming our next president, feels like an awful forewarning of things to come. Gwen stood up to her racist bully in the name of Black women and girls who look up to her. Gwen was a beacon for Black women who write or aspire to. But being a Black woman who writes about race on the internet is about to get nastier with a Trump White House and that’s the simple truth of it. Hillary Clinton was right, a lot of these people are deplorable and now they are deplorable and empowered.
This week I spent a few hours being called racial slurs by so-called “alt right” white supremacists wearing Make America Great Again hats in their avis for writing about Trump’s White House advisor Steven Bannon online. I believe these people are being honest about this slogan — Make America Great Again — make America go back to when Black women didn’t become more successful than mediocre White men. Make America go back to when Black women didn’t have a voice. Make America go back to when it was okay for a Black woman to be killed for acting like she was too high and mighty or like she was above white people. Make America go back to when Black women knew their place.
White men have spent their entire lifetimes being told they are destined for greatness simply because they are white and male. Donald Trump was savvy enough to see this , this ugly rotting thing inside of them, and speak to it. “I will take us back to that time when your whiteness and maleness was protected,” he told them. You won’t have to worry about having to be PC because in my America not being PC will be seen as brave. You won’t have to worry about your misogyny preventing you from getting women, in my America women will be up for the grabbing and they will let you do it.
This is not particular to the alt right white supremacist; this is something engrained in white masculinity. Is it any wonder that both alt-right white supremacists and regular white men generally share a fondness for the film Fight Club? The film is a screed for disaffected white men who bought into the idea that their race and gender meant they were destined for greatness, even if they were mediocre and now are angry that it turned out to be a lie:
“Our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
These same very, very, pissed off white men watch women, immigrants, and people of color find success and security. They watch women, immigrants, and people of color hold them accountable for actions that would have just slid by 20 years ago. They watch women, immigrants, and people of color threaten their place on the top of the totem pole and this is enraging to them.
I am a successful, attractive, outspoken Black woman with a great life. I don’t care if that sounds conceited, every word of that statement is true. This alone threatens the white superiority that these people feel. I am not supposed to be more successful than them, yet here I am. I am supposed to stay quiet and not act too high and mighty, and yet I continue to speak my mind.
What did I ever do to anybody but be Black and exist?
I am reminded of another outspoken successful Black woman who didn’t know her place. Remember Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones? Alt-right white supremacists were enraged about the Ghostbusters all-female reboot. Jones is a regular user of Twitter and isn’t shy about interacting with folks online. This, plus her Blackness, made her a natural target. Coordinated by Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, white supremacists attacked her in an online racist hate mob.
Eventually they hacked her private communications and released intimate photos and sensitive personal information. Leslie, humiliated, left Twitter. To his credit, Twitter’s Jack Dorsey personally pledged to protect Jones and banned Yiannopoulos from the platform outright, but should it take being famous for something to be done about this kind of harassment? Should it have to get to this extreme for someone in charge to notice?
What did Leslie Jones ever do to any body except be Black and exist?
Today Twitter announced they were finally suspending alt-right white supremacists from their platform. A great start, sure, but why did it take so long? Why didn’t you listen to the Black women who have been loudly complaining about being harassed and threatened for years, who asked you to do something tangible about it? When we told you about our pain, why did you ignore us?
Jones’ situation should hold a mirror up the absurdity of our country right now. Yiannopoulos is an editor at Breitbart, a white supremacist watering hole full of anti-semitic, racist memes. Don’t be fooled by outlets looking the other way with polite euphemisms like “controversial” or “conservative” to describe what we can all plainly see as white supremacist. Breitbart is threatening to sue media outlets who accurately describe the site as what it is to send a chilling message to journalists: Call out our racism and hatred at your own peril.
Donald Trump has just named Steven Bannon, Breitbart’s chairmen, as a White House advisor. In our country, aiding and supporting the harassment of a Black woman who didn’t do anything but be Black and exist gets you into the White House. Black women told our country about our pain and our country ignored us. Why?
This story first appeared at Bullshitist, and is reprinted here with permission.
Lead image of Gwen Ifill: flickr/Center for American Progress