Unlike most people, I had no doubt that Donald Trump would secure the Republican nomination for President. When my predominately, white co-workers assured me that even the Republicans would not let that happen, I just shook my head. After seeing the level of disrespect heaped at President Obama, Mrs. Obama and their daughters since they entered the White House, I knew a backlash was inevitable. Unfortunately, advances followed by regression are very American. The rolling back of voting rights has not only impacted African-Americans, but poor and working class people of all races and classes. Police shootings and brutalities are not only echoes of the past but instant replays of history. The testimony of African-Americans and Latinos during the McCone Commission’s examination of the Watts Rebellion about police brutality and discrimination is no different from conversations about police brutality and intimidation in Ferguson, Missouri.
The African-American’s first experience with the white cultural backlash happened after Reconstruction.
Many people are under the mistaken assumption that Reconstruction after the Civil War just happened to end. Over the years, we’ve learned to almost not hear, “Newly elected Fill in the blank: senator or congressperson from whatever state is the first African-American since the Reconstruction Era to hold this office.” No one seems to ask why. Out of the four million African-Americans in the United States over 3.5 million of us had been enslaved. During the Reconstruction Era, African-American men were declared full citizens of the United States. Close to 2,000 African-Americans held public offices from local levels to the U.S. Senate and Congress. Another win that benefited all Americans was the creation of state-funded public schools. There were also laws established to prevent discrimination on public transit and in accommodations. Equal Rights Leagues formed all over the country not only strove for equal treatment in regards to race but demanded suffrage for all women.
Reconstruction ended because of a back door deal between the Democrats and Republicans in a bid for the presidency. Think Bush vs. Gore but in 1877. There was a contentious election between the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes and the Democrat, Samuel L. Tilden. In order for both sides to claim victory, the Republicans and Democrats came to a compromise. Hayes could have the presidency but only if certain conditions were met. U.S. military forces that were ensuring to some degree that the predominately white southern governments complied with the new amendments to the Constitution would leave the South. Without federal protection, black Republicans who had held office were subject to harassment and were forced out of their positions. Jim Crow along with other methods of suppression became the law of the land for almost 100 years. Reconstruction only lasted from 1865 to 1877. That equates to 12 years to rectify hundreds of years of slavery. Think about that!
The second backlash happened no more than 4 years after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights bill.
In March of this year, it came to the light that Nixon’s War on Drugs, touted during his 1968 campaign and implemented when he came to office was designed to target the anti-war left and African-Americans. When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, he and his administration spent considerable time and effort dismantling the gains achieved under such policies such as Affirmative Action.
Trump represents yet another backlash.
I wanted to be wrong about Trump but I have learned to not underestimate the level of racism in this country. To put it bluntly, a lot of white people were upset because there was a black man in what they perceived to be “their” White House. I used to haphazardly watch Trump’s “The Apprentice.” If I was flipping channels and it was on, I’d finish the episode. However, when he became one of the de facto leaders of the Birther Movement, I saw his true colors. I decided I would no longer waste time on something like him. So, when he went in on Mexicans, women, then Muslims, I was not surprised. Bigots of his caliber are usually equal opportunity offenders.
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Even though the Republican establishment claims to be shocked by Trump’s words and clutching their pearls as they reluctantly endorse him, Trump isn’t saying anything they haven’t been saying for the past 30 or so years. He just doesn’t use coded language.
In that regard, we as African-Americans aren’t dealing with anything new.
Jim Crow has become James Crow, Esquire. Police colluding with grand juries have become the new lynch mob. Ta-Naeshi Coates outlined the continued systemic theft of African-American wealth in his treatise for a call for reparations.
So, what do black people do in the face of the reality of a Trump presidency?
The Trump brand of bigotry is highly vocal which gives us an advantage. When we see a pile of, well you know, it makes it easier to navigate around it. I do think a Trump win will give license to some more virulent white racists to feel free to exercise their hatred. But this isn’t anything new either. They’ll be more Darren Wilsons, George Zimmermans and Dylan Roofs. I still get followed in stores and have been subjected to the “Negro-tax” i.e. extra security deposit required for rentals and still experience invisibility. It’s the same old, same old. The only time I feel free of this white pathology is when I go overseas. This is a viable option for some African-Americans but not all of us have the means to leave.
What African-Americans need to do is be more conscious about the more insidious forms of racism shielded under the guise of liberalism. We need to clearly name the problem and see that it is not us as elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks from Australia declares in her appearance on the television program “Q and A” here on Youtube .
The first step in dealing with racism is naming the problem.
For too long in this country, race relations have been about African-Americans and people of color navigating around the pathology of racism rather than the dominant culture actually making an effort to embrace empathy and their humanity. The language is biased even when racism is being acknowledged.
“Oh, they did that to you because you are black.” The proper response should be, “No, they did that to me because they are a bigot.”
I can’t tell you how many people cringe when I offer this bit of truth. We’ve been too afraid and polite in naming the problem. The media has failed miserably during this election in this regard. They speak of Trump’s “immigration policy” rather than his bigotry. The only two media outlets that name Trump for what he is are ”Democracy Now” and the Huffington Post which makes this editorial statement at the end of each article about Trump: “Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.”
Stop trying to educate unconscious white folks about racism. The conditioning and pathology of racism keeps them from believing our experience anyway. How many times have you heard, “Maybe you misunderstood,” or “That wasn’t racist. That’s happened to me?”
Know that you cannot get blood from a turnip. It’s not you. It’s them. You are not alone. Frederick Douglass’ narrative was challenged by good meaning white folks because he initially refused to provide the location of his enslavement. Since fugitive slave laws were still in place during its writing, identifying too much would have put him danger. He was also challenged about the authenticity of his narrative because he did not speak or write in what we now know as African-American Vernacular English. Slave narratives also had to also be “validated” by forwards written by white abolitionists to verify they were in fact true. In his narrative, Douglass speaks about the joy he experienced when he was traveling through Ireland and his able to finally publish an edition of his narrative without the white seal of approval. So, if white people didn’t believe Douglass in the 1800’s, during the height of slavery, why do you think now that racism has in some ways has become more insidious and subtle they would believe you now?
Even though there was a plethora of slave narratives in publication during the 1800’s, it was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s fictionalized Uncle Tom’s Cabin that changed how white Americans viewed slavery. John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, awakened white America to the horrors of the Jim Crow south during the 1950’s. Now one would think that white Americas during slavery and Jim Crow could open their eyes and see what was happening or even ask a black person about their experience. No, white validation was needed to authentic the black experience. In that regard, this is where white allies can use their privilege for good. So, when faced with white denial or minimization, simply direct these individuals them to the works of white allies such as Tim Wise, Jane Elliot, and Dr. Robin DiAngelo.
Next is recognizing that even though racism is not our problem it is our burden.
With that, we need to acknowledge that dealing with this pathology takes a toll on our mental health, no matter how conscious we are. Being black in America sometimes requires being in a state of perpetual of hyper-vigilance. With that said, make sure you surround yourself with people who validate your experience. This might involve limiting your time in predominantly white spaces such as this sistah here who speaks on why she rarely has sustainable friendships with white people.
Surround yourself with people of any race who validate and acknowledge your lived experience. My Chinese-American therapist assisted me with processing a recent experience of racial micoraggression. She helped me acknowledge my anger about the incident and gave me tools to deflect such ignorance. In the past, I was lucky enough to have white therapist who recognized and supported my need to unearth my internalized racism by eventually moving on to an African-American therapist.
Learn our history and not just Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Ida B. Wells was the pioneer of the anti-lynching movement. Fannie Lou Hammer elegantly led the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and led the charge for representation at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Read the work of Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde for inspiration on black womanhood. International writers such as Chinua Achebe, Aimé Césaire and Frantz Fanon offer insight into the black experience throughout the diaspora. As it is inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, “Know thyself.”
When we live in a world that tells us our experiences didn’t happen and that our history doesn’t exist, this is a type of erasure that it is difficult to combat. It’s hard not to believe the hype.
However, knowing yourself, knowing ourselves gives us to the tools to deal with and deflect the various types of subtle and not so subtle racist onslaughts.
[Feature image: A darker skinned individual stands in front of a building outdoors wearing a black leather jacket and scarf with a high bun. The person is looking ahead to the right. Flickr.com/ChrisGoldberg]