If Donald Trump inherits the Oval Office from President Obama next month, I am in great fear for the racial divide in America. My fear is that it will become much worse than it already is – fatally worse.
Let me start here. I will admit, I was never one to care all that much about politics growing up. Presidential elections always seemed to cause those “I know better than you” arguments, especially online (where everyone likes to use their “opinion” to be the “expert”). I was in college when President Obama was elected, and being black, I remember every single person of color I knew being extremely happy. Actually, more than that – hopeful. Overjoyed. There was a sense of “if he can do this, there’s hope for us all.” And I admit, I didn’t fully understand the significance of this at the time, because I’ve seen black people get excited about a lot of things (shoes, black-casted shows, new church fans). But I’ve also seen our people burdened by a lot as well.
Fast forward to the shooting of Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Tamir Rice. Oscar Grant III. Sandra Bland. Alton Sterling. Philando Castile. Terence Crutcher. In the very least, I’m sure you’ve seen these names: black people who were senselessly murdered by police. Obviously, there are too many to mention, and these are not a new “phenomenon” in the last 5 years – these are just some of the ones publicly documented. Rather than reflect on these deaths of innocent men and women, I will simply say that these were all victims of defiant racism, and that I’m sure they are heavily missed by the families they were ripped away from. (This is the saddest part of each of these stories, no matter the details.)
Now, why do I bring these up? Each time I woke up to a video surfacing online of an unarmed black man being murdered by an officer, I watched several of my black peers fear that they could be next. Soon, this realization became mine. Forget that I have my share of accomplishments, a strong education, and have always maintained good will with others. If I were to be pulled over on my commute to work by an officer who happens to be hateful and racist, no matter how respectful or cooperative I was, no matter how well I used the words my parents taught me to say if pulled over – all the officer would see is the skin I’m in. And it could be all they want to see – and the last thing I see.
So fast forward to this election season. We’ve all been overexposed to stories about Trump and many of his controversies. I don’t need to dig any deeper into that (see: Google, Fox, CNN, several great Late Night TV show takedowns). Here’s the thing: Trump doesn’t scare me. No. The worst part of this EXHAUSTING, never-ending election season is how telling it has been of the American people. If you haven’t figured it out yet, his campaign has become extremely divisive – more than I’ve ever seen.
You know the comments section under literally anything on the internet? Trolls, rude commenters, the creepy guy from the subway who your mom said “don’t make eye contact”? So, if you go on Twitter and scroll through literally any thread by or about Donald Trump, there they are. And they are dedicated…and they are serious. They want the border wall to keep the “rapist Mexicans” out. They refer to blacks with that word you’re afraid for your black friends to hear you use. Some of them changed their Twitter profile and banners pictures to nazi symbols, or are calling for white supremacy. (I hope this isn’t news to you.)
Many of these people have proven, purely by their responses, that they do not understand people different from them. (I can only speak about the black experience on my end, but I know other minorities, women, etc. feel this way as well.) Trump has said that he thinks all black people live in terrible neighborhoods with awful homes and schools, and that he is our only hope. We are not collectively destitute – this sounds like a racist generalization. He’s referred to someone as “my African-American.” Sounds like something you’d hear said in a slave movie, no? I could go on, but here’s plenty more examples, and feel free to ask Google for others. His followers all seem to be in agreement. Even if they are trying to remain loyal to the GOP but they disagree with his statements, they aren’t taking a stand against these remarks either. (Neither is the GOP.)
Honestly, I could go on all day about things Trump has said, or dig into the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but here’s my bigger issue. A leader demonstrates and represents what they want to see from their followers. A leader encourages and guides their followers in a certain direction. I learned this right away from various leadership positions, and it is true no matter how big or small your following – all eyes are on you for what direction you will take your people in. During the first presidential debate this year, when asked about how to heal the racial divide in America, Trump repeatedly pointed back to “law and order.” He completely negated any idea that people of color have been truly hurting by systematic racism, and instead has continually stated that we need to respect the police more, and stop putting so much pressure on them. Now, words mean things. In other words, he’s telling every innocent, murdered black person and their families “that cop was in the right, you should’ve obeyed them better just like you were told, you probably had it coming.”
To tie all of this together: Trump has proven relentlessly that he does not understand the experiences of anyone different than him – that is, anyone who is not a rich, straight, white male. Everything I’ve said so far, I say because I feel deep in my spirit that his supporters are ready for this “change” he has been talking about. A Trump presidency will mean that these racist words and intentions will be much more condoned than they already are. And don’t get me wrong – THINGS ARE ALREADY BAD. While race relations have come a long, long way, this election season and these killings have both somehow worked together to expose that there is definitely still strong hatred, bigotry, and racism in this country among some people. So if Trump is elected, and something happens, I cannot believe for a second that he will be on the side of someone like me – because he doesn’t get it. He simply can’t.
Much of my life, I’ve always been the only black person in a group of friends, school, workplace, etc. (or one of a few). I know many excellent black people, and I have many wonderful white colleagues and close friends to whom I owe a lot. I love them all because they are good people first. I know I can trust any of them, and that they are understanding people. While I don’t think the average 65-year-old blowhard racist will change their ways when they see me enjoying jazz while driving my nice car, I do believe that those of us who get it need to take a stand against hate. Sometimes, people who hate don’t even know that they’re hateful – there are feelings they have about other people which they haven’t dealt with at all. Maybe it makes them uncomfortable, or maybe they like being ignorant. But no deep wound ever heals when you let it fester – it just gets worse.
No matter what your race is, check yourself on how you view other people. The Golden Rule still stands. And check each other – who are you surrounding yourself with?
No one should have to live in fear, especially because of other people.
Please, go vote on November 8th.