By Rebecca Carroll – – —
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has been fairly straightforward regarding how he feels in general about black people in America – he failed to swiftly and effectively disavow former KKK grand wizard David Duke in May, referred to the Black Lives Matter movement as “trouble” last fall, and during the course of his campaign other things have surfaced, such as his idea to air a “white v black” season of The Apprentice.
Publicly, however, his most brazen racist remarks have been directed primarily at Muslims (a relatively small percentage of whom are black) and Mexicans. If it’s a backhanded political strategy to court the black vote (which he will ultimately need), he has underestimated the strength of our bond with other groups who have been marginalized and discriminated against.
Still, it’s oddly perplexing that in a country whose culture is so firmly rooted in systemic anti-black racism, Trump, who never hesitates to snatch the low hanging fruit of bigotry, hasn’t gone into hyper-drive about black people in America – all the standard black people tropes seem right in his wheelhouse. Of course, just as President Richard Nixon’s use of the term “silent majority” was widely understood as code for “white people”, Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” refers to a racially divided past. Alongside his marquee plan to build a border wall to keep immigrants out of the United States, it’s pretty clearly that what he means by that is Make America White Again. But black folks still don’t seem to really be on his radar – as either a problem or a target market.
Is it because the Latino population has become the largest minority group and will only continue to grow, whereas the black population is not expected to change to any great degree? Or does Trump feels like his biggest contingency – the white working class – might feel Latino immigrants are more direct competition when it comes to all the jobs Trump claims he will create? Is it because mass incarceration, the main repressive tactic used against black people in America, is ludicrously expensive and also losing political support among both Republicans and Democrats? But that would be strange given that Trump’s proposed “solution” to Latino immigration – mass deportation – would also cost millions.
Maybe the only black people Trump is able to acknowledge are those who are supporting his campaign – the high-profile celebrity deflectors like Omarosa Manigault and Dennis Rodman. Maybe he even believes his own delusional statement that “ the African Americans love me”. Or maybe he really doesn’t see us at all. I am actually not sure he sees any of humanity. It’s not just that he’s running against candidates who represent socialism (a belief predicated on the wellbeing of the public) and feminism (if there’s anything Trump dislikes more than Mexicans and Muslims, it’s women) – although that heightens his callousness – but more that right now in America, we are in the middle of an undeniable moment of black cultural ascension. Black people are visible and being heard in ways we’ve not been in decades.
Both Democratic candidates have met with members of Black Lives Matter, and are addressing systemic racism as well as concepts of white privilege and intersectionality in their campaigning. Black people did that. Three young black women started Black Lives Matter, and the first to protest at any candidate speech (Bernie Sanders in Seattle) were young people affiliated with the movement. Clinton has made sure that she is everywhere that black women are, pushing uncomfortably hard to demonstrate that she is an ally – televised black award shows, black hosted podcasts, weighing in on the impact of Beyoncé’s Lemonade – while Sanders, a former civil rights activist, hasn’t wasted a single opportunity to remind everyone of that. Trump, though, comes across as if black people are not even worthy of his overt racism.
And perhaps ultimately, that is what Trump means when he says Make America Great Again – not simply let’s make America white again, let’s make America a place where the dismissal, debasement and ruination of black lives is the norm again. When racism wasn’t even called racism, before it was even a word – when it was just plain old America. Trump might want to wake up, though, to the fact that, just as then, America now or in the future cannot not exist without black people. And we stand in solidarity with his more favored targets of racism, misogyny and xenophobia.