Donald Trump’s presidency signals race matters more than ever. Therefore, it is very important Black people, in particular, recognize and never downplay the significance Trump and cohorts’ explicit and coded race laced messages that began with Trump’s campaign, and as we’ve seen, continue after he became president. The absurdity of America as a post- racial society should now be crystal clear. (Obama himself toyed with the idea for a minute.)
The overwhelming evidence is that race continues to matter in places like South Central Los Angeles (SCLA) with its nearly exclusive Latino and Black population, schools worse off than 30 years ago and a jobless rate virtually double that of the city, as a whole, and for young Black men, it still hovers at fifty percent! Although change in some areas is evident, ask the average poor Black SCLA resident whether the area has undergone fundamental change.
They will not only cite failing schools, but quickly add there’s little difference in law enforcement’s cold and often abusive behavior, especially towards young Black males. Contrary to LAPD’s statistics, homicides have not gone down substantially in many neighborhoods and racial profiling by cops is still prevalent throughout SCLA.
The point is, not only for Black people, but America as a whole, race matters and racism is remains very much a social, political and economic reality. For Blacks, the primacy of race is ignored or minimized at our collective peril. ( At the 2008 national NAACP Convention, Obama first pledged to be responsive to Blacks’ concerns, but his subsequent comments reflected his weakened basic position: “I’ve spent the last year and a half talking about poverty and the problem of injustice….My answer (regarding focusing on Blacks) is that’s what I’ve been doing my whole campaign.”)
Obama skirted the issue because addressing Black’s concerns are politically incorrect, even though they too require focused attention and resources. His statement at the NAACP convention was similar to the position of public school officials who fail to properly address the needs of Black students, its lowest achievers. With impunity, schools continue not to provide Black students with consideration, care and resources needed to develop their full potential.
The late Derrick Bell’s analysis of race and racism was both powerful and insightful (Faces at the Bottom of the Well, 1992.) I periodically share Bell’s views and analysis because he skillfully articulated the essence of racism and its pernicious effects on the lives of Black people.
Bell contended racism is an integral, permanent and indestructible component of this society and no matter what policies are adopted to better Blacks’ condition, they will not succeed as long as the majority of whites do not see their own well-being threatened by the status quo. He reminded us that our forbearers, though betrayed into bondage, survived the slavery in which they were reduced to things, property and entitled to neither respect nor rights. Somehow, they managed to retain their humanity and their faith that evil and suffering were not the extent of their destiny and as Bell said, “We must do no less than they did…., fashion a philosophy that both matches the unique dangers we face and enables us to recognize in those dangers opportunities for committed living and humane service.”
On the contemporary relevance of racism, Bell pointed out that during slavery, racism’s terrifying dangers, although exclusively from without, were hardly more insidious than those Blacks face today, indirectly. For example, victimized by a callous, uncaring society, many young Black men vent their rage on others like themselves, thereby perpetuating a terror once invoked only by whites.
America’s myth of automatic progress has never included the marginalized: Blacks, the poor, and others whom the myth ignores are conspicuously in the center of current, conservative race-based tirades. Slaves had no choice but to accept their fate, but delegitimizing racism first requires accurately describing it because it remains at the center, not the periphery, of the lives of everyone in this country.
Bell insisted that in order to extract lessons from slaves’ survival, as well as our own, we must first honestly face the horrific oppression in that survival with the kind of commitment that Black people have displayed since slavery, i.e., carving a humanity for oneself with absolutely no help, only imagination, will, and unbelievable strength and courage.
Combating racism calls for engagement and commitment, first recognizing and acknowledging to ourselves that our immediate actions are not likely to lead to transformative change. However, that realization and renewed dedication will result in policies and sustainable efforts that are less likely to worsen our condition and, more likely, to convey to the powers that be that we are not only against them but determined to stand in their way.
Race still transcends the cult of its denial-exemplified by the Tea Party and today’s “Alt-Rights,” and despite temporary camouflage, its manifestations are no less ubiquitous. Racism continues to soil the fabric of this society that is based on the power of the white majority to control others, principally on the basis of race and ethnicity.
Now, with a crassly illegitimate president, Blacks reluctance to acknowledge that race matters for us, our children, and in all of life, guarantees its unabated continuance. We who remain oppressed must lead the fight for full justice. It is our inalienable right and singular obligation to do so.