The Trump campaign has never been on the side of people of color. And please do not push Omarosa or Ben Carson in my direction, either. There were many happy slaves that existed, as well, that don’t justify the existence of slavery. The Trump campaign assumed every black person was from the “inner city” and gave the pretentious platform promise of “what else do you have to lose?” This same administration, once in office, has not only laughed in the face of police brutality, but has also been unable, for whatever reason, to outright condemn white supremacy head on, publicly called for the firing of private citizens who have correctly used their right to the freedom of speech, and has most recently called more private citizens “sons of b******” for also correctly asserting their right to the freedom of speech. It is very evident: Trump is not for, nor has ever been, for the people of color in this country. And yes, I believe Trump is racist.
That last statement is incendiary, I know. And while I’m not too concerned with why you don’t agree, although that conclusion is definitely worthy of a conversation, my question is two-fold: how would you explain Trump’s actions to a friend or person of color, and do you know what that conversation does to said friend or person of color?
Lately the evangelical fashion trend has been to use the buzzword “racial reconciliation”, which sometimes seems like a code word for “say something without changing anything”. Regardless, I’m happy to see that there has been actual progress in seeing racial issues as gospel issues, and therefore priority issues. Lots of conversations regarding race and how race impacts us individually and corporately as a church have happened due to this “shift” and I am honestly very grateful for it.
The problem is that in these conversations, there is a rarity that both parties will end up on the same side. Now, this is not inherently the problem for all conversations need to two-sided to be considered a conversation; and sometimes those sides don’t agree. That’s human and it’s necessary for growth. But in an era where the highest office of the United States can use his position to personally and publically call for the firing, and subsequently harassment, of private citizens simply because they do not align with his personal agenda and regime, and when these private citizens are almost always persons of color, to have nothing to say, or nothing to rebuke, on the matter is not only telling but hurtful.
People of color and white persons enter into race conversations at different starting points. The way I see it, white persons can enter into the conversation from the starting point of an onlooker, a researcher, or a student. The onlooker is not interested in emotionally or even deeply connecting with the issue; they simply want to know what is going on. The researcher sees the issue and wants to gather information on it in order to be able to discern and formulate his or her own conclusion on the issue. And the student is simply there to gain knowledge with no intended end goal other than education.
People of color do not get to enter the conversation from this starting point. On the contrary, we are born into the conversation. We do not get to choose a vantage point from which to look at the issue because, in reality, we are inside the issue. Conversations of race for people of color are not simply relaxed rhetoric thrown around for sake of conversation but are, most often, verbalized cries and pleas to see the pain that this issue brings us. When white persons hear Trump call Colin Kaepernick an SOB, they call him stupid; when I hear Trump say that, I call him dangerous.
Coming into the conversation as an onlooker, a researcher or a student isn’t an issue, for me. White persons were not born having to realize or see their color, and that is not a personal fault. But what matters more to me is not how you enter the conversation, but what you do once you are there and what you do after. So often conversations of race turn into historical debates about how much racism used to be a problem and how much “better” we are now. So instead of it being a time where humility and compassion can be employed to talk about a serious issue, it ends up being a battle of who paid attention more in their white-washed history class. And regardless of the outcome, the person of color generally spends a significant amount of emotional energy trying to be gracious with “stupid questions”, rebuff against skewed points of history, and just generally all around try to not look like the “angry black person” to try to preserve some form of credibility. Simply put, people of color often feel the burden to have to prove our pain to our white brothers and sisters and that is extremely taxing.
I wish these conversations were laced with more humility. I wish more people came to learn and empathize instead of coming to “well, what about…” me to death. I wish people could call a spade, a spade and call racism, racism. I wish we could all see that Trump is not only an idiot, but is in fact extremely dangerous. I wish the church spoke more about this, decisively and definitively. I wish Americans could see the hypocrisy in wanting to fight for rights of cake bakers and photographers while supporting the skewering of those who take a knee during the national anthem. I wish America was actually the America so many of my white brothers and sisters believe it was supposed to be, instead of the America it’s always been to people of color.
In the era of Trump, conversations of race for people of color are hard. Not that they have never been hard, but the hurdle seems somewhat higher now. We don’t debate to win; we debate to survive. We argue for our own safety. Criticizing America isn’t about disrespect, it is about personal safety. It is about holding this country accountable to being finally the land of the free. We show you our pain, not so that it can put in a museum and walked by as you read the excerpt next to it, but so that you see this issue has a face. That this issue has a son, a daughter, a brother and sister. Conversations on race are not about winning, for people of color. They are about living.