I don’t watch the news. I watch Mike & Mike on ESPN as I get ready in the morning and I listen to public radio pretty much all day long. I also click on articles and read them as they come up in my newsfeed. I find 97% of news outlets intolerable. Unfortunately when I am on the treadmill at the gym in the morning I am surrounded by a wall of TVs all tuned to CNN, ABC, or MSNBC (we like to pretend Fox News doesn’t exist in Brooklyn.) As much as I try and look past the screens and get lost in my podcast or music, I inevitably take in the headlines and catch several captions and videos.
For the past several weeks both online and on morning news shows I have seen clips of protesters being escorted out of Trump rallies. Most disturbingly, I’ve seen several videos of individuals of color being jeered and spit at, called the N word, and even physically assaulted as they’ve been led out by security. They’ve been slapped and shoved and punched to the ground while Trump supporters egg on and cheer the perpetrators.
While these clips are played repeatedly on the screen I find myself turning to look away. I force myself to watch once, fulfilling some obligation I feel as an American Citizen to face what is happening in our country. But I can’t stand to watch it over and over again– the man in the ponytail and cowboy hat waits, winds up, and sucker-punches the black man being led up the stairs. It hurts me too much. This hurt is why I can’t bring myself to watch a movie like 12 Years a Slave. I understand that these images may reflect the reality of my people currently and in our history. But the older I get, the smaller the dose of them I’m able to consume; they are just too painful.
I think this pain gets lost in all the anger. Anger is louder. Anger is what is expected. Everyone knows an “angry black woman” or an “angry black man”. I wonder how many know that angry black woman who has wept when her father described the fear that the image of Emmett Till in his casket brought to him as a boy. Or if they are aware of the angry black man who has broken down in tears around his friends—terrified and conflicted in trying to raise a teenage boy to be a proud individual but also to “act right” and protect his body from the police.
The black man and woman’s existence in this country was established by betrayal, torture, and fear. The anguish of that existence has by necessity mutated to anger. Tears did not bring change. Standing up to fight did. But that anguish is still there; there is a profound sadness that runs through African American blood. It courses through our veins and ripples to our hearts when we see an unarmed 13 year-old being shot by the police or a young black woman being spit on as she exits a Trump rally. A multitude of fears arise as these images become more frequent. I start to worry that my eyes might see what only my ears have been told. I wonder if we could go backwards.
This summer, my husband and I will travel to Hungary, Austria, The Czech Republic, and Germany. The inspiration for this trip was born out of our last year’s visit to London, Paris, and Amsterdam, where through museums and tour guides we both became fascinated with World War II. In Amsterdam we spent hours and hours being led around by a retired University Professor who insisted the goal of his tour and his time with us was to answer only one question: How could all of this happen? My skin crawled with goosebumps. It was exactly what I wanted to know. I could never wrap my head around how recent it was that one man’s hatred spread to annihilate millions of people.
We learned that the ‘how’ in all of this was FEAR. Some had hate. More had fear. The hate capitalized on the fear. It presented itself as the refuge from the guilt of seeing one’s neighbors stripped of their possessions and trucked off to camps. “The Jews are taking your jobs!” “The Jews are taking the bread from your mouth!” Those who still weren’t filled with hate were paralyzed enough by fear. They stood by and let evil grow.
In some ways, I think Donald Trump could be even more dangerous than Hitler because he is not solely driven by hate. Even more, he is motivated by his desire to be loved. He’s like the kid on the playground who trips a classmate by accident. At first he thinks to reach down to apologize and help the kid up. But before he does his ears perk up; he hears the snickering and the laughter that emerges from his peers as they watch their classmate fall to the ground. He likes the laughter. It makes him feel seen and important. He is suddenly the center of attention. Forget the kid on the ground; he’ll now do anything to keep the light on him. What was that first comment? Mexico is only sending us their thieves and rapists? This off the cuff remark was one of the first “trips” of his campaign. He said it, and immediately there was a segment of the population ready to take their hoods out of the back of their closets. Voices that had been suppressed by progress and integration were suddenly legitimized by a man with no real beliefs or policy of his own.
Minorities and realistic non-minorities have always known that this population still existed. We’ve heard it a thousand times: “It’s only about race because YOU made it about race.” And, “Racism would be less of a problem if you’d stop talking about it.” The only thing positive I can take from Trump’s campaign is that he has shed a light on how much bigotry and hatred still exist in America. For a country that was literally built on the backs of a subjugated community, we have made great progress. Still, it is not enough. We have a long way to go, and that is ok. But, as painful as it is, we need to keep the overhead light that the Trump campaign has inadvertently turned on–on. We’ll work much more efficiently with it shining brightly than in the admittedly more comfortable dark.
I am so proud of Chicagoans. I’m impressed that they came together, showed up, and stood in protest of a man and a people who look to reverse the progress of civil rights and diversity in our country. As the headlines popped up on my phone and newsfeed I couldn’t help but think of the end of one of the first rounds of Rocky’s fight against the Russian in Rocky IV. Rocky cuts the Russian on the left of his eye; it is the first time he hurts him. He goes back to his corner after the bell and Rocky’s coach Duke fires at him, “You see, he is not a machine! He is a man! He is a man!”
Chicago threw that first punch that cut Trump. They said NO. They did not stand by and let evil or hate spread in their city. Trump is not a machine that just gets to barrel through wherever he pleases. He is a man that can be challenged by other men and women. We may not be able to stop him from procuring the Republican Party’s nomination but we CAN make sure he does not become our President. We are a multi-colored and multi-cultural country of immigrants. It’s what makes us unique. It’s what makes us so strong. We’ve got a lot of work to do. Part of that work is upholding the progress those before us fought so hard for.
Believe that there is more good than evil. Believe that our children deserve to learn the real history of our country–even in its times of darkness. Believe that you can be a part of creating the history they will learn that shows our progression into the light. VOTE. RALLY. PROTEST. USE YOUR VOICE. I read something yesterday morning from a mom in Illinois who barely ever posts but felt compelled to speak up. Her voice inspired mine. I hope mine can inspire yours. Stand up peacefully for the truth and for love. But be ready to fight for it as well. This is OUR country. This is OUR history. I hope the next several months show us all coming together like never before.