“African-Americans and Hispanics are living in hell.”
That was Republican nominee Donald J. Trump, an affluent white man, on the living conditions of two minority groups in America.
When he made the comment at Monday night’s first presidential debate in the general election, I felt compelled to take a quick glance about my surroundings to assure myself that no, my world was not aflame with the fires of hell and yes, hope was on the horizon.
But to hear Trump tell it, blacks are living in a truly destitute society.
His comments echo a similar tirade he launched at a rally in Virginia earlier this month. “What do you have to lose by trying something new, like Trump?” he asked a crowd, mostly white. “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed—what the hell do you have to lose?”
A laughable, last-ditch-effort to marshal black voters, Trump’s comments are dismissive of the nuance of the black—and Latino—inner-city experience in America, even if a kernel of truth exists among them.
I say a kernel because the reality is that, though the black community faces many heart-wrenching issues, there is much to celebrate: black women are now the most educated group in America, and a black man has held the highest office in the land for the past eight years. These things do not excuse the negative aspects of the black experience, but to ignore them is to perpetuate a whole score of false stereotypes about the state of black folks in the country.
As Marc Morial, the president of the National Urban League told the New York Times after Trump’s initial remarks, “It’s an inaccurate portrayal of the community that seeks to define the community by only its biggest challenges. Black America has deep problems—deep economic problems—but black America also has a large community of striving, successful, hard-working people: college educated, in the work force.”
But, Mr. Trump, even if hell is sprouting up around me, is my only choice to vote for you? Ask any sane African American that question and you’ll receive an emphatic no, and likely a thump on the head to knock the cobwebs out of your skull.
This is the same man whose supporters, in their most candid moments, have been shown to be viciously racist and violent beyond reason. Send a black man, even if he is garbed in peace, to a Trump rally and you might as well have sent a punching bag into an arena teeming with boxers thirsty for blood.
“But it’s just his most extreme supporters,” is the refrain of some of Trump’s allies. To this, I say look no further than the fact that the Justice Department opened two separate investigations into his company for rental discrimination against blacks. Look to his refusal to denounce several leaders of white supremacy groups who have publicly backed his candidacy. Look at how he tokenized an African American supporter (“look at my African American over there”) using rhetoric reminiscent of slave-era condescension to dispel the idea he is racist.
A rookie mistake, Mr. Trump; the first thing they teach you about racists is that they’ll insist they have a “black friend.”
But calling Trump a racist, at this point in the election, seems a tired declaration. He’s been called every negative word under the sun: racist, sexist, a demagogue, and more.
Still, those monikers are important to recall at every step of the way. This is not an election for the student body president of some small town high school—this is the election for the presidency of the United States. This man, if he wins, will lead a country with over 45 million African Americans. What happens if his casual racism evolves into policy?
The bottom line: even if there are hellhounds barking at my heels, I know I do not speak for myself when I say I’d rather be damned than search for a savior in Trump. And while Hillary Clinton’s background on racial issues is also not much to be desired, I can take solace in the fact that she has learned from her mistakes.
In a race for the highest office of the land, I’d rather put my fate in a flawed candidate eager to do better in the future than a man with little care of how his statements embody some of the deepest-set racist ideologies of the era.