Friday, August 17, 2018

Being a Person of Color in Trump's America

In 2012, my husband and I purchased our first home together in a quiet, tree-lined residential neighborhood in New Jersey.  We were welcomed with warm wishes and congratulatory statements by our neighbors, complete with gifts of cookies and gift cards.

We hadn’t anticipated such a reception but as the days, weeks and months stretched into years, we look at our neighborhood and smile because we realize just how fortunate we were.  We have hosted dinner parties to celebrate love and family; sometimes including just a few but always welcoming everyone.  And it’s in that ideology that we cling to the thought that people, with all of their idiosyncrasies are inherently good…that we believe that we all matter and that each and every one of us has societal value.

But in the age of Trump, that ideology is rebuffed in the guise of patriotism and respect.  In this last year, the America that I was born in has changed into something that I don’t recognize.  I see this America through the lens of an African American, LGBTQ perspective…and it’s unsettling what I see if not downright terrifying.

In this America, the disdain for me is no longer hidden.  Where at one time, I could walk in blissful ignorance of what some people think of me whether that opinion would be grounded in fact or not, I now no longer have that luxury.

I am a black man living in a world where I am responsible (at least in part) for another segment of the population’s problems.  I am living in a world where somehow, it is my fault that some people aren’t getting ahead and in that, I am a threat.  I am living in a world where my inalienable rights are regarded with suspicion and my very existence is to be questioned.  I live with the knowledge that there are people that perceive me, my intellect and drive for success as a threat and as a result view me through a lens of fear, apprehension and distrust no matter how eloquently I speak.

What is sad in all of this is at the end of the day, no matter how many accomplishments I have under my belt, to some, I will still be just another “nigger.”  And if that be the case, how dare I desire much less demand equal treatment.  But here we are in 2018…a year that I thought would be so much more different than the turbulent 60’s, and yet, the discrimination that people of color endured in that time period has morphed into something that I thought had been packed away in emotional history books.
I wish that I could say in all good conscious that these issues had been greatly reduced before Trump and that he is just a symptom of the hatred that some white people had and may always have for people of color.  But the truth of the matter is that Trump just provided a voice to tap into the anger of this demographic.  This is a demographic that feels as if they were forgotten…that other people of various religions and ethnicities have been given preferential treatment to something that they felt entitled to.  They are feeling the effects of financial struggling even if that struggle isn’t the same as the struggles that people have had to endure all their lives.

Trump has managed to tap into that anger and say the things that they secretly feel.  He has given them the right to vent their anger even if the source of their anger has been misplaced.  He has pointed the finger at people of color and different faiths and said that they were to blame for all of their problems.

Trump has to have an enemy and so do his followers, so they attack…and attack…and attack.
So what is it like being a person of color in Trump’s America?

I am on edge…and it’s like the pressure never stops.  I feel like some white people look right through me instead of seeing me as a human being.  I feel like people have made assumptions about me before they ever make eye contact with me and that they could care less what or that I feel.
I think about what I would do if I ever get pulled over by the police because I don’t know the mindset of the police officer and although I know that the likelihood that I would survive the altercation, a small voice inside of me isn’t so sure.

I watch the news and know that half the time, I am being lied to and that the press is under assault simply because they don’t heap glowing praise on a man who loves the press when they cover him favorably, but hates them when they don’t.

Patriotism is now equated with the men who decide to take a knee and protest police brutality being regarded as people who hate their country when no one questions or cares to address the reason why they are taking a knee in the first place.

People of color are referred to as “animals” on a regular basis…and day after day, we are reminded that what is important to us is not as important as the issues that the average Trump supporter has to endure if we even matter at all.

People that seek asylum here looking for a safe place to raise their children are now separated from their children…some of those children to this day have not been heard from again because they are not seen as people…and we all know that it is easier to place less value on a human life if you don‘t see that life as human to begin with.

But mostly, it’s the resurgence of the word, “nigger” that is being used with such commonality that you have to wonder if it was ever socially unacceptable to say it.  I say this because there are those that feel emboldened to say the things that they once used to keep to themselves because the leader of the free world has convinced them that it is okay to be this way because once again, I am to blame for their problems.

I am not seen as a human being.  I am from a “shithole” country or I have no value because somehow, I am branded as a drug dealer because I drive a nicer car.  Nothing that I do can be deemed as legitimate because I am viewed as not being legitimate.  And then there is being part of the LGBTQ community.

I am part of an inter-racial relationship and in that, some people will assume that if we are out together that he will be paying for dinner and will be mildly surprised when I place my credit card on the table.

Indeed, even when I am doing all the right things, I will never be given the credit nor the benefit of the doubt that I am forthright, intelligent and honest because somehow, those qualities are not reserved for me or people that look like me.

Because this is Trump’s America…and in that, only the Trump supporters matter. 

~ J.L. Whitehead

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

This Will Not End Well

I am watching the campaign trail, anxious to make my voice heard as well as the voices of my constituents around me.  I am watching some of the Trump rallies and one of the things that I am observing is the anger that is being whipped up in the attendees.

The anger is evident…a permanent fixture in these events; and I keep wondering why.  After all, these are people who now believe that their voice is being heard.  These are people who not only believe that they won the 2016 election legitimately; they also believe that there is still a need to be angry because someone is persecuting their president.

It doesn’t matter that the president has serious character flaws.  It doesn’t matter that it appears that he may have committed treason to obtain the office of the presidency.  It doesn’t matter that the president is implementing policies that in theory appear to address the issues of the nation but in reality only address the concerns of the 30 percent that voted for him. 

None of that matters because one of the things that this presidency has shown is not just the flaws of this administration; but the societal flaws that we have as a nation.

What is happening in plain sight is that we as a nation are not who we thought we were.  We knew that bigotry existed, but it was okay as long as we didn’t discuss it out in the open.  Racism was okay as long as it was done in private; behind closed doors and it wasn’t obvious to everyone that it was still prevalent as it was at the turn of the century.  We didn’t have to discuss it as long as the recipients of racism didn’t say anything to address the illusion of fairness and equality.

But the anger that ran silently underneath the river of society is now bubbling to the surface in a way that seems to be reminiscent of the pre-civil rights era.  At these rallies, we are seeing people being whipped up into an angry frenzy of an attack that they perceive as being waged on them.

They are angry about the perception that a war is being waged on their very way of life…a way of life that does not have room for people of color.  They are angry that people of color are angry about this.  After all, why shouldn’t people of color be happy with all of the societal gains that have been made despite the fact that those very people will not be held to the same standard of our white counter parts?

The anger at the Trump rallies pose a problem much more dangerous than simply whipping people up into an emotional frenzy to attack a perceived threat.

The anger that has now come to the surface at immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ and Muslims will boil over should the 60% who did not vote for Trump attempt to take back our democracy.

This is not something that I look forward to but one that I anticipate, given the nature of the people that hold this administration in high regard.

In their mind, an attack on this administration is an attack on them.  They do not perceive that there is anything wrong with a president who projects the image that everyone is attacking him and therefore the enemy.

It has not dawned upon them that Trump could be emotionally and psychologically ill equipped to hold the office of the presidency.  They only see that this man is doing so many wonderful things in their eyes even if it is not apparent to everyone.

So just exactly what does someone who is filled with anger do when someone is attacking them? What happens when someone believes that the world is against them and they are backed into a corner?

Anger turns into action and people fight…even if the fight isn’t theirs.

If we take back our democracy and fight against authoritarian principles, do we not have that right as a people to do what we believe is right?  Do we not have the right to want to live in a land of equality and not perceived equality?

Do we not have the right to want to worship the way that we want to worship, marry who we wish to marry, work hard for the American Dream…whatever that may mean?

We do.

But on the flip side of the coin is that the people that attend these rallies do not believe that we do.  They are angry that we dare to challenge the ideology of someone that demands loyalty from all Americans even though he does not believe in the equality of all Americans.

And that’s what makes the anger at these rallies dangerous.  We are not dealing with people that respect other’s rights to their own opinions.  They view others that do not agree with them as “the other.”  They are the enemy.  Even more terrifying is that the media is equally deemed as the enemy.  Simply put, the media is supposed to report news..good or bad; positive or negative.  Unfortunately, for this president, much of what he does comes at the expense of other demographic groups.  And as long as it doesn’t negatively impact the livelihood of his base, then he will always be worth fighting for.

And that thought process in and of itself is truly frightening.

~ J.L. Whitehead

Friday, August 10, 2018

The War on People of Color

Sometimes I lie awake at night wondering where we went wrong as a nation.  I think about how we wound up so polarized; how tribalism has become the new norm.  I have a window seat to the invisible fight that people are having not just with this administration, but amongst themselves.
What we are seeing is something that could be construed as a systematic war on people of color as well as varying faiths.  I’ve had this conversation with many people and as expected, some people agree with me and some people don’t.

But to place this in perspective, you have to recognize the weapons that are being used to repress people of color.  This war didn’t begin with the inauguration of Donald Trump, but it has culminated under him.

He has created a rhetoric that is rooted in discrimination and prejudice.  He speaks life to bigotry in the guise of safety and security.  He has used patriotism as a means to repress those that don’t look like him.  And people that defend him will say that he cares about people of color simply because the economy is booming and unemployment for African Americans is at an all time low; even though the groundwork for the uptick in the economy started long before he took office.

It’s unfortunate that he attacks…and attacks…and attacks.

And yet, people that are not the brunt of his attacks will dismiss his actions as simply being misinterpreted; perhaps even misunderstood.

But as a person of color, I understand his message all too well.  I’ve heard it often enough in my lifetime.

So if you think that Trump cares about people of color, let’s check off the list of things that he has done to prove otherwise:

1.      On May 1, 1989, real estate magnate Donald Trump called for the return of the death penalty when he took out full-page advertisements in all four of the city's major newspapers. Trump said he wanted the "criminals of every age" who were accused of beating and raping a jogger in Central Park 12 days earlier "to be afraid".[82] The advertisement, which cost an estimated $85,000,[82] said, in part, "Mayor Koch has stated that hate and rancor should be removed from our hearts. I do not think so. I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They should be forced to suffer ... Yes, Mayor Koch, I want to hate these murderers and I always will. ... How can our great society tolerate the continued brutalization of its citizens by crazed misfits? Criminals must be told that their CIVIL LIBERTIES END WHEN AN ATTACK ON OUR SAFETY BEGINS!" [83] In a 1989 interview with CNN, Trump said to Larry King: "The problem with our society is the victim has absolutely no rights and the criminal has unbelievable rights" and that "maybe hate is what we need if we're gonna get something done."[84]
Lawyers for the five defendants said that Trump's advertisement had inflamed public opinion. After Reyes confessed to the crime and said he acted alone, one of the defendants' lawyers, Michael W. Warren, said, "I think Donald Trump at the very least owes a real apology to this community and to the young men and their families."[82] Protests were held outside Trump Tower in October 2002 with protestors chanting, "Trump is a chump!"[82] Trump was unapologetic at the time, saying, "I don't mind if they picket. I like pickets.” (1)
2.      There is the false claim that Trump continually made about the former president of the United States that somehow he was not born here and clung to that lie for years. (2)
3.      There are Trumps comments about the riot that took place in Charlottesville where there were “fine people on both sides.”  The fact that the president of this country can say that there is good on both sides when white nationalists with torches marched to protect white supremacy instead of condemning that action is another means to divide our citizens.
4.      The travel ban imposed on Muslims was condemned initially because of what he campaigned on.  He had made a promise to his supporters that he would do everything he could to keep the undesirables out of this country; a promise that was based primarily on bigotry.  He made people of the Muslim faith the “them” in this war on terrorism branding a religion as the source of discontentment for the 35 – 40% that voted for him.
5.      Trump declared war on the players of the NFL when they decided to take a knee to protest police brutality and violence.  He turned this into a political issue stating that they were somehow disrespecting the flag when in reality; it wasn’t the flag that they were protesting.  It never was.  Not once did he address the reason why these men decided to take a knee in the first place; almost as if the reason why they took a knee was inconsequential. Instead, they were portrayed as spoiled, over-paid, black athletes that hated their country.  The reality is that black lives, just like all life should matter…and to the president, as sad as it is to say, it simply doesn’t.
6.      The United States did respond to the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria.  But the response was disproportionate to the help that was needed as these were and are citizens of this country.  Too many died because the optics portrayed us as not caring enough.  Yes, the president and his wife did fly down in the aftermath of the hurricane that devastated the island, and yes, FEMA was in place to help with those that needed help.  But a year later, our people are still hurting and the estimates of the citizens that perished are well over one thousand, possibly going as high as four thousand.

One of the biggest issues facing our nation today is gun violence and our lack of response to address it.  How does this translate into an issue that indirectly impacts people of color?  It’s not the issue itself but the way that it is treated which further divides this country.  Black men have been shot and killed for holding that could be construed as a weapon while we have a domestic terrorism issue that no one seems to want to talk about until the next mass shooting.

People of color are not seen as people.  We are seen as something other.  Black men are deemed a threat before we can even open our mouths to say who and what we are.  And there are people that will say that we are bringing up this topic again just to hear ourselves talk; almost as if we enjoy bringing up something that in theory should have been addressed years ago despite the possibility that this topic may make you feel uncomfortable.

I assure you, dying from being misinterpreted as a threat is a little bit more important than how you feel because you don’t want to hear about it.  Black men have always been deemed as a threat.  We have to watch how we speak to appear nonthreatening; we have to watch out body language when we’re in stores and restaurants, all in the guise of making you feel safe.  Our police force has been used as weapons against us in the course of upholding law, order and civility – even when such a call should never have been placed to begin with because no laws were broken.

People of color have been called “animals”, “rapists” and murderers.  And we all know that once you dehumanize an individual, it is easier to place yourself above them.  When you do not regard a person of color as having the same characteristics as you, it is easier to deny them the same privileges that you enjoy and perhaps take for granted.

At the same time, we are not afforded the luxury of becoming angry about an unjust system.  Responding with emotion is not an option because once we do, we then become the very thing that you have accused us of being all along, not realizing that the way that you treat a person has everything to do with how they respond.

I say all of this because it is important that it gets said.  Diversity is something that should be embraced and cherished because it is what makes us who we are.  Admittedly, I don’t know everything there is to know about every culture outside of my own, but I am willing to learn and partake in that.

We cannot nor should we subscribe to an ideology that tears us apart at the seams.  We have so much to learn from one another.  We have so much to give to one another.  But it initially starts with opening our minds and hearts.

I do not think that this president has the capacity to be the kind of leader that he should be.  I think that the need for praise and loyalty supersedes common sense and dignity for the office that he holds.  But that is a topic to be addressed on another day in a different article.

But I will end with this quote by James Baldwin and this pretty much sums up how I feel about race relations in this country:

“How can I trust what you say when I see what you do?”

~ J.L. Whitehead


Thursday, June 28, 2018

War on the LGBTQ Community

It’s been two years since the horrific shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida; two years since we woke up on Sunday morning and turned on the news to watch “Meet the Press” and was greeted with images of chaos…people being sent to hospitals because a madman decided to come into a club and open fire on the LGBTQ community, killing 49 people.
In the time since this massacre, we have become an activist.  We didn’t willingly sign up for the job.  Instead, it fell into our lap.  We didn’t ask for it.  It just happened and it occurred in a way that we didn’t expect.
We have become acutely aware of the freedoms of our community; freedoms that others would like to take away.  We are living in an era where war has been declared on people of color, people of Muslim faith and the LGBTQ community.  Our rights are slowly being stripped away in the guise of patriotism.  People are being imprisoned under the guise of Homeland Security.  And before it’s all said and done, our rights to love who we want to love will be brought into question…it’s just a matter of time.
Everything that is happening now is no different than what happened that fateful evening two years ago.
Actually, let me correct myself; it is different in the aspect that the outcome will be slow…moving like a cancer.  It will eat away at our core, claiming and eroding from the inside out.  Rights will be questioned, then challenged and then finally removed.  All of this done in the name of making a country great; even if the country was great to begin with.
There was a time when I wasn’t always proud to belong to the LGBTQ community.  At one point in time, being of this community was considered a curse; an anomaly that went against the commandments of God and society.  It was the greatest insult you could hurl at a man…and people would hurl those insults as a means of demeaning an individual; perhaps making them feel as if they didn’t belong or that society had no place for them.
I wrestled with this ideology for years…and then I woke up.  I realized that loving someone is important, but so is loving myself.  I understand that shame only works if you truly feel as if there is something to be ashamed of.  And I believe with everything within me, that there is no reason to hold my head down to anyone or anything. 

We understand that once you hold your head down, you are giving that person power over you.  And I can’t do that…not anymore.
There are certain demographics within this country that will come for our rights and liberties in the guise of proclaiming that they are better than me because of how they worship, what they believe or what political viewpoints they hold.
Our rights will be questioned as they are right now at this very moment.  Our standing within society will be challenged as is what is currently happening with our transgender community.
And lastly, legislation will be drafted to take away the rights that we have fought for and currently enjoy.  It hasn’t happened yet…but it may be on the not too distant horizon because this is where we are.
We have to remain vigilant as a people.  We have value and we will not be dismissed because some people don’t understand who or why we love.
We belong to the LGBTQ community; and we should be prepared to fight for this community because beside the fact that these men and women are our family; we have earned the right to be here and no one has the right to push us back into the proverbial closet.
It’s been two years since the shooting in Florida.  But the assault continues and until we all stand up in unison and fight for the right to be, we will be dismissed as another group of people that does not or will not contribute to a society that somehow defines itself as great by imposing its will on another group of people.
We have value.  We have merit…and we should be willing to fight for that merit!
~ J.L Whitehead