Make America “Great” Again!

The battle cry for Donald Trump is that he will “make America great again.” He will get the jobs back, he will defeat ISIS, he will build that wall and keep all the illegal Mexican immigrants out, even as he deports literally millions of Muslims from this country.

He will take us back, back to the time when, he says, America was truly great.

When was that? What made America great and for whom was it great?

America may have been “great” when Founding Fathers crafted the concept of democracy, using and relying on the words “all men are created equal and are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights,” which included  “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But from the time of the crafting of the Constitution, it was clear that those words were woefully mythic in nature. The Founding Fathers never intended for some people to be free, to be considered equal, or in the case of African-Americans, to even be considered full human beings.

Nearly every endeavor engaged in by those who “made America great” involved the subjugation, oppression and discrimination against people who were not white and male. Indigenous Americans were killed off; that is called genocide. White women were considered second class citizens, prizes to be used for the sexual fulfillment of their men and to be used as an excuse to indiscriminately lynch black men.

Black people were, simply, the backbone upon which the local and global economy was built. They were objects to be used, traded, and ultimately discarded.

So, given that reality, when was America great? Or, maybe the better question is, “what”  does “great” mean? What is the definition that Trump and his followers are using?

At one of his rallies, Trump ordered a protester out, saying, “remember how it used to be,” and going on to explain people who “caused trouble” were often handled.  (http://www.mediaite.com/online/trump-tells-crowd-to-knock-the-crap-out-of-protesters-offers-to-pay-legal-fees/  ) Wild West” mentality, a man was considered tough by the way he handled his enemies, real or perceived. If he had to take someone out, then so be it. “In the good old days,” Trump mused at one of his rallies, “this didn’t happen because they used to treat them very, very rough. (http://mashable.com/2016/03/12/trump-rally-incite-violence/#ytvHzFqipiqh)

He is right. In the “good old days,” black people could be and were lynched at worst, or at least badly beaten, for merely being accused of a “crime,” which could be something as petty as being out at the wrong time of night. In those “good old days,” African Americans returning from battle in World Wars I and II were treated like common criminals, often being beaten by whites while still in uniform. Brutal, barbaric lynchings of blacks were carried out by white people as a matter of course, increasing in the time period after Reconstruction, with white perpetrators never having to worry about being held accountable, and with white law enforcement officers often part of the lynch mobs.

In spite of the US Constitution saying that every American citizen had a right to a trial by a “jury of his peers,” black people were almost always tried by all-white juries – which almost always convicted them. After slavery was abolished (except for people who had been convicted of a crime, per the 13th Amendment), white people and white systems sought to criminalize as many black people  as possible, via the Convict Leasing program, which kept blacks virtually enslaved for the duration of their lives.

And so I ask again, when was America so great, and for whom was it great?

Trump knows what he is thinking. His definition of a great America is a time when people did not have to care about, worry about, what black people and brown people and Muslims and Mexicans needed. The great America was a place where women were objectified and used at the discretion of sexually and physically abusive men. “Great America” is a time when white people could enjoy their whiteness basically undisturbed.

That America is long gone; the demographics of this nation have shifted too much. Women have gained too many rights. A way has been made for “the marginalized.” Jobs have been outsourced by business moguls like Trump so that they can realize the greatest profits possible with as little output of capital as possible.  “Great America” is now, as Fareed Zakaria says, “post America.” That idea is scary to everyone, not just white people.

But Trump is seeking the triumph of white male supremacy in an era where the resistance against it is behemoth. Trump is calling the troops for a fight that has been in the losing lane for years. The question is, if Trump wins, and those who want “Great America” back as it was, and it doesn’t come – which it most probably will not – what will they do?

What will America do?

America the beautiful is now America the embattled. Not even Trump can change the course of history that has been in place for generations.

A candid observation …

 

 

Boyz 2 Men…Maybe

When my son Charlie was a little boy, people used to stop me on the street and proclaim how absolutely cute he was. (He really was!) Added to his inherent cuteness, he had a smile that went from ear to ear, teetering on being a grin. That smile drew people into him, and they adored him.

But he was a little boy. He was African-American …but a little boy. He had not yet developed his deep, baritone voice, nor had he grown to his 6’4″ stature. He was a little boy with fuzzy, wooly hair, little chubby legs and arms, a big smile and wide, glistening eyes.

While I was proud of people saying Charlie was cute, I also found myself annoyed inside when white people would compliment him, because I knew he was only “human,” and therefore, capable of being humanly “cute,” while he was little. All too soon, I knew, he would be seen as “one of them” by these same white people who were smiling at him now, and he would become a live member of the endangered species called black men.

I thought about that as I read the story of a former professional baseball player who was racially profiled in his own driveway in Hartford, CT. as he shoveled snow. (http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/04/i-was-racially-profiled-in-my-own-driveway/360615/) His account of what happened to him was all too familiar. The white officer who questioned him, assuming he had no right to be in that neighborhood left without apologizing after being told that the man was in the driveway of his house. This man was well-educated and knew enough protocol to know what to say and not say, do and not do, to this young, white police officer, but what if he had been less educated, and had not been schooled on what to do when stopped by police? It is very possible, in fact, probable, that this man would have been gunned down, with the police officer giving the excuse that he had to shoot because he was “in fear for his life.”

There have been all kinds of “conversations on race” in this country, and yet, racism sticks to American society, culture and life like human skin sticks to crazy glue. Most people don’t want to have a conversation about race, white or black; most Americans want to believe that racism is gone. After all, we have a black president …

But the facts of our existence as Americans say otherwise. Black kids in school are expelled or suspended more often than white kids for the same offenses; more black people than white are in prison for non-violent drug offenses; one black man is killed by police every 28 hours according to a recent report published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. (http://mxgm.org/operation-ghetto-storm-2012-annual-report-on-the-extrajudicial-killing-of-313-black-people/). The information contained in this well-researched report is not surprising for those of us who are African-Americans, but it is troubling that in this, the 21st century, black people, and more specifically, black men, are still at risk. Black actors still find it hard to get good roles because Hollywood still sees the world and the stories to be told through a primarily white lens. Lupita Nyong’o, the award-winning and stunningly beautiful actress who played the role of a mistreated slave in “12 Years a Slave” may very well, despite her beauty and talent, find herself out of work because there will simply not be enough casting agencies willing to cast her or roles suited for a very black woman.

Ah, this is America.

My son is now 25 years old, tall, bronze-skinned, handsome…and so smart. That really isn’t a guarantee, though, or a shield against racism, and the fear that undergirds racism and causes people to make assumptions about black people in general. If he were on a corner waiting for a taxi in New York, where he lives, and a white guy was near him, also waiting for a cab, guess who’d get the cab? The most important thing is that he has made it out of boyhood into manhood. He was a boy; now he’s a man. Getting from one status to the next as a black man is not a guarantee, so I should be happy. I will be happy. I am happy…but yet sad, because many young men will not get to experience that blessing.

A candid observation …