Author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This is a belief that I have held for years and one that often comes to mind when I read the latest racist, homophobic or sexist comments made by Donald Trump. On the near 8th year anniversary of one of the most devastating natural disasters to hit Haiti, where over 200,000 people died, in a meeting about immigration reform, Trump referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa as shitholes countries.
And the media and many in the nation went into a frenzy. Thinkpieces popped up all over Twitter asking the question, “Is Donald Trump racist?” It was almost insulting after all that we have seen and read, all that Black people have stated, that we must still ask a question that we all know the answer to. Trump is going to be who Trump has shown himself to be. I am not naïve enough to believe that has a man that has been self-centered, egotistical, arrogant, racist and lacking a basic moral compass all his life will ever change. What America is getting is what White America voted for because White America supported what Trump stood for and they showed their support by voting to put him office. There is no getting around that. So, before you read any further, before you jump to “not me,” before you send me a long email about how you volunteer at an inner-city community center and voted for Hillary Clinton, pause and absorb that fact. Pause and understand that is the reality. Pause and realize that is the America we are living in. Of the people that voted, White America voted for a man that was openly racist. That is a fact. Until you are willing to accept that as a fact, you need to stop reading because you are not ready to do the work that is required to fight racism.
I was not shocked by Trump’s comments because I have a solid understanding about race in America. My focus was not on Donald Trump, because Trump is going to be what Trump has always been.My attention immediately went to the people in the room because it is the people in the room, that will make a significant impact when it comes to fighting racism. Senator Dick Durbin was the first and only person in the room to take a public stand and confirm that Trump did indeed call Haiti, El Salvador and Africa, shithole countries. Senator Lindsay Graham came out with a statement saying what Durbin said was, “basically true.” Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue said they do not recall the statement being made. At the time of this blog, Rep. Mario Diaz Balart, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, Rep. Bob Goodlatte have remained silent.
It is in that spineless silence and lukewarm admitting to the truth that racism breeds, and thrives.
When it comes to fighting racism, you must:
1. Speak Up – You have a voice so use it. All it takes is one person to speak up and say, “This is racist, and I will not tolerate this.” One person speaking up can allow others to see that they can do it too.
2. Stand Up – How could the atmosphere of that room shift if everyone stood up and walked out? When it comes to fighting racism, you must take a stand. Sometimes that is in the literal sense of the word. Stand up and walk out. Do not provide an audience for someone that wants to engage in racist behavior.
3. Have Courage – Speaking truth to power is never easy. You will be afraid. I challenge you to do it afraid. You may be the only one. You may face criticism. Your heart may be beating fast, and your knees may be knocking, however, speak up even if your voice is quivering. At some point, you must decide, “Do I want to sit in my fear or stand in my courage?”
4. Understand that Silence is Compliance – Racism thrives because too many “good people” remain silent. Silence is compliance. It is too convenient to say, “not me” or “I didn’t say it.” I ask you, “What did you say? Did you say anything that would stop the racist comments?” While I applaud Durbin speaking up, what I am baffled by is that he said, “Trump repeatedly used the word shithole.” How does that happen? I understand the first time the people in the room may have been shocked. However, how is Trump allowed to call countries with a predominately Black and Brown population shitholes more than once? There should have been no room for him to use that language a second time.
5. Be Public – Racism thrives in the shadows. Only by calling it out publicly can we start to confront it. Pretending that racism doesn’t exist doesn’t advance humanity. Whispering about racism to your friends doesn’t help anyone. Publicly challenging racists in their statements, beliefs, and policies means they can no longer hide.
6. Prepare Yourself For the Backlash– No one likes when someone disrupts a system that benefits them, and systemic racism benefits many people. When you stand up to bigotry, be prepared for people who need it to thrive, to be upset. However, you will rest easier knowing that you did the right thing.
7. Do Not Sugarcoat Racism- Inevitably when racists get called out, their first line of defense is to lie, deny or say they were making a joke. But being racist isn’t funny. Do not make excuses for their comments and do not attempt to dress them up saying, “What they really meant to say is __________________________.” What they said, they said. Do not try to explain racism away. Racism is what it is.
Will fighting racism be easy? No. In fact, I can promise if you do the things on this list, it will be difficult. It will require you having some tough conversation with people that you respect and love. It may even require you to have some tough conversation as you stare in a mirror and confront some of your own racist beliefs and behaviors. However, it will be worth it. Because we are worth living in a world where everyone thrives. Remember, Dr. King said, “‘In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.”
Featured Photo: Tim Pierce