My Turn: Make America Safe (Again)

For the Monitor
Published: 11/22/2020 6:41:26 AM
Modified: 11/22/2020 6:41:10 AM

Most mornings of the week, my toddler and I drive through the back roads of Hollis in order to get my twins to preschool. In the lead up to the recent election, it felt like driving through Trump country. Of several signs, big and small, one particularly large and prominently placed banner read: “Trump Pence Make America Safe Again.” The word, “safe,” stood out in yellow print. “Safe for whom?” I wondered.

My preschoolers remarked on the American eagle. After wondering, I sighed with relief; sheltered from television, the news and political talk, they did not make any other conscious association with the Trump-Pence campaign banner. Thankfully, our forced bow before it – due to the stop sign behind which it virtually hung – could be kept brief so that my little people did not have enough of a view to start sounding out the letters they are now adept at site reading.

Though mixed race due to their having a white father, to the world, my sons and daughter are various shades of black, like me. A world in which a Trump sign speaking to “safety” and hanging between two trees – the age-old instrument of choice for extinguishing the lives of people who looked like them and me in America’s centuries-old history of white supremacist racism against African Americans – hangs so proudly is not one in which they are safe. This is not just a matter of my feelings, it is borne out by the evidence.

In each of the years that Donald J. Trump has campaigned for and been president of the United States, “white nationalist hate groups” multiplied exponentially (growing by 55% in 2017 to 2019) and racially motivated hate crimes escalated. The U.S. State Department has shown this to be a global trend. When had such race-based violence last spiked in this way in America? Following the 9/11 attacks, and predominantly against Muslims.

For those of us who do not get to choose whether to be concerned about this fact or not, we could have told you even without seeing the data: with Trump at the helm, people who held racist and white supremacist views felt emboldened to share them. After all, the U.S. president publicly promoted these sentiments and beliefs on their behalf. As one Ku Klux Klan member described in his explanation of how “the invisible empire” was growing since Trump took office, “I think we now have a president with some of the same ideals.”

From increased numbers of racial slurs on the streets and in the checkout line at the grocery store to actual physical attacks on people (including children in schools) right up to Ku Klux Klan rallies in broad daylight in the streets and white supremacist forces infiltrating law enforcement, white supremacy was now back with a vengeance – and people like myself knew we were not safe.

Of the many things that stood out to me in the analysis of the preliminary exit poll data on Nov. 4, two key things loomed large: first, that 58% or nearly 3 out of 5 white Americans voted for Trump to remain POTUS; and, second, that among the main issues that drove people’s votes for president were “crime and safety” (named by 11% of those polled, of whom 72% said they voted for Trump) and “racial inequality” (named by 20% of respondents and 92% of them voted for Biden).

The first of these two statistics answered the question I’d asked at the big Trump-Pence banner in Hollis: “safe” for white Americans. The second of the statistics only affirmed this reading of the data; after all, for those concerned with the safety of Black Americans like myself, they would have probably voted primarily on the basis of wanting to end racial inequality – for instance, when it comes to being stopped, frisked, arrested, or killed by the police. As the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) recently reported: “13 of the 100 largest U.S. city police departments kill Black men at higher rates than the U.S. murder rate.”

Even with 35% of Americans polled naming the “economy” as their priority in choosing who to vote for (83% voting for Trump) and 17% of respondents naming “the coronavirus pandemic” (81% voting for Biden), “race” is implicated. Frankly, the pandemic has had disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC): 1 in 875 Black Americans have died from COVID-19 as contrasted with 1 in 1,625 white Americans. Factoring in the age distribution of each “race” group, the American Public Media Research Lab showed that “Black, Indigenous and Latino Americans all have a COVID-19 death rate of triple or more white Americans, who experience the lowest age-adjusted rates.” Clearly, BIPOC communities cannot be safe or secure until the pandemic is contained. For BIPOC, the president’s failure to get the virus under control presents an existential crisis.

In short, I can sum up Trump’s presidency in one word: trauma. I do not use this word lightly to describe the last nearly five years of my life. And, while I know this assessment holds true for many groups, it holds particular significance for BIPOC like myself.

Every Confederate flag I saw on a pickup truck or building taunted me. Every presidential (re)tweet – especially of white supremacist content – terrified me. Presidential speeches did not comfort me. By the end, every American flag flying outside someone’s home symbolized an America that hated people like me.

Therefore, as someone who was not safe in Trump’s America, I hope and pray that, when all of the incumbent’s efforts to resist or overturn the outcome of the election pass, I can finally say to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, and to you, dear reader: Make America Safe (Again). No longer just for white Americans, but also for my kids and me.

(Sindiso Mnisi Weeks is assistant professor in the public policy of excluded populations at the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMass Boston. She lives in Nashua with her husband and three kids.)




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