I remember sitting in class back in high school and learning about slavery, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement (since that’s all they taught about black history) and thinking ... what the hell?
The few other black kids in my class and I would often mutter that we never would have been slaves. We just knew, from the comfort of our plastic chairs, under the fluorescent lights of homeroom, that we would have told Massa he could pick his own cotton. We would’ve thrown that bar of soap back at the election official in the Jim Crow South. We all envisioned ourselves badass mixtures of the slaves from Eddie Murphy’s routine in Raw and Granddad’s version of Catcher Freeman.
In your 10th-grade mind, no matter what the odds or the costs, you weren’t going to just sit back while someone dehumanized you, right? Well, now is your chance. With exactly 10 days into the presidential administration of Donald Trump, we have seen a flurry of policies that mirror how apartheid, Jim Crow and every other seemingly impossible system of oppression and violence started in a democracy when people didn’t think it was possible. The question is, now that you’re no longer in the comfort of that classroom, what are you going to do about it ?
The highlights of the Trump administration’s first week are pretty clear, but just as a refresher on some of the biggest points:
- He set in motion the repeal of the Affordable Care act without a functional replacement, putting potentially 5 million African-American women alone out of effective health care plans.
- He started a trade war with Mexico in a move that will affect access to and availability of working-class jobs, especially in the Southwest.
- He banned immigration and non-American travel from seven mostly Muslim countries that have never attacked the United States (that also don’t happen to have any business ties to Trump personally); a precursor to other restrictions on Muslim Americans (20 percent of whom are also African American).
- He appointed a white nationalist and terrorist sympathizer to the National Security Council, replacing the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Did I miss anything? Quite a bit, actually, but that’s the point. The speed at which a president can move when unencumbered by tradition, norms or a functional opposition party is stunningly fast.
This is around the point in class where you started to squirm as a kid. Wasn’t it obvious to black people when Jim Crow started? Why didn’t they move? Why didn’t people just refuse to work on a white man’s farm? Why not just move north, or to the Midwest or Canada? Of course, what you didn’t realize then is that comfort is a serious drug. Most African Americans understand that Trump is a threat, but have no idea what to do about it, or else assume that we’ll just survive it as we have every other hostile administration. That’s a big gamble. Your 10th-grade self wouldn’t approve.
Trump, in every speech, every campaign stop and every public statement portrays America as this apocalyptic Mad Max wasteland full of angry protesters, predatory blacks and secret cabals of Muslims. The only solution to this chaos is massive crackdowns on dissent, information and the freedoms of undesirable people. Protesting against Trump is good, but it’s not enough when he sees the populace as an unruly mob anyway.
The goal can’t simply be to restore rights or undo wrongs that Trump and his supporters in state legislatures across America (remember them?) might engage in. The goal must be to change the electoral system to prevent this kind of leadership from occurring again. The goal must be to pass laws to inoculate the public from arbitrary and discriminatory legislation. The goal must be to bring a similar level of protests to every injustice by the government, be that the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota; water in Flint, Mich.; or a shooting in Charlotte, N.C.
If you can argue on Facebook about the Muslim/immigration ban, you can call your state legislator and ask him or her what he or she is doing about it. (Here’s an easy link to find who your state rep is.) If you can tweet a bunch of anti-Trump memes, you can contact your member of Congress and have him or her propose legislation that allows your state to retain some semblance of the Affordable Care Act. (Here’s a link to find your congressional rep.) If you can delete Uber because the CEO is a Trump supporter, then you can donate to the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a local politician, a Black Lives Matter branch or an independent news site.
In other words, it is well within your power to be that man or woman you said you would have been in high school. The one who would smack Massa upside his head and run to freedom like Noah on Underground. The one who would’ve come to the door strapped and chased off the Ku Klux Klan if they tried to take your farm. The one who wouldn’t have just sat in the white section of the Montgomery, Ala., bus but would have gone all Rick James on the back seat of the white people in front of you.
In other words, are you tougher than a 10th-grader? Are you the person you said you would be in the face of oppression? Class is starting, and you have four to eight years to earn your grade.