By Stacy M. Brown
A lot of past cruelties can underscore America’s history of hate.
Today, one could capture that hate through the lens of at least some of the more than 74 million people casting a vote for President Donald Trump.
Often described as a racist, chauvinist, and one whose policies separated immigrant children from their parents and put them in cages along the Southern U.S. border, Trump supposedly embodies the very qualities that much of America — including many of its major corporations and our next-door neighbors — protested against when they stood with Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
Yet, he received the second-highest vote count of any presidential candidate in history.
Even now, Trump and his campaign have specifically sought to have officials toss out many of the votes that were legitimately cast in heavily African American-populated cities like Atlanta, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Ironically, their actions would include disenfranchising thousands of Republicans whose votes were also submitted by other means than in person at a polling place.
In the specific instance of the effect on the Black vote, seeking ways to deny African American voters our Constitutional right to make our voice known at the ballot box is a tactic used since, during, and after Reconstruction.
African Americans have not been alone on the receiving end of our nation’s history of hate-driven actions.
“The history of the United States over the past 200 years has been largely a struggle to define who might enjoy the rights and privileges of full citizenship,” offered Sarah Silkey, a professor of History at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Penn.
“Each successive gain made in broadening the definition of American citizenship was quickly followed by a backlash. Jim Crow segregation, the convict lease system, redlining, the war on drugs, and other systems created to maintain white supremacy denied access to full citizenship for generations of Americans,” Silkey wrote in an email.
“By defining personal success solely as a product of individual initiative and effort, the popular myth of the American Dream served to reinforce white privilege, perpetuate damaging racial stereotypes, and absolve white politicians from responsibility for dismantling entrenched systems of inequality,” she added.
“The crises of 2020 exposed vast inequities of health, wealth, safety, and political access to a broader cross-section of the American public. That growing public awareness of systemic inequalities has created an opportunity for the next administration to enact meaningful change,” Silkey concluded.
As American families prepare for another Thanksgiving, many are left to ponder just what they should celebrate.
“The US was built on powerful myths of equal opportunity in the pursuit of happiness and the city on a shining hill. The reality was less uplifting,” observed Nora V. Demleitner, a Roy L. Steinheimer Jr. Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University in Lexington City, Va.
“Racism, racial exclusion of immigrants, and the vilification of ethnic and religious groups have long been an integral part of US history,” Demleitner posited.
“There has been substantial progress in the creation and enforcement of civil rights for all especially during the civil rights era, yet it has been uneven, and rising economic inequality and the impact of climate change threaten to undermine some of that progress.”
The playbooks of racial and ethnic vilification were never entirely discarded.
They are coming back as seen in the demand for “law and order,” widespread suppression of minority voters, and unwillingness to invest in infrastructure and education to support all, Demleitner offered further.
Tim Powell, a University of Chicago journalism master’s student, discards the myth of an America that welcomes labeling as a melting pot.
“Consider that the colonists left England to rebel against religion, and when they arrived here, we had a colony of rebels to some degree,” Powell relayed.
“The administrations can only do so much to counter the inherent unacceptance of races by a white, male American. It will be up to the next generations that will determine the acceptance of differences.”
“The best administrations will be those that do not stoke division.
“Look at McCarthyism as an example of the people demanding we rid America of ‘communists.’ It was not McCarthy himself, but the people demanding it. Without a market, a leader of a campaign – like Trump’s immorality – the leader has no followers.”
The 14th Amendment was meant to give slaves – only slaves – equal protection of the law, Powell added.
However, in nearly all relevant court cases since 1860 – Plessy, San Mateo v. Southern Pacific, Citizens United, Hobby Lobby – it has rarely given Amendment protections to Blacks but to corporations and other entities deemed as ‘persons.’”
Photographer Michael Freeby expressed that, “It’s not just the kids in cages, as if that weren’t bad enough.”
“Let us not forget ICE abducts perfectly law-abiding citizens in the middle of the night, performs cruel unethical unasked for surgeries on them, and that a disproportionate number of coronavirus deaths have been taking place in ICE captivity.”
“As a Mexican who lives close to ICE’s headquarters at the USA/Mexico border, it especially sends chills down my spine,” Freeby objected.
“Once people are placed in ICE captivity, they lose all rights. We are the United States of America, a country whose entire premise was based on people fleeing from elsewhere to start fresh and pursue their dreams. Picking and choosing based on skin color is not right. We are not animals – we are people.”
Terrell L. Strayhorn, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Virginia Union University, where he also serves as Professor of Education and Director of the Center for the Study of HBCUs, noted that African Americans are the only group denied access to education by law.
“No matter how uncomfortable or unpopular to admit, it was once legal to punish or kill an African American, but you could not educate them,” Strayhorn submitted.
“Teaching Blacks to read and write was prohibited by law. In the year 2020, there are over 4,300 colleges and universities in the United States, collectively enrolling over 20 million college students. Virtually 2 million are African Americans, with the vast majority (two-thirds) being Black women.
“And when African Americans enroll in college, approximately half do not graduate, accrue high amounts of educational debt, or report experiencing hostile, unwelcoming environments at predominantly white institutions.”
Strayhorn asked that the incoming Joe Biden/Kamala Harris administration do all it could to reduce, or remove, those challenges.
“A new administration, comprised of individuals who reflect the diversity of their constituents, can champion culturally-relevant initiatives, create equity, and foster racial healing,” Strayhorn proposed.
As a Black and Indian American, a plan of Kamala Harris should include equality for Black women in the workplace, opined Dr. Carey Yazeed, the editor of the anthology, “Shut ’em Down: Black Women, Racism and Corporate America.”
“Malcolm X stated it best, ‘The most disrespected person in America is the Black Woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black Woman.’ This country has done little to help uplift Black women, yet we are the ones who continuously come to its rescue,” Dr. Yazeed remarked.
“Although Black women are often the lowest paid in Corporate America, we often outwork and outperform our peers in the workplace,” she continued.
“When corporations talk about diversity and inclusion, Black women are usually excluded from those conversations, which is reflected in our salaries and how we are treated. Black women often walk away from Corporate America traumatized by the racial injustices that they endure and are left to carry that pain around for years.”
Actress and mental health advocate Samantina Zenon concluded that many white people remain disconnected, still seeing African Americans as maids or even slaves.
“History continues to rewrite itself. In every avenue, Black people consistently get mistreated,” Zenon said.
“In order for real changes to happen, the new administration needs to give more Black people a platform to be seen and heard, not just Black celebrities or politicians.
“Real people who face daily challenges for being Black in America. Part of the narrative on their campaigns was Donald Trump divided the country and has given white supremacists a platform to be racist, and they want to bring us back together. While that is true, the new administration needs to be held accountable for making those changes because Black people showed up for them at the polls, make racism wrong again.”