Fisk University Student/Tribune Intern
I will never forget the unequivocal juxtaposition that arose in the moments following Barack Obama’s initial 2008 victory and Donald Trump’s unprecedented 2016 win. Obama’s win (at least in the African-American and liberal circles I ran in) marked a monumental moment in American history. His landslide victory was the first presidential election I can remember (I was eleven years old at the time). To this day I recall the joy, the pride, the excitement, that seemed to surround me at the time. As a growing teenager, Barack Obama symbolized unity, progress, and the hope of a future of racial harmony. He set the precedent for me, and many other young Americans, for a political arena in which anybody, regardless of their ethnic background, could one day assume a powerful role in the American political system. The continuous string of forty-three Caucasian presidents almost seemed to tell us, as young black people “No, you can’t”, but Barack Obama’s emergence as the first black president flipped the script and quite literally sent a message to each of us, “yes you can.”
But when Donald Trump was elected in 2016, and a barrage of racial conflict followed closely behind him, I couldn’t help but think: Was Obama’s election to such an important political office merely an illusion of progress and tolerance for diversity within American culture? Did his 8 years in office serve only as a veil, masking the undoubtedly brewing racial tensions? Is it now considered ‘politically correct’ for a president to enact ethnicity-based policies like the Muslim ban and attempt to retract those policies meant to help people and promote multifaceted diversity like DACA and the transgender bathroom bills? On November 8th, 2016, a sizable portion of my university was huddled together in a room as minute by minute election results poured in from states across the country. When Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes, we cried real tears. It was as if we knew then, what was to follow.
Now a young college-aged student, I see Donald Trump, especially when compared to Barack Obama, as the epitome of white privilege and supremacy. While Obama was heckled continuously over invalid concerns regarding his birth certificate, the media and the public seemingly overlooked Trump’s verifiable and supposed history of racist real estate practices, tax fraud and money laundering. The media commonly seems surprised by Donald Trump’s outlandish and unpredictable rhetoric, but 20 years of growing up in the white dominated culture of the late 90’s and 2000’s tells me he is simply a product of his privilege. He believes he can say whatever he pleases and he’s inspired Caucasian Americans to do the same. Whether it’s offensive tweets, racist Facebook posts, the comments at the bottom of a YouTube video, or rallies like the one in Charlottesville, this revival in the boldness of the expression of racism has been a shock to my system, especially as someone who has spent her whole life growing up in a euphemistic, ‘post racial’, colorblind generation.
We can make the remainder of Trump’s presidency much more positively influential than it’s been so far. By recognizing what Donald Trump fundamentally is, (an attack on diversity, on progress, on tolerance) we can spend these next three and a half years bonding ourselves together across racial lines in a way that’s never been done before. We can resist the division insinuated by our president by outwardly condemning racism and xenophobia and by continuing the fight against racial injustices. As the constituency within a democracy, it is our right, our responsibility, our obligation to become active in government, to show up at local elections, and to be informed and hold our local officials to the things they say on the campaign trail. The millennial generation is the most globally connected group of people to ever walk the earth, and with this strength in numbers, we can do much more than just take a knee to express our dissatisfaction with the contemporary political and socio-racial climate.