I live a life of privilege. As a tenured professor at an elite institution of higher education, I have access to resources that most Blacks don’t have. If we’re being honest, I have access to resources that most White Americans don’t have. Now, don’t get it twisted—it hasn’t always been this way. To quote Langston Hughes, “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.” I’ve spent the better part of my life trudging an uphill climb to find the safety and security that my newfound privilege now affords. Still, as a child of the post-Civil Rights Era, Jim Crow is a history lesson and not a reality once lived. I’m able to take for granted the things so hard-fought by my ancestors, like the ability to exercise my rights and freedoms under the Constitution with little-to-no opposition. And that is a privilege.
But that privilege is being challenged in Trump’s America.
Let me begin by stating that this is not the post-election blog I envisioned writing when I woke up on the morning of November 8, 2016. Like so many others who followed this seemingly endless election, I truly believed that Hillary Rodham Clinton would be elected the 45th President of the United States of America. And so I began that Tuesday morning with a conversation with my daughter. Thanks to a wonderful book, entitled Grace for President, she already understood the importance of electing a female president. Incidentally, this book offers an easily understandable explanation of the Electoral College, but I digress. Most mornings, my daughter picks out her own outfits (and I refuse to take any credit for the way she dresses herself). On that morning, however, I chose her clothes. On that Tuesday morning in November, I dressed my daughter in white—Suffragette White. I explained to her that there were people in the world that believed that girls shouldn’t be allowed to do certain things, including vote. I told her that, on that day, she would be wearing white in honor of all the girls who were ever told that they couldn’t do something. Although she’s only 7 years old, my daughter is a radical Black feminist, so she was happy to shed her usually colorful attire for a more monochromatic ensemble. But despite our hope, optimism, and wardrobe choices, my daughter didn’t get to see the election of the nation’s first female president in 2016.
Now, I’ve been voting for over 20 years. For some, this might not seem like a long time. But it’s enough time to learn that sometimes the candidate you prefer wins and sometimes the candidate you prefer loses. The beauty of our Democracy is that there will always be another election. Another chance. But this election felt different. There came a sense of finality with Donald Trump being declared the victor of the 2016 presidential election—as if life, as we knew it, was about to change.
Throughout history, there have been leaders that have inspired the very best in us and motivated us to be our better selves. And then there is Donald Trump. Undoubtedly a purposeful tactical decision, Trump’s “divide and conquer” campaign strategy was a far cry from Pres. Obama’s message of hope and change. Taking a page right out of Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” playbook, Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again” signaled that he would return the U.S. back to the days when minorities and women knew their place. Over the course of his campaign, misogyny, racism, and hate became normalized and fringe groups like the Ku Klux Klan and the Neo Nazis became acceptable parts of mainstream American politics.
Arguably most troubling, however, has been the army of Trump supporters—both before and after the Election—who have assisted in the mission to “Make America Great Again” by attempting to put African Americans back in their place. As if the state-sanctioned restrictions on Black life—by way of an ever increasing oppressive policing of the Black community and the disenfranchisement of Black voters—wasn’t bad enough, a self-deputized band of vigilantes empowered by Trump’s rhetoric have taken it upon themselves to regulate public spaces, including grocery stores and schools.
Thus, it seems that, in the dawn of the Trump presidency, we are ushering in a new era of Jim Crow. The privileges that the post-Civil Rights Era generations could once take for granted are no longer promised. I learned this the hard way two weeks before the Election. As had been my routine, I was working out at the Northwest Austin YMCA at 8:30 am like I did every Tuesday and Thursday morning. I had considered the YMCA a safe space—a place to go to let my guard down and escape the weight of my other responsibilities. I have had other gym memberships before but one of the things that drew me to the YMCA was the diversity in its membership in terms of age, race, body size, fitness level, socioeconomic background, etc. In other words, there appeared to be room there for everyone. On that morning, however, a group of men decided that there was no longer room for everyone. Dressed in coordinating t-shirts that read, “Proud Member of the Basket of Deplorables,” this group of about 8 men perched themselves in the lobby of the YMCA as if they were guardians of this space. And anyone entering or exiting could clearly see them. I saw them and I was angry. Not just angry…mad! I was blood-curdling mad that these men had perverted what I had previously considered a safe space. I was told by the supervisor that I spoke with that these men and their t-shirts were harmless. I was even encouraged to go speak with them myself to see that they were reasonable men who meant no harm. And so I did. It turns out that these not-so-harmless men indeed wore those shirts to insult and intimidate and when I questioned them I was berated, insulted, and harassed. All while the staff of the Northwest Austin YMCA watched and did nothing. I left the YMCA that day feeling as if I could not return. Ever. I discontinued my membership there. This was no longer a safe space.
Since this incident, I no longer take for granted my ability to occupy certain places because, in Trump’s America, safe spaces cannot be assumed. And yet, safe spaces can be had. We must never forget that the ability to claim space for ourselves in this country is our right. Constitutionally, we are granted the ability to speak up and speak out against ANY tyrannical power that seeks to diminish our capacity to fully function in America’s experiment in Democracy. Beyond this, resistance is our duty; it is our birthright. It is the reason why each generation has been able to occupy a safer space than the previous one.
Now, I don’t know what the next 4 years will bring. Perhaps it won’t be as bad as I’m anticipating; maybe it will be worse. Either way, I understand that the road that I will travel is not uncharted. I’m privileged to stand on the shoulders of giants who paved the way for me to battle the current obstacles in the Black Freedom Struggle. I’ve committed myself to claiming space in Trump’s America and am inspired by the immortal words of the Urban Prophet Stevland Hardaway Morris:
I’m so glad that He let me try it again
‘Cause my last time on Earth I lived a whole world of sin
I’m so glad that I know more than I knew then
Gonna keep on tryin’
‘til I reach my highest ground