Why Your Black and Brown Friends May Not Feel Safer with the Incoming Presidency.
In recent days, as President-elect Joe Biden has appeared on television condemning the insurrection this past week and announcing his chosen cabinet members, I have seen posts and comments by some, mostly White, people saying that they now feel safe again. And while it is quite nice to hear a person who will soon have the ability to launch nuclear weapons speak as though he actually desires truth, it is not enough to calm the fears of many of us. Let's break down some of the reasons why.
First, this country was built on and by racism. The people who signed the Declaration of Independence consciously chose to ignore their own hypocrisy in keeping many other human beings enslaved and otherwise oppressed while asserting their own desire for freedom. With Abraham Lincoln as President and the abolition of slavery being seriously considered, the southern states seceded from the United States, creating a new country, the Confederate States of America. The Civil War was fought, and the Confederacy eventually lost. But slavery still existed in places where the Union had to go in and force emancipation. When the railroads were being built and the California Gold Rush began, men... single men... from China were recruited to help with the work. They were required to remain single, and were not to fraternize with women from this country, and over time, laws were enacted to limit further immigration by people from China. When the Nazis terrorized entire countries and slaughtered millions of people, the United States said, "Not my problem." It took an attack on a US military base by Japanese forces for this country to get involved. And to be clear, the United States declared war on Japan, forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps, and decimated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear bombs.
More recently, when genocide occurred in the 90s in places like Rwanda, the United States again said, "Not my problem." When planes were hijacked in multiple parts of this country and flown into buildings representing the power and influence of the United States, verbal and physical attacks on immigrants and those who were purported to be immigrants ensued. A suggestion that we close the border with Mexico became a mantra for some. When Barack Obama was granted the Democratic nomination for President of the United States... the nomination, not yet the presidency... the ranks of White supremacist groups swelled exponentially.
Then Trayvon Martin was murdered for being where George Zimmerman was sure the teen didn't belong, and George Zimmerman was acquitted. Philando Castille, Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Atatiana Jefferson, Stephon Clark, Botham Jean, Alton Sterling, Eric Garner, and too many others have also been killed, by people who have sworn to protect and serve, which should mean all of us. Too many preventable deaths are occurring, and they are not only happening in the African American communities. Latinx people are also dying from gunshot wounds. Brianna Colombo lost her pregnancy and her boyfriend Erik Salgado when their car was shot at by police. Andy Lopez, Alex Nieto, and Andres Guardado are only a few among the many Latinx people who have had their lives stolen in recent years.
When the now outgoing president first said he was running for President of the United States, I said, "There's our Hitler." I had never liked him, and the few episodes of his TV show that I watched (while at the homes of friends and family members who enjoyed it) displayed his antisocial personality for the world. I did not want this person to gain the presidency, but I knew he had a good chance of winning. Many citizens of this country had already become more open in their racism and belief in White supremacy, and members of the government were bickering and trading insults rather than actually governing. For these and so many other reasons, I urged people not to sleep on the possibility that this person could win. Some were laughing, saying that no one in their right mind would vote for him. But quite frankly, many people were not in their right minds. Many were stuck in their emotional and visceral responses to the presence of a Black president and their fear of Black and Brown people actually having any power; or more accurately, to them knowing they had power. And this candidate was fueling their anger and fear. When he became the 45th president, I was not surprised. I was, however, nauseated. I had expected it, but that didn't mean I wasn't still shocked when it happened. It was like watching someone prepare to slap you, knowing it was coming, but still being startled by the sting.
And now, after four years of loud, incoherent, false and incendiary words, tweets, and other actions by 45, we have a new person entering the position of President of the United States. The day he was confirmed as President-elect was the day of the attack on the Capitol Building, an attempt to intimidate those charged with the confirmation to identify 45 as the winner of the election. I thought it was good that Joe Biden was confirmed even after that attack, because at least it meant that in that time of siege and possible threats to life, those in power acted with integrity. And it was nice to hear Joe Biden actually address the issues we are facing, rather than throwing out lies and ignoring actual science.
So why would your Black and Brown friends not feel secure at this moment in time? Why will we still not feel safe on Inauguration Day? Or a year from now? Because history has taught us that when we gain even a small amount of power, efforts are put in place to bar us from gaining any more, and actions are taken to steal what little power we have gained. History has told us that we cannot let our guards down. History has taught us that even when people who are sympathetic to our causes are in position to create beneficial change, especially when this is the case, such individuals are cast aside, treated as pariahs, and otherwise ignored by their colleagues. History has taught us that the United States Constitution does not always apply to us.
We will not feel safe and secure until we live in a country in which the concept that all people are created equal is actually upheld in action from the individual to the state to the federal level. We will not feel safe until the school-to-prison pipeline is destroyed. We will not feel safe until contaminated drinking water is no longer an issue. We will not feel safe until the concept that Black Lives Matter is actually visible in the way that all police treat our Black and Brown sisters, brothers, and gender expansive siblings. We will not feel safe until Black and Brown people are treated equitably during a pandemic.
How can allies help? First, please recognize your privilege in the fact that you feel comfortable right now. Many of us do not, and some can be triggered by being reminded of that difference. Second, vote. We do not have an equitable system, but it does not become more equitable if we remain silent and complacent. And that also means voting on behalf of people who are less privileged than you are. Third, listen without judgment or disbelief to the stories of your Black and Brown friends. Be open to the possibility that their reality and yours are not the same. Fourth, take a good, hard look at the institutions within this country and how they perpetuate inequality. Then take steps to help address these injustices.
Use your privilege to elevate others. This may mean that you have to step outside of your comfort zones. I know that can be hard, but growth, learning, and change do not happen in those comfort zones. And many of your Black and Brown friends have been thrown outside of their own places of perceived safety so many times over the years that they don't take for granted that there ever really is such a place. They will never feel comfortable until there is consistent evidence that they are seen as human beings. And you help by being part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the status quo.
Arce, J. (2020). It's long past time we recognized all the Latinos killed at the hands of police. Time. https://time.com/5869568/latinos-police-violence/
BBC News. Rwanda genocide: 100 days of slaughter. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-26875506
Chughtai, A. (n.d.). Know their names: Black people killed by the police in the US. Al Jazeera. https://interactive.aljazeera.com/aje/2020/know-their-names/index.html
History. (2018). Confederate States of America. https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/confederate-states-of-america
History. (2019). The U.S. home front during World War II. https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/us-home-front-during-world-war-ii#:~:text=On%20December%207%2C%201941%2C%20the,declared%20war%20on%20the%20U.S.
PBS. (n.d.). Chinese immigrants and the Gold Rush. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/goldrush-chinese-immigrants/