The racist, violence-inciting, presidential hopeful is an outgrowth of this nation's collective DNA – but so is the resilience of those who rise up against hate.
I can see them in my mind’s eye even now. White cotton and polyester dresses neatly pressed. Thick, white orthopedic nursing shoes. Pristine, white gloves and hats. They were the elders. The mothers of my very Black, very Southern, very Baptist church. When they spoke, you listened. Even if you were 14 and “smelling yourself” and not really all that interested in what these women you called old-fashioned were saying, you listened. Their words were an unforgettably constant refrain in the soundtrack of my childhood.
“You will always reap what you sow, Chile.”
“It ain’t what you say, it’s what you do. You only know folks by the fruit they bear, Baby.”
I’m reminded of these women when I’m forced to think about the disaster that is this 2016 Presidential Election season, and particularly Friday’s incident in the heart of Chicago’s West Side, where Donald Trump attempted to hold one of his now notoriously violent rallies and promptly canceled because of the massive number of brave protestors who came out to stop his Make America “Hate” Again tour. You see, I’m 40 now, and I have a little bit of life behind me so I know that those little ole church ladies were right. You DO reap what you sow. And you DO know folks by the fruit they bear. And I would argue that the images we are seeing today—of Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination to run for president, inciting violence against protestors in rallies across the country—is one of the greatest reapings this country has seen in a long while. What’s happening today is nothing but the monstrous, poisonous fruit of seeds buried so deep in our systems and culture that some of us forgot that they were even there. Seeds of white supremacy and racism and xenophobia. Seeds of greed and materialism, of colonization mindsets and ethnocentrism. Seeds of hate.
Which makes me wonder why so many of us are surprised. Of course those seeds would bear fruit now. In the last three decades, our social and political missteps have created an environment so incredibly nurturing for hatred and division that what has ripened is an election season where the only options are inexperienced ignorance, or strange unsubstantiated idealism, or historically untrustworthy poli-tricks, or a complete and utter sideshow. So, let’s not get it twisted. This country, as a collective, gave birth to the likes of Donald Trump. He is very much a product of our culture. The same culture that, only three generations earlier saw whole families enjoying lunch while being entertained by the tarring and lynching of Black men above their heads. He is the son of an America that has murdered and enslaved and segregated and redlined and patrolled and bombed and stereotyped and systematically devalued people of color for over 400 years. And though they are likely to deny it at this point, Trump and his antics are the fruit of a political party that has seemingly spent every day of the last seven-and-a-half years obstructing the work of our current president in ways that have been truly unprecedented.
Yeah, about that. What we see happening today, in this election cycle, is further evidence that most of us idealized back in 2008 what President Barack Obama’s election would mean. White folks were quick to talk about this new “post-racial” society and Black folks were caught up in the fulfillment of a “dream.” But we weren’t ready. Not one of us was spiritually or psychologically ready for what his election would dredge up in our collective consciousness. But then again, maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe the timing of all this is perfect. Maybe it is time to rip off the Band-Aids of progress we have used to cover the gaping wounds of unhealed racial divides.
Of course, now we are bleeding all over the place.
I live in the metro Philadelphia area. From Independence Hall to the monument that marks the location of the third presidential mansion (1790–1800), you can’t really turn a corner here without seeing the principles of our founding fathers exhibited onto the walls of our museums or etched on stone tablets on signs and houses all across the city. And yet, there is nothing that we see happening today that doesn’t point all the way to 1776. Every time a Trump supporter yells “Nigger” in the face of a black or brown protestor we can trace the reverberations of his voice back to the day that Thomas Jefferson’s and Benjamin Franklin’s quills dripped with not just ink but, figuratively, with the bloodstains of hundreds of thousands of enslaved Africans even as they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Racism, white supremacy, and greed are part of the DNA of our republic and the sooner all of us—black and white—recognize this for what it is, the sooner we can enact change and dig up this fruit at the root.
But just as Trump shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know and embrace the truth about the nuances of America’s history, neither should the response of the black and brown people in Chicago be terribly shocking. They, too, are the sons and daughters of America. They are the fruit of another set of seeds subversively planted alongside the seeds of hatred all these years. These are the seeds of resilience. The seeds of justice. The seeds of “I ain’t God so my capacity for grace can only go so far” and let’s not forget those deeply buried ancestral seeds of “Try me if you want to,” immortalized on wax by those urban prophets of the late 1970s, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who said so eloquently, “Don’t push me, because I’m close to the edge.” These are the seeds that gave us Harriet Tubman and Nat Turner and, differences in methods aside, both the Civil Rights and Black Power movements. These seeds have now given us #BlackLivesMatter, the UIC student and faculty organizations, and every other individual and group who “thought it not robbery” to run Trump and his hateful minions right on out of Chicago.
So I suppose it’s true what the old Black church ladies used to cite: The wheat grows right on up with the weeds until one can tell the difference between the two. Trump’s hate speech seems to be growing right alongside the cries of freedom from youth who are simply tired of the foolishness. And slowly but surely we are all beginning to tell the difference. The question now is which one will we choose to harvest.
We’ll see come November.
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