Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: What it means to be black during a Trump administration
On hopelessness — and the way to escape it.
By Kareem Abdul-Jabbar November 10 at 6:00 AM
A season of dashed dreams: Students at Benedict College in Columbia, S.C., in September. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
Nicholas M. Butler, the Nobel Prize-winning American philosopher, once said that optimism is the foundation of courage. Today, African Americans will have to dig pretty deep to find that foundation because there’s not much optimism in sight. Yes, we’re all supposed to come together after an election, let bygones be bygones, and march forward unified as neither Democrats nor Republicans but patriotic Americans celebrating the triumph of the democratic process. But it’s difficult to link arms when the home of the free embraces the leadership of a racist.
Let the other groups denigrated and threatened by Trump speak for themselves. The women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, the LGBT community and others who now must walk through the streets of their country for the next four years in shame and fear, knowing that their value as human beings has been diminished by their neighbors. I only speak for myself as an African American and I speak with the rage of betrayal.
After numerous police shootings of unarmed blacks every year, national Black Lives Matter protests, and unprecedented expressions of support from pro athletes, black Americans saw a glimmer of hope that white Americans were finally acknowledging the overwhelming evidence of institutional racism that had been glaringly obvious to blacks for many years. But that hope was misplaced. Instead, a majority of white America chose to swallow the blue pill, preferring to, as Morpheus explains in “The Matrix,” “wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”
Unfortunately, black Americans don’t get to wake up and believe what they want to believe, because they have to face another day of lower pay and higher job discrimination, less educational opportunity and greater health problems. These injustices were easier to endure when there seemed to be a sustained path to improvement that the country supported. But now we have the “What have you got to lose?” non-policy that bulldozes the path to rubble.
'Not my president!' Around the country, thousands protest Trump
Demonstrators around the country hit the streets on Nov. 9 to protest the election of President-elect Donald Trump. Protests were reported in major cities including New York, Washington, Chicago and Los Angeles. (Victoria Walker, Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)
The white Americans who made up a vast majority of Trump’s supporters were reacting to much more than the economy (which has been steadily strengthening), or Washington gridlock (which Trump has no specific plan or power to change), or fear of terrorism (which his unconstitutional plan of extreme vetting shows no evidence of combating). What some fear most is the changing shade of skin color of America. As the Latino, Asian and black population rises, the white majority will soon disappear.
Between 2000 and 2010, whites dropped from 75.1 percent of the population to 63.7 percent. By 2050, whites will be in the minority at 47 percent. Trump represents the last wisp of the rich white plantation owner holding on to the glories of the past.
His history of racism, from Justice Department lawsuits for housing discrimination to claim that Mexican heritage disqualified a federal judge, has already been well-documented. But his disconnect from black people and black culture was especially evident the weekend before the election, when he complained about the musical performances of Jay Z and Beyoncé at a Hillary Clinton rally. (Never mind that Ted Nugent, who had repeatedly threatened to kill President Obama and Hillary Clinton, was performing at his rally by using profanity and grabbing his crotch.) “Did you hear the other night?” Trump asked his audience. “So many people were insulted, they left. … They hear the worst words, the worst language ever.” What Trump fails to appreciate is that the rawness of the musicians’ language is part of the message. It is the urban-charged patois of anger, frustration and empowerment. Similar to the Trumpites’ chanting “Lock her up!” but with less violence.
How can we hope that this man understands or cares about us? Especially now that white America has rewarded his outrageous racism, misogyny, xenophobia and religious intolerance with a mandate to put those beliefs into policy. For African Americans, America just got a little more threatening, a little more claustrophobic, a lot less hopeful. We feel like disposable extras, the nameless bodies who are never part of the main cast.
What’s important now is to skip the wallowing, finger-pointing, name-calling period and begin an immediate and focused effort on dominating the 2018 midterm elections during which all 435 seats in the House of Representatives and one-third of Senate seats will be in play. People of color cannot merely play defense anymore. They must mount a long-term offensive that includes relentlessly challenging every act of institutional racism in the country. African Americans make up only 12.3 percent of the population, so it’s imperative that we form a coalition with other groups that are targeted by Trump, including women, Latinos, immigrants and the LGBT community. We have to ignore the self-loathing collaborators among those groups because they prefer the path that makes them think they will be accepted and prized as equals when, at best, they are merely patsies for Trump’s movement.
In “Formation,” Beyoncé says, “I dream it, I work hard, I grind till I own it.” Donald Trump may not appreciate those words, but those words can inspire all African Americans and others who wish to make America America again. Not hope, but action. Not later, but now.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer, is a former cultural ambassador for the United States and the author, most recently, of "Writings on the Wall: Searching for a New Equality Beyond Black and White."