In November 2016 – shortly after Donald Trump was elected nearly three years ago – I wrote the following article for The New Statesman about his use of racism as a political strategy in order to appeal to the grievances of white Americans who feel that their sense of identity is under threat.
As I wrote then: “Although using division for votes is nothing new for Republicans, Trump appears to be acting directly from the Southern Strategy playbook – a Nixonian strategy from the Seventies based on the exploitation of racial tensions and divisive politics aimed at increasing discord in order to maintain Republican presence.” (Isn’t it fascinating that Trump has been compared to Nixon in many other ways over these last 3 years…? Perhaps his fate will be the same…)
Trump’s racist/racial/racialized agenda has always been clear to me. Unlike others – such as George Conway, husband of Trump mouthpiece Kellyanne and Trump critic/foe, who just finally concluded this past weekend that Trump is indeed a racist and wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post about his new found discovery – I have not been surprised nor in denial about the depths of his animus towards people of color. Dismayed, often. Saddened at times. But shocked? Absolutely not. I know racism when I see it. My very survival depends on that.
Trump’s racism is long and old, and it certainly has never been hard to miss. If you can’t cast your mind back to 1989 and his front page newspaper adverts calling for the death penalty to be brought back and used in the case of the so-called Central Park Five – the group of 5 young black men who were wrongfully imprisoned and later exonerated for the rape of a female jogger in Central Park – you should at least be able to remember that he actually got President Barack Obama to produce a copy of his actual birth certificate after insisting – in a bizarre conspiracy theory – that there was no way Obama was actually American. Trump has been at this game for quite some time now. And even though he been proven very wrong – as he is on most things – he is good at it.
As the country grapples with Trump’s most recent insults, this time aimed at Reps. Ayana Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, four freshmen Democratic women of color in Congress (all American, one foreign-born) who he tweeted should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” I have gone back to review this piece. Not only is it prescient, but it seems to get even more accurate the longer Trump is in office.
The wonderful instagram community @disruptivewoman – which features dynamic, pioneering women – was kind enough to feature me as one of their interviewees. The question they asked was “what problem in the world do you want to solve?”. What a great question! I had a lot to say on that one. See my answer is below:
I want to see an end of racism. Racism needs to be returned to the trashcan from where it came. I am a staunch anti-racist, and I despise racism as a concept, a phenomenon, a philosophy and a reality.
The need to judge, categorise and assign value to people based on the colour of their skin (which none of us are responsible for, nor can we do anything about) has caused – and continues to cause – untold problems in our world, as has the need to make racially-based determinations about whose culture is superior to another.
Racism is full of so many logical inaccuracies and fallacies that if we really sat down to unpick it intellectually, it would soon be exposed for the nonsense that it is.
Unfortunately, we don’t do that. We don’t unpick why racism is a false, and utterly flawed, ideology. We don’t unpick what makes it illogical and nonsensical. Instead, we talk about racism like it’s an issue solely of opinion or morality, when it really just comes down to an illogical, incorrect and ignorant understanding of humanity and the world.
For example, let’s think about this seriously… Is there a correlation between your eye colour and your behaviour? Or the colour of your hair and your intelligence? So, why should there be a correlation between the colour of someone’s skin and the level of their intelligence? Or their behaviour? Or the value of their humanity?
From the ages of 3 – 11, I went to a great co-ed, multicultural prep school in South East London. In that school, there were children of all ethnic backgrounds, hence kids of a variety of shades of skin. We all played happily together, we were friends (as much as children of a certain age can be friends!) and we studied alongside each other without problems.
My closest friends were English, Scottish, Irish, Ghanian/English, Indian, Japanese, Jamaican, and Nigerian. Some were Hindu, some Christian, some Muslim some of no religion. I grew up knowing that we were all just kids, all unique individuals with different personalities, all coming from families with different cultures and heritages. The differences in our skin tones were just due to where our families hailed from – the closer to the equator your family was, the darker your skin would be. Melanin is function of human biology function, designed to protect us from the sun. It’s that simple.
No child is born racist. Racism is learned, and it is taught. It is man-made. If you put a bunch of babies together and had them interact with each other in a non-racist environment, I am confident that they would not start hating each other on the basis of the colour of their skin.
The good thing is that since racism is created, taught and learned, we can also un-teach it, un-learn it, and create a world without it.
It wasn’t until I was about 12 that I really started to understand that there are people on this earth who think that having darker or lighter skin makes you a better or worse human being, and that that idea literally can be the difference between life and death.
I first went to South Africa in 1996, not long after the end of apartheid and then lived in South Africa in 2006. I have seen the ravages of apartheid, which saw black people subjugated and treated in such despicable and wicked ways on the basis of this mental illness which we call racism.
I went to the Apartheid Museum in Joburg, one of the most compelling and moving museums I’ve ever been to, and saw the long list of laws which had been put in place under apartheid to stop South Africans from participating fully in their own land. I was struck by the undertone of fear, insecurity and a need to dominate which underpinned those laws and that system.
I have also lived in America for a number of years, and similarly have seen the deep, deep damage that racism wreaks on individuals as well as to society as a whole.
I continue to see the stark differences in education, in the application of the law, in life expectancy, in healthcare, in how the police treat African Americans and in professional settings between those that the racist system has deemed worthy and those that it doesn’t.
I will never forget the murder of Stephen Lawrence in the UK, a man who would be 40 years old today if a bunch of racists had not cut his life short – simply because they did not like the way he looked. I remember thinking “wow, he was just on his way to school – something which I do every day – and he was killed because his skin was dark”. And then to see the police totally bungle the case, resulting in a total lack of justice for his murder, simply because THEY also believed that the colour of his skin meant something untoward… I mean, WTF?!
Racism has been used to justify the exploitation of millions of people around the world. It has been used to justify the pillaging of countries (see: the transatlantic slave trade/apartheid/the holocaust/colonialism/imperialism). And it continues to be used as a tool by self-serving people and politicians to justify their fears, insecurities, ill-treatment and bullying of others. That’s on a state and systematic level.
On a micro level, there is still everyday racism. The question is: why should my life, as a black woman, be inconvenienced because other people are unable to police their own imagination, or to challenge their own stereotypes and thinking? Why should I be asked to leave a bar because the waiter does not believe I deserve to be there (something which has actually happened to me?). Why should parents have to cry over children brutally murdered? Why should kids not be entitled to a quality education because they have darker skin? It’s ludicrous and it gets to the point where enough is enough, really.
Economically, racism has enriched much of the western world. The west would not be what it is today without racially-based exploitation. But – I often wonder how much richer the world would be if people were just allowed to fulfil their potential and self-actualize without such interference.
Racism is an evil, and an ill. It is a symptom of a very warped way of thinking, and I hope that we can eliminate not only its fruits, but its very roots as time goes on. Education is part of that. We have to start telling the truth in the world about history in its entirety.
We also have to teach people to ask questions and to think critically about things in front of them. To ask the why’s and the hows’, and not to jump to easy conclusions, nor to seek simple answers to complex issues.
Part of the problem is that, as well as having been legally segregated in some places, people self-segregate, and by doing so, don’t get an opportunity to even get to know people from other ethnic groups on any kind of friendly level. You can’t properly get to know groups of people from the news or from mass media – not when the majority of what the western media writes and shows about other countries, ethnicities and groups is mostly negative. People have to get out of their bubbles, but in a way that’s genuine and comes from a place of humanity. Don’t come to my church in Harlem and gawk at me. Talk to me, on a one-to-one level, as a person.
For people of colour, we have to do what we can. I believe in inspiring one another, and providing positive images, positive role models and stories for collective worth and esteem, and to show what we can and have done. We have done a LOT that we simply don’t get credit for.
We also should forge ahead without waiting for validation or acceptance from those who might not be interested in giving it to us. That’s one of the reason why I started @motherlandsmasterpiece – There is SO much good stuff being done and created by black people all over the world, but where do we go for that kind of news and information?
At the same time, I don’t believe in being ‘colour blind’ per se. My skin IS dark brown. And it’s gorgeous 🙂 I am very proud of my ethnic culture (Nigerian/Yoruba), my racial culture (“black”, “black British”), and I don’t want people not to recognize those things about me nor to pretend that they don’t matter. I just am not interested in negative stereotypes / discrimination/prejudices about those things because there’s just so much more to it than that.
I believe that we are all created with potential, and my fundamental desire for all humans is that we get to enjoy and fulfil our potential without unnecessary restrictions or constraints. Racism is a man-made constraint against the fullness of humanity – and for that reason, it must GO! Aluta continua! 👊🏾