|Vol. 11 No. 23
NOVEMBER 10, 2016
Lynching and Trump
As I begin my column today, I wish to say something that is easy to say, but harder to do. With the recent portrayed “lynching” of President Obama
at Camp Randall Stadium during the Wisconsin-Nebraska game and with the professed policies of Donald Trump, the president-elect of the United
States, fear is what keeps this whole thing together.
It is fear — especially in rural America — that drove people to vote for Donald Trump: fear of the browning of America, fear of the loss of their
standard of living, the media-driven fear of criminal elements painted with black faces and the fear of what might happen at the ballot boxes. It is
this fear that elected Donald Trump president by people whom Trump will not have in mind when he is enacting legislation to repeal the Affordable
Care Act and “revising” the tax codes that will give more tax breaks to the rich while forcing cuts to programs that benefit poor and working
people. It is this fear that led people to vote against their own interests, to allow the wolf to take care of the chicken coop.
It is a fearful reaction to the portrayal of the “lynching” of President Obama by a caricature of Donald Trump that is meant to strike fear in the minds
and hearts of students of color and to exhibit a form of white superiority. Even if the perpetrators of this claim innocence and claim they didn’t
have this intent — surely this would mean that their educational level isn’t where it should be to attend a world-class university if that is the case
— it would still be a case of white privilege where the students don’t need to understand the impact of race in America in order to live their lives
Students of color — and in particular African American students — cannot give into this fear for it is this fear that is intended to make them
disengage, force them to leave a world-class university, create conditions where they don’t do as well, create an environment where students of
color do not attend the best university in the state, a university that has been built and operated by taxes that their forbearers paid for generations.
While it is hard, African American students must not let these people turn them around by their overt, covert or subtle actions. African American
students must not let these people deprive them of a world-class university.
It was U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes who said that freedom of speech doesn’t entitle a person to shout fire in a crowded
theater back in 1919. The portrayal of the lynching of President Obama, depicting an act that murdered up to 150 primarily African Americans —
and in particular African American men — each year for decades and decades is revolting. For students of color and in particular African
American students, it is like shouting fire in a crowded theater. Apparently others feel that the theater is quite empty with this type of act and is
therefore protected free speech. And it seems that the pleas of African American students that they are being trampled by these “shouts of fire” fall
on the deaf ears of those who are not being trampled and have the power to make decisions.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison administration must listen to and act on these pleas because it makes it that much harder for African
American and other students of color to focus on their studies when they experience fear in almost everything they do on campus. And isn’t being
focused on academic excellence what this university is all about? The students who imitated the lynching do not have the freedom to be
oppressive to students of color, whether intentional or not intentional, for ignorance of a crime does not absolve someone of a crime. It is the
responsibility of every student at UW-Madison, regardless of race, to learn about the impact of racism and about the cultures and histories of
students from places unlike their own if they are truly going to be prepared for today’s global economy and multicultural society.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison must also act because there are elements in our society, ignorant elements, who have been encouraged by
Donald Trump’s winning of the Republican nomination and will now be further emboldened to act out their racist beliefs and feelings because now
“their” people are in power. They will feel that political correctness — whatever that means — is over and they can now be overt in their beliefs.
I was reading on a neighborhood listserv today about an Asian American woman who was called a racial epithet while waiting in the ATM line.
More than likely, there will be other acts of racial insensitivity and overt racism to follow.
But it is important for people of color and others to control their fear and to not be consumed by fear for that makes one less able to use one’s
intelligence to find solutions and to combat whatever the source of fear is. People must keep their cool. It’s hard at times, but people must stay in
control and then act.
When I was going to Alcorn State University, an HBCU, in the mid-1970s in rural Mississippi, someone burned down the house that I was living in
with an African American friend of mine. The perpetrator was never caught and apparently didn’t want us living there. It would have been easy to
leave and come back to Madison, but I wasn’t going to let my concern deter me from getting my education at Alcorn. If I had let fear deter me and
do my thinking for me, I would be a totally different person than I am today.
In some ways, the election of Donald Trump and Ron Johnson was made possible by fear. Wisconsin was won by the Republicans because of the
fear that many rural people feel about their future and the fear of people of color that has been perpetrated by the mass media over the last several
decades, coincidentally since the gains that were made by the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. That fear is used against them to vote for
people who do not have their economic interests at heart. In the next 4-8 years, they will become even more impoverished and fearful and will
wonder why this is happening. And then Republican leaders will give them someone else to blame and they will become more impoverished,
bolstered by the false belief that they are somehow a step above people of color.
Racism has always been used as a tool to oppress people, both the people who are the overt victims of the racism as well as those poor folks of
the majority who are used as foils to enact the racism. Everyone remains poor and abused as a result.
Donald Trump will not be able to enact a lot of his policies in the same way that President Barack Obama was not able to implement his. There are
powerful vested interests who benefit from the trade agreements that Trump professed to oppose and promise to change. I think it is economically
impossible and futile to build a wall between the U.S. and China. The Berlin Wall — which just divided a city in two — came tumbling down and a
wall between Mexico and the U.S. would cost hundreds of billions to build and maintain and would not prevent the centuries of migration patterns
within the geographic area that is the political boundaries of Northern Mexico and Southern United States.
Trump might build a segment or two of his wall for his own political benefit and he might deport some people back to their countries of origin —
actions which must be vigorously opposed — but the full scale implementation of these policies would bankrupt the United States and cause
major dislocations to its labor markets and national economy.
And Trump won’t be able to force Mexico to pay for a wall either. Mexico and the United States are tied together economically through trade
agreements and through trade. The United States sold over $240 million worth of goods and services to Mexico last year while purchasing over
$295 million in goods and services, which includes goods produced by American firms in Mexico and then shipped to the U.S. An economic war
between the U.S. and Mexico would be destructive of both. And there are plenty of embedded forces that would prevent that from happening.
Nonetheless, people must resist the racist implications of a Trump presidency for there is a lot at stake here and too many lives that could be
ruined by Trump’s future political posturing.