Fearing People of Color Doing Absolutely Ordinary Things

May 12, 2018

There is so much fear in this country since the election of the 45th president; especially for people of color doing absolutely ordinary things. The tactics used to win the election are suspect, outlandish, and in many ways terrifying. The false assuredness that so many felt was the destiny of the first woman president was a contributing factor to this electoral debacle. I refuse to call it a shocking political upset.


What struck me was this article in the NY Times about a Black Student napping in a common room at Yale.


I remember how many students were devastated by the election outcome of the 45thpresident. I remember so many hushed whispers in a diner the week after the election saying things like—I can’t believe he won, all the pundits and news stations said it was a lock for her—so, I voted for him thinking it wouldn’t matter. And my favorite was the whispered “he can’t really do that much damage, can he?” History will be the judge of that for sure.


But the new normal is as equally unsettling. I have not written on this yet and fear I have once again missed the boat to say something worthwhile. But, I can’t say nothing either, when circumstances have become far too common, far too normalized, and reveal an unnerving new reality in American culture, politics, and likely history.


The New Normal is a bad thing.

Overt racism, bias, and prejudice have been normalized once again—likely in similar patterns that were witnessed last in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Fear of immigrants, fear of people of color, and fear of Indians were all so normalized that it led to a movement to end the accepted nature of American culture culminating with the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.


Segregation and racism did not go away, but it appears it was confined to the water cooler and kitchen tables in a shocking number of homes, communities, and clearly attitudes my so many Americans. The 45thpresident rode this tidal wave of anti-this and anti-that to a shocking victory a mere year and half ago. I wonder what the lingering damage will be for the future generations in the end?


Intolerance has become acceptable once again. This is not to say everyone is racist, bias, or prejudice in their lives—but certainly some elements of American culture and community are feeling much freer to voice long held-in resentments, fears, and a sheer ugliness that many other Americans thought no longer existed in America. Or at least it was held by a small but minimal number. But 40% is not a small percentage of the American population willing to overlook the ugliness that the 45th president has created and normalized.


I grew up with the impeachment of President Bill Clinton—and it is shocking to me that so many religious voters were enraged at Clinton—but give a pass to a man who admits openly to cheating on his current and previous wives, lusting after his own family members and women in general, and can simply pass it off as “well he’s human, and god will forgive him if he asks.”


Use of violence, intimidation, and fear is once again ok in America

I won’t even get into the intimidation tactics and calls for violence that president 45 has used openly—making violence against people of color acceptable again. He has also created an atmosphere that it is ok to fear people of color again—and call law enforcement for protection. But too often these same people willing to forgive 45 for his sexual indiscretions are all too willing to call and report people of color doing absolutely normal things—like a campus tour, napping in a common room, and waiting for a meeting with a colleague in a Starbucks.


In those very simple and very public cases, the police “had to act on the report of the caller,” to ensure things were safe. Really??!!  In each case, it fell to the persons of color to justify their reason for being there—justify their identity—and justify their actions. But all it took was a concerned citizen who was fearful something suspicious was going on—and calling the police. This is the terrifying new normal!


Yet, when actual terroristic threats and violence is committed by predominantly angry white men—they are merely lone-wolves, and troubled individuals. No, they are not lone-wolves or merely troubled individuals–they are symbolic of ugly thinking and undercurrents of American culture, communities, and culture that have once again become normalized not seen this openly since much earlier in the 20th century.


Too many casually overlook that the 45thpresident dislikes (polite wording-when I really think the press should use “hates”) people of color. A recent photograph to honor military families included no families of color; in spite of approximately 40% of the military being people of color. Other photographic evidence includes interns of the White House who are nearly all white.  Or we could look at how often only white members (both male and female) are included in photographs of president 45 and his political aspirations.


The 45thpresident is showing his true colors openly and earnestly. Far too many Americans are giving him a pass—saying the press, Democrats, and others are simply being too mean to the president because he has put a few more dollars in their pockets. But clearly and demonstrably he has been lining his friends and family with fortunes most of these folks will never see, let alone can fully imagine. But they support him gleefully anyways. And bluntly, he has made it ok to openly fear, beat, and oppress people of color once again. The 45th president has insinuated that people of color, immigrants, (insert a preferred prejudice/bias/racist term) are responsible for the loss of income, loss of status, of whatever  imagined slight far too many white Americans seem to openly, willingly, and terrifyingly embrace.


I have been involved in a series of meetings the last two weeks to address diversity issues in higher education. More specifically how do we create a more inclusive environment for students of color—and in particular Indigenous/Native American students. So, the situation where a presumably white woman called on two young Mohawks attending a college tour at Colorado State University has struck particularly close to home for me. I still have not found the words to fully articulate my feelings in this situation.


When will Americans stand up and realize this is dangerous new territory politically, culturally, and historically that has become too normalized?

Kevin J. White
Toronto, CA