By Claris Smith
In his 1903 treatise, “The Souls of Black Folk,” W.E.B. DuBois, famously prognosticated that “[t]he problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.” His predictions would prove to be true. Like the centuries before it, the next hundred years brought a slew of race-based violence and resistance in America, as black Americans strove toward equality and white Americans struggled to maintain the status quo.
On Nov. 9, 2008, however, it seemed to many as if the oceans of racial division that had covered this country for centuries were beginning to recede, and the proverbial dove could be seen returning to the ark with an olive branch in its mouth, signaling that the sun was setting on America’s long struggle with racism. On December 30 of that year, Forbes published an opinion piece, entitled Racism in America is Over, and less than a month later, NPR published A New ‘Post-Racial’ Political Era in America. The election of Barack Obama brought with it a sense of hope and optimism for many Americans, black and white alike.
Although conceding that “nothing magically changed when Obama was declared president-elect,” the author of the Forbes piece contended that the election of the first black president proved “as nothing else could have” that racism in America was no longer “a serious problem.” However, the next eight years, and the election cycle that ensued, proved that racism in America is, in fact, far from over. Admittedly, the unbridled optimism of the fall of 2008, was remarkably naïve, however, at the time no one could have predicted just how misguided it was.
For many utopians, the logical fallacy of the optimism felt on Nov. 9, 2008 was only revealed the morning of Nov. 10, 2016, when they awoke with one thought on their mind. “What happened?” How did Americans elect an individual who amassed a large portion of his wealth by constructing and renting racially segregated apartment complexes in New York, gained political prominence by excoriating the first black American president as a foreign born Muslim, and disparaged almost every minority group in America throughout his presidential campaign?
This question is, perhaps, best answered by a quote from “The Wretched of the Earth,” Franz Fanon’s treatise on the national impact of colonialism on both the colonized and the colonizers, in which he wrote, “[a] government or a party gets the people it deserves and sooner or later a people gets the government it deserves.” In other words, a country who has sown four centuries worth of seeds of racial division should not be surprised to reap a Donald Trump.
Does this mean that America has not made racial progress? Absolutely not. What it does mean, however, is that we should not expect the struggle toward racial healing to be any less difficult or painful than that which led to racial division. The idea that one election can symbolize a racial utopia or that another could signify a racial dystopia is both illogical and inconsistent. America is only as divided or united as its citizens, and the election of any president is merely reflection of the electorate.
Recognizing that racism is still our national reality, we, as African Americans, must continue to work to eradicate racism and bigotry throughout the next four years. Ironically, many of the people who elected Donald Trump have begun to call for unity. I echo their call, but not their motivation. As we continue to fight for our Constitutional freedoms, we should not seek to unite with Donald Trump, but rather to unite with each other. Donald Trump has made it very clear that he seeks to build a nationalistic coalition that pits Americans from different backgrounds against each other. We must unite, stand firm and resist his divisive rhetoric. The building of walls and the banning of immigrants based on nationality or religion is only an extension of the racial politics of fear that have divided Americans for centuries. Throughout American history, black Americans have lead the fight for social justice and equality.
During this new administration, we must continue to do so by standing in solidarity with other disparaged groups and building a coalition of resistance against the surge of nationalistic ideology. As Donald Trump seeks to divide us based on race, nationality and religion, we must stand together or fall apart.
Claris Smith of Tyler, is a health educator and researcher who is studying law at Tulane University in New Orleans, La.