Being Black In Donald Trump's America

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Trump. Racists believe he has their back. Photo: Gage Skidmore--Flickr.

On May 11, 2018 a young woman and her daughter entered a vintage store in the Williamsburg section of hipster Brooklyn. After trying a few items of clothing in the fitting room she returned the items to the store clerk and started walking out of the store when the employee accused her of stealing.

The woman felt insulted and humiliated in front of her daughter and demanded an apology. The store clerk followed her out into the street and called the Police on her. There was no stolen item found. The woman who is an attorney was African American and the accuser was White. The attorney was simply racially-profiled. She had to suffer these indignities in public.

This is but one in a long list of incidents in the past few days where people of color have been subjected to a new kind of discrimination nationwide-Jim Crow 2018 version. In just three consecutive days there were a spate of ugly incidents that were stark reminders that racism was not only alive and well but thriving.

On April 17, 2018 a Starbucks employee in Southern California refused to give a Black man the code to the bathroom unless he orders something. As he was talking to her, a White man was given the code to the bathroom no questions asked and did not have to buy anything. When he asked why she handled the other guy differently and wanted to know if it was the color of his skin, she called 911 asking the Police for him to be removed.

Two days later on April 19 another Starbucks, this time in Philadelphia, showed the coffee giant’s color problem may be systemic. Two African Americans were sitting for just two minutes waiting for a friend for a business meeting when the manager asked them to leave. Their attempt to explain that they were waiting to order when their friend arrived did not help. The manager called City Police to have them removed. The Police obediently handcuffed the two gentlemen and escorted them out. Starbucks later apologized. How backward are the authorities? Even a Black police chief initially said his officers acted properly; as if they were not allowed to use their brains and exercise discretion.

On the same day a regular customer and his guest were harassed by the manager of LA Fitness Center in Secaucus, NJ and told the fully-paid member and his guest to get "he fuck out of here." The center later apologized and fired the three employees involved in the racial bias incident.

Just last week a White graduate student at Yale called the Police when she saw a Black graduate student napping in the common area of their campus residence. Three Black teenagers in St. Louis had just finished shopping at the Nordstrom Rack when they were met by Police outside and were let go only after verifying their receipts.

In Dover Township, Pennsylvania, an owner of a Golf Club called the Police on a group of Black women for being too slow while golfing.

Many of us remember the ugly incident in July 2009 involving Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., of Harvard, a high profile African American scholar. He was trying to open the door to his house in an exclusive neighborhood in Boston when the Police arrived and handcuffed him as a burglary suspect. It was widely reported at the time.

This happened during what was touted to be the post racial presidency of Obama. In what I consider the President’s failure to provide the legal and moral leadership the situation afforded him at that moment, he appealed instead to the offender --the Policeman-- and the victim --the Professor-- to resolve their differences over beer.

The common thread in all of these incidents of blatantly overt and aggressive racial profiling is that they are all African Americans going about their everyday lives; shopping, walking, sitting, playing or sleeping in a college campus.

We have heard of "Driving While Black" when Black drivers were and are routinely stopped by City or State highway police such as the recent case of a 65 year old grandmother who was forcibly hauled out of her car and roughed up by Georgia Police officers.

What separates the current spate of unprovoked acts of bigotry however is that Blacks are now being harassed and often arrested for simply being in a public accommodation-- just for existing and for being visible. These actions make a mockery of Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which states- "All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin."

One may justifiably ask why these racially biased provocations by ordinary White citizens against people of color are becoming more common now; reports of such incidents come almost every day from across the nation.

There is an old saying-the fish stinks from the head down. There is a president sitting in the White House spewing words of hate and bigotry against Blacks, Hispanics, immigrants and Muslims; words that could be viewed as hate crimes and incitement to violence.

In one of his campaign rallies in the primaries he told his white supporters ‘get him out of here’ when a black man was sighted in the crowd. “In the old days he would have been carried out on a stretcher” he added for emphasis. Speaking of a Black accountant in his NJ Casino he is quoted “Black guy counting my money! I hate it. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault, because laziness is a trait in blacks” (New York Times on Jan 15, 2011). He is now your president, folks.

When a horde of White Supremacists descended on Charlottesville openly brandishing Nazi and Klan slogans and symbols causing a riot Trump said “some of them were good people.”

Such statements and actions by the president has emboldened many Klansmen, neo Nazis and other White supremacist groups to come out of the woodworks to spread their hate and act it out.

Reporting a person of color to the Police without cause seems to be a new, calculated tactic of harassment by these groups nationwide to intimidate people of color from using or being seen in a public accommodation. They would like to turn the clock back to the 1950s. It is as if the Greensboro Sit-ins or Claudette Corbin and Rosa Parks never happened. It appears we are being forced to fight the battles of yesteryear, battles that we felt were won with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In all of the recent incidents, the law of the land has been broken and in each of them and thousands before and hence, no one has been or is being held accountable as the constitutionally guaranteed rights of people of color are being routinely and flagrantly violated. If this is to be a country of laws then the first order of business in tackling racism and hateful words or actions would be to bring the perpetrators to account and that includes the President.

Otherwise the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will not be worth the paper it is written on.

And the struggle continues.

Mohammed A. Nurhussein MD
National Chairman, United African Congress

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