Being a Person of Color in Trump’s America

Writer J.L. Whitehead shares how his perception of America has shifted as a black man in the Age of Trump.

In 2012, my husband and I purchased our first home together in a quiet, tree-lined residential neighborhood in New Jersey.  We were welcomed with warm wishes and congratulatory statements by our neighbors, complete with gifts of cookies and gift cards.

We hadn’t anticipated such a reception but as the days, weeks and months stretched into years, we look at our neighborhood and smile because we realize just how fortunate we were.  We have hosted dinner parties to celebrate love and family, always welcoming everyone who came.  And it’s in reflection on this ideology that we cling to the thought that people, with all of their idiosyncrasies – are inherently good…that we all matter and each and every one of us has societal value.

But in the age of Trump, that neighborly ideology of inclusiveness is rebuffed.  In this last year, the America that I thought I knew has changed into something that I don’t recognize.  I see this through a specific lens as an African American and member of the LGBTQ community. It’s unsettling what I see (if not downright terrifying).

In this America, the disdain for me is no longer hidden.  At one time, I could walk in blissful ignorance of what some people think of me. I now no longer have that luxury.

I am a black man living in a world where I am held responsible (at least in part) for another segment of the population’s problems.  I am living in a world where somehow it is my fault that some people aren’t getting ahead.  I am living in a world where my inalienable rights are regarded with suspicion and my right to exist is called into question.  I am living with the knowledge that some people perceive me, my intellect and my drive for success as a threat, and as a result view me through a lens of fear, apprehension and distrust no matter how eloquently I speak.

Here we are in 2018 – a year that I thought would be so different from the turbulent times of the 1960’s – and yet, the discrimination that people of color endured in that time period has itself endured, in hiding. It seems that, at the end of the day, no matter how many accomplishments I have under my belt, to some I will still be just another “nigger.”

I wish that I could say (and I formerly believed) that deep racism and hatred of the “other” had diminished over time in America, and that Trump is just a flailing, final symptom of the hatred that an ever-diminishing minority of white people have for people of color.  But the truth is that Trump just provided a voice to tap into the latent anger of a still-sizeable demographic.  This is a demographic that feels as if they were forgotten…that other people of various religions and ethnicities have been given preferential treatment to something that they felt entitled to.  They are struggling through the effects of financial stagnancy and projecting their frustration by vilifying the “other” – as if the struggles they face are unique and haven’t been endured by communities of color and other marginalized communities for generations.

Trump has managed to tap into their anger and say the things that they secretly feel.  He has given them the right to vent their anger even if the source of their anger has been misplaced.  He has pointed the finger at people of color and of different faiths and said that they were to blame for the problems of regular Americans (i.e. white heterosexual Christians).

Trump always needs to have an enemy – and so do his followers. So they attack…and attack…and attack.

So what is it like being a person of color in Trump’s America?

I am on edge…and it’s like the pressure never stops.  I feel like some white people look right through me instead of seeing me as a human being.  I feel as though people have made assumptions about me before they ever make eye contact with me, and that they could care less about what (or that) I feel.

I think about what I would do if I ever get pulled over by the police because I don’t know the mindset of the police officer, and although I know that I would likely survive the altercation, a sizeable voice inside of me isn’t so sure.

I see that men who decide to take a knee and protest police brutality are regarded as people who hate their country, without any regard for the noble reason that they are taking a knee in the first place.

I see people of color referred to as “animals” on a regular basis. Day after day we are reminded that our community’s struggles are insignificant in comparison to the struggles of Trump supporters – and that in fact we are a primary source of their problems.

I witness that people seeking asylum, looking for a safe place to raise their families, are now separated from their children. Some of those children to this day have not been heard from again because they are not seen as people. It is easier to place less value on a human life if you don‘t see that life as human to begin with.

I hear and feel the resurgence of the word, “nigger” – used with such commonality that you have to wonder if it was ever socially unacceptable to say it.  There are those that feel emboldened to say the things that they once used to keep to themselves, because the leader of the free world has convinced them that it is okay to vilify me. After all, I am to blame for their problems.

I am not seen as a human being.  I am from a “shithole” country. I must be a drug dealer because I drive a nice car.  Nothing that I do can be deemed as legitimate because I am viewed as illegitimate.

Indeed, even when I am doing all the right things, I will never be given the credit nor the benefit of the doubt that I am forthright, intelligent and honest because somehow, those qualities are not reserved for me or people that look like me.

Because this is Trump’s America…and in his country, only his supporters matter.

8 thoughts on “Being a Person of Color in Trump’s America

  1. Hard to believe it’s come to this. I commend you for having the courage to speak out. I sure hope the so-called ‘blue wave’ is coming. People cannot sit on their hands any longer. Only by holding this corrupt administration to account do we have any chance at moving forward.

  2. The Blue Wave is coming. I miss Pres. Obama and the calm that helped us all not to live in fear and his fair mindedness for all of us. I can’t say that I know how you feel,but I was raised not to care what color someone had. My Mom rode on a Freedom Bus. I was proud especially since we were seeing horror stories on tv every night.
    This is what I can say; there are alot of us.And there’s an energy around the country
    that wasn’t there 2 years ago. MSNBC &CNN help alot. We’re all aware that Nov elections are crucial because this can’t go on.I promise you we will keep fighting until the Dems have back the majority’ so they can start to undue the damage. Until then try to hang in. HELP IS COMING. 💝

  3. Thank you for writing this article and telling your story. I’m sorry we’ve taken this evil turn in our society. I wish you were my neighbor, so I could greet you in the morning, compliment your flowers, ask you over for a barbeque….We will all work for change. But in the meantime, I’ll be kind to everyone, and hope that a renewal of decency will spread outwards as we regain control of our national mores.

  4. Courageous and well-written! I’m so sorry you have had to live this way, like someone who doesn’t matter. You matter to me.

  5. I feel for you. A beautiful piece of writing.. you nailed it.

    My workplace is very diverse and I have black, gay and lesbian coworker friends whom I’ve known for more than 25 years. I love them all and will miss them dearly when I retire.

    I don’t understand Donald Trump and I don’t understand the people who put him in office. I simply don’t understand the mentality which drives the hatred of another person, and I never will.

    It is up to us to never let the river of Understanding, Compassion and Love stop flowing. Remember what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said so eloquently: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    Keep doing what you’re doing Sir, keep speaking out… people will hopefully hear you.

    All of us who write online to bring voters to reason in our country, we have such an enormous job to do, and nobody will do it for us. Keep speaking out… our country needs us!

  6. I feel sorry for you having this perception of people that have no ill will towards you. I read your entire piece and thought you must have only interacted with a small segment of people that support President Trump because I can assure you that I applaud you being a hard working well spoken African American.

    Assuming that every Trump supporter sees you as the word, that I find offensive, even when it’s coming from a person of color in a rap song or as a greeting to friends, hurts my beliefs in the good of mankind. Not all Trump supporters wish you ill as a matter of fact most of my friends cheer success no matter who you are or the color of your skin.

    The article seemed short sided in that the writers opinion seems to not have a wide enough base to truly speak without generalizing a very large segment of the American population. If you believe it to be true you create your own reality. For me I chose to believe that the world is basically good and will continue to welcome lower taxes, better jobs and higher wages. Which has come to pass since the “evil” trump was elected.

  7. First and foremost, thank you for taking the time to read my work. It is greatly appreciated. There are a couple of things that I want to clarify, so please bear with me.
    I never said that all trump supporters sees me as the “n” word. What I said is that some people feel emboldened to use that word freely. To be precise, what I said was “I hear and feel the resurgence of that word – and that certain demographics of people will use it because the leader of the free world has convinced them that it is okay to vilify me.”

    This statement is not limited to Trump supporters but to any person that is not of color who feels threatened, challenged or just downright hateful.

    There are quite a few of them.

    You may believe that my article is short sided, but keep in mind, it is my opinion and experience. Some of what I feel has to do what the very things that Trump says and does.

    No, I don’t think that every Trump supporter is a racist. Do I think that they are angry. Yes. Has Trump tapped into that anger? Yes he has.

    And it is with that anger that other demographics of people have been attacked…some viciously, others not so direct.

    At the end of the day, I believe that Trump supporters, liberals and progressives want the same thing…it’s just the means of obtaining it that may be questionable.

    Regarding the booming economy. I agree, the economy is doing quite well, but the foundation was laid before Trump came to office. He did not inherit a mess the way that he claims. He did not turn around the economy in a year and some odd months, but he was smart enough to build upon it. This started with the Obama administration as the Bush years ended on such a sour note that many people lost their homes and savings resulting in the banking industry having to be to be regulated.

    I appreciate the fact that you reached out to me. You are the very first Trump Supporter that has without fighting, insulting or demeaning me.

    I am a liberal. A very proud liberal. I believe that we are all entitled to a piece of the American dream regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. I want this for every person that is willing to contribute to this country because that is what makes us great.

    One more thing…the people that I have encountered along the way that has made me feel the way I do isn’t every single Caucasian person that has crossed paths with me…and this most certainly did not occur because Trump came to office.

    This is a lifetime of experiences, good and bad. I have many friends from so many different backgrounds and I rejoice in that. I know that everyone isn’t bad. I know that every white person does not mean to do me harm.

    But once again, you took the time to respond to my piece and I thank you for that. We don’t have to agree. We can agree to disagree…but this is my experience and perception. Many people of color have experienced the same thing. Some of us are scared, some of us are frustrated…many of us are downright tired.

    Have an awesome day and thank you for commenting.

    ~ J.L. Whitehead

  8. First I want to thank you for writing such a beautiful piece. I understand everything that you have written and can relate to it. I myself, am very scared because of the hate against our people and the atrocities we are dealing with as a result. You’re suspect in every situation even in your home, park, pool, etc. Afraid to get help because help might hurt you. It’s frustrating, the way the world is today. We are drifting slowly back to the days of segregation. And now we are being displaced from our neighborhoods and homes, due to gentrification. This is a critical time in which we need become one.

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