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Ferguson to Trump: The End of Subtle Racism

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Matthew Moffitt
DISCRIMINATION © Ron Chapple Stock via Getty Images DISCRIMINATION

"They follow me around the grocery store," he says to me, "thinking I'll steal something."
"Why?" I ask. Naivety always makes me look foolish.
My friend holds out his arms, palms up, as if to say: why do you think? I look him up and down, still trying to decide if he's serious, and eventually it dawns on me that he is. I pause and take a bite of my food, baffled that in the year of 2016, an African American individual can still be followed in a grocery store out of fear he will steal something, because, you know, all African American individuals are criminals. I stumble on my words, struggling to say the right thing, but then again, what do you say to that? What do you say to a man who has just told you that they are followed around the store because of the color of their skin? This isn't 1945, is it? This is 2016. What is wrong with people? And more importantly, how did we go from electing our first African American President to feeling comfortable exhibiting these prejudicial behaviors?
"This happens all the time," he says. "But that's mild compared to other things." I stay silent, dreading whatever is to come. "I've been kicked out of bars because I'm black. I've had people say the N-word to me and right in front me, thinking nothing of it. They think it is okay."
That's the problem, I tell myself. You see, there have always been -- and always will be -- racial tensions in America, but never have people been so incredibly comfortable in expressing their disdain for someone from another culture; the only other time we were this explicit in our racial biases was prior to the civil rights movement, during the Jim Crow era.
"What else?" my throat had gone dry.
He throws his hands up and shakes his head, pushing out a dire laugh. "How much time you got?"
We sit there for awhile in silence, trying to make sense of it all. I finally say to him: "How did this happen? How did we get here?"
We stew over it for a bit, taking a few bites and talking about other things -- life, school, soul music -- but eventually we come back to it; the damn thing is a black hole and we are caught in its orbit, unable to generate enough acceleration to break free.
Our first guess is the obvious one: Trump. In a recent keynote address, Vice President Joe Biden claimed that Donald Trump's success was critical to this evolution, citing that he would make us "look in the mirror" and face the growing problem of racism in America, but both of us dismissed this idea as quickly as it had arrived. Nothing about Trump is making us "look in the mirror."
"Trump is a symptom," he says. "If anything, he's the vehicle allowing people to express their overt racism comfortably."
"But he isn't where it started."
"No."
No, I say to myself, no he isn't. Trump is a symptom of a bigger, more systemic and systematic problem that has been in place for quite some time. To put it metaphorically: Donald Trump is nothing more than the gasoline being poured onto a rising fire, orange hair and all. So where did that fire start? That is the real question, the one that needs answering if we are ever going to do as Biden suggested and look in the mirror, because this began long before Donald Trump called Mexicans rapists, long before he wanted to create a database of Muslims, long before he expressed misogynistic views, and his willingness to commit war crimes. So where in God's name did it come from? How did overt racism become commonplace?
We bounce around ideas for a bit, discussing everything from Sandra Bland to Obama to the Syrian Refugee Crisis, but in the end both of us arrive at the same place, the same event: Ferguson. This started with Ferguson.
Who knew that a crime that occurred within a stretch of two blocks within Ferguson, Missouri would be the catalyst for one of the most divisive and racially-charged time periods in the history of America? The shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson occurred within a climate of corruption and racial injustice that had been in place for decades, and that killing embodied and symbolized the systemic discrimination demonstrated by the Ferguson police department. It was years in the making. But no one could have predicted what would follow; we had poked the beast one too many times and now the world would hear it roar.
The sentiment of the black community within Ferguson resonated with the rest of the country, and before we knew it, black lives matter was founded and trending, protests--peaceful and not so peaceful--were occurring in New York, Chicago, and California. People were marching. People were fighting. America was burning. But what should have been a wake-up call for America to look in the mirror and address this issue, turned into one of the most divisive and polarizing events, because not everyone responded in a way that was in tune with the voices of the black lives matter activists: overt racism had been buried alive, and all it took was something with enough power to unearth it.
"After Ferguson," he says, "you had people who backed further into their corners."
"All lives matter, give me back my white culture."
"Exactly," he nods and takes a swig of water. What we didn't talk about was the verdict of Darren Wilson, and the fact that the grand jury decided not to indict him; if that act in and of itself didn't cause racial tensions to explode, the following events did. "And then came Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Baltimore..." his voice faded, letting me process.
We didn't come together after Ferguson, I say to myself, we fell apart. And it only got worse from there. With each event -- with each child killed by police, with each protest, rally, and with each Syrian Refugee washing ashore -- the fire grew, further dividing the country, further polarizing the American people.
"Meanwhile," I say, "Obama's reign is coming to an end."
"Uh huh. And a lot of people hate Obama."
Yes they do, I think. "Could that be where it started?" We dabble with the idea, play with it, but ultimately decided that, if anything, Obama's re-election was the kindling to the fire, made the coals hot, but it wasn't where the fire started.
That's when the light bulb turns on over my head. My eyes grow wide. "And here comes Donald Trump."
He nods again and smiles, but his voice is grave. "And here comes Donald Trump."
What Donald Trump did was capitalize on Ferguson, on Tamir Rice, on the resentment towards Obama, and on the fear of ISIS and Syria. He targeted those who were for Darren Wilson, who undoubtedly believe that the police are never wrong, and who harbor racial prejudices. He targeted the people living in fear of ISIS and Syria, channeled their rage, and became their voice. And apparently, there were a lot of them. The gasoline to the fire, remember?
Donald finalized the change in how racism was expressed by Americans: for supporters of Donald Trump, there were no longer consequences for demonstrating overt racism towards others. You could assault an African American woman at a rally and nothing would happen. You could call Mexicans rapists and nothing would happen. You could call Muslims savages, say the N-word, and tell your employees to follow a black guy in a grocery store and nothing would happen.
Good ole' Donald.
Where black lives matter activists were the voice of Ferguson and others, Donald became the voice of the disenfranchised, of those sick of diversity and "Hussein" Obama: he became the voice of the silent racists who had had enough of their white culture being stripped of them.
"Donald is smarter than he talks or acts," my friend says. "He has allowed for overt racism to be okay in America once again."
"That should be his slogan. Trump: Make Overt Racism Okay Again."
We both laugh nervously and then grow silent. And all I can think to myself is that Biden is undoubtedly wrong: if the killing of the innocent child Tamir Rice cannot make Americans address their deep-seeded racism, if the racial divide in Ferguson, Missouri cannot make Americans address their deep-seeded racism, if a Syrian child washing ashore cannot make Americans address their deep-seeded racism, then nothing will -- especially not Donald Trump.
"What are we going to do?" I ask.
He smiles. "Feel the Bern, my man. Feel the Bern."

Matthew Moffitt is a novelist, freelance writer, and social justice advocate. His first science fiction novel, MOON TO JOSHUA, will be published by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy in the coming months. Follow him on twitter for more information: @miso_matthew. Be warned: he is an avid live-tweeter of The Bachelor and Dateline.

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