On June 16, Donald Trump said this in his announcement he was running for president:
“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems. They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime. They’re rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they’re telling us what we’re getting.”
On June 17, a gunman (allegedly Dylann Storm Roof, since arrested) walked into the historically Black Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, sat through an hour meeting, and then opened fire on the congregation. He is quoted as saying, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
Donald Trump did not directly make that gunman pull the trigger. The mentality that Trump and others espouse on national media platforms did.
Trump’s not the only one at fault. The media in its entirety plays up white victims while downplaying Black and Latino victims. Conversely, it features nonwhite criminals front and center while downplaying the role of white criminals. When they need a picture to show nonwhite criminals, the news relies on mugshots or poses where a suspect is looking tough. For white criminals, they seek out employment or yearbook photos where a suspect is smiling.
Even today, you won’t find a mainstream news source using the word “terrorism” to describe a white man slaughtering nine Black U.S. citizens as they prayed in a church. Terrorism is reserved only for people of color. In fact, it took CNN nearly a whole day to get around to covering the story, and they still put “Hate Crime” in quotation marks, as if they aren’t willing to acknowledge such a thing is real. Yet a possible, nonspecific ISIS-inspired terrorist threat that hasn’t happened and may or may not just be signal noise gets breaking news coverage, with not a single quotation mark in sight.
It’s this mentality that made us all Charlie a few months ago when fundamental extremists killed 12 at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo. Even if it happened on foreign soil, the victims were white and the perpetrators were Muslim. You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing “We Are Charlie.” That’s fine – empathy is a great impulse for people to exhibit.
But how come we aren’t all Charleston today? That happened here, to our citizens, balanced on the back of a long history of domestic terrorism aimed at Black churches. Empathy is great, but it’s not really empathy if you only feel it for people of the same skin color – then it’s racism.
More than that, it’s in our blood. Our country was founded on the strategic genocide, relocation, and ghettoization of Native American peoples. Our country was founded on the lawfulness of white slavers and the illegality of Black citizens seeking freedom. Our country expanded into Mexico with wars that saw us forcibly annex their territory. Someone might bother to tell Trump about the forced repatriation of 1-2 million people of Mexican descent in the 1920s-30s, most of them U.S. citizens exiled into Mexico. It’s conveniently forgotten from every single immigration debate.
As I wrote yesterday, each of these struggles has its own individual history. Yet the common thread through all of them is the consent of a news media and political class that view the actions of whites as individual and removed from any systematized bias, while also viewing the actions of people of color as part of a larger, biologically natural tendency toward violence and disruption.
The most insidious part of it is that it’s not just a switch you turn on and off. We each have that bias implanted in the back of our minds. Many of us may not be actively, vocally racist, but many of us don’t need to be in order to give license to people like the Charleston gunmen. Only a few, like Donald Trump and Michele Bachmann and Bill O’Reilly and Wolf Blitzer, need to be overbearingly prejudiced. All that’s required of the rest of us is our silence, is our attitude that this is the default state of our country. To those seeking to do violence, silence in the face of overwhelming prejudice is the same as consent, is the same as permission, is the same as endorsement.
People of color are taking over this country, committing crimes and raping women, politicians like Donald Trump tell us. People of color are taking over this country, committing crimes and raping women, the Charleston gunman tells us. I wonder where he picked that up.
Like whites, most people of color are just trying to earn a paycheck, come home, keep everyday stress at bay and take care of their loved ones day after day. The only difference is we have to put up with threats to our dignity and our lives while doing so.