Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
Make America Great Again spells fear of a black and brown US, where racist rhetoric will graduate into racist policy.
“What the hell do you have to lose?” Donald Trump asked African Americans while speaking in Ohio – a key battleground state – in August. An absurd appeal to a voting bloc maligned by the Republican campaign, in a campaign where absurdity and alarm are cornerstones.
While much of the alarm has centred on Trump’s strident rhetoric and policy proposals targeting Muslims and Mexicans – the “Muslim ban” and the “Mexican wall” – Trumpism has hardly spared African-Americans, the group he simultaneously courted and disparaged before a predominantly white audience in Akron.
“Our government has totally failed our African-American friends … Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen … And I ask you this, I ask you this – crime, all the problems – to the African-Americans, who I employ so many,” Trump rambled, mixing ill-articulated acknowledgment of government neglect and racial inequity with callous stereotyping, and the classic racism cop out, “I have black friends,” or in the case of Trump, “I hire blacks.”
Trump delivered this speech while donning his signature “Make America Great Again” cap – a campaign message that stirs his support base into a xenophobic and racist frenzy, romanticising about a United States where black and brown people were cast as inferior or undesirables.
This fear of a black and brown United States is the grand narrative of the Trump campaign, symbolised by individuals of colour – of every shade – being ejected from one of his raucous rallies, and a zealous support base pushed to the polls by the Trumpian trilogy of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia.
Too much to lose
Trump’s campaign has brought the underbelly of American racism to the fore. In February 2015, the Ku Klux Klan – the US’ most notorious racist outfit – endorsed the eventual Republican nominee.
For days, Trump remained casually silent about this endorsement, refusing to expressly disavow the group and its endorsement.
A few months later, the KKK leader David Duke reaffirmed his endorsement of Trump, explicitly citing anti-immigration and abhorrence of “Black Panther cop killers” as primary bases for his support.
Duke’s “Black Panther cop killers” was not an offhand phrase, but a malicious characterisation of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
Echoing Duke, Trump characterised the movement as a group “calling death to the police”, and responsible for “dividing America”.
While Trump was slow to disavow the KKK, he wasted no time vilifying the Black Lives Matter Movement. The very group committed to unveiling the systematic racism and unchecked police violence inflicted on African-Americans, which Trump thinly veiled lip service to in Ohio.
This evidence of, at best, disinterest in African-American concerns is preceded by a record of housing discrimination towards black tenants, and a pattern of discriminatory hiring practices at Trump Inc.
If Trump’s corporate and campaign record is any barometer, African-Americans have a great deal to lose with a Trump presidency. This includes every segment of the African-American population, particularly Muslims.
When Islamophobia and anti-black racism converge
African-Americans comprise the largest segment of the Muslim American population. In a watershed piece examining the intersection of anti-black racism and Islamophobia, Donna Auston observes: “Yet, in spite of the fact that a full one-third of the US Muslim population is black, we rarely tend to think of issues of anti-black racism, poverty, mass incarceration, or police brutality as legitimate ‘Muslim’ issues. This is because we rarely consider black Muslims.”
There is a long history of black Muslims in the US, which predates the inception of the country. Today there is also a sizeable African immigrant Muslim community which faces Islamophobia, anti-black racism and xenophobia.
Trump’s most recent comments were geared towards the Somali American community in Minneapolis and Maine. While delivering a speech in Maine, Trump suggested that the 12,000 Somali Americans living there were responsible for the recent surge in crime rates.
He did not spare the 70,000 Somali Americans residing in Minneapolis when he stated, in the very same speech, that the, “state has become a ‘rich pool’ of potential recruiting targets for Islamist terror groups”.
In the same breath when he targets the black Muslim community with racial and religious epithets connecting Islamophobia and anti-black racism, branding different segments of the broader Black population as both “thugs” and “terrorists”.
In line with this demonisation, Auston observes, “we are profiled both on the street and at the airport – as existential threats to white, Christian America. Yet we refuse to answer to any of our given epithets – either ‘thug’ or ‘terrorist'”.
From rhetoric to reality
For black Muslims, both African American and immigrant, Trump’s rhetoric has emboldened violence in their direction. And if elected, his policies will carry forward policing and profiling measures that intensify scrutiny and surveillance.
“Make America Great Again” actually spells fear of a black and brown US, where racist rhetoric will graduate into racist policy, and concurrently, the emboldening of the racist violence we see unfolding on the streets of the US’ black communities.
Copyright 2015 Al-Jazeera English
Khaled A. Beydoun is a faculty member at the UCLA School of Law where he focuses on immigration law, criminal law, critical race theory, and legal history.
Asha Mohammed Nour is a Somali-American community organiser in Detroit, coordinating the Take on Hate Initiative.
Muslims protest outside Donald Trump’s New York City offices in opposition to his Islamophobic rhetoric. (Photo: Getty)