In June 2015 at Trump Towers in New York City, Donald Trump officially announced his candidacy for the president of the United States. The event hit the airwaves and the American public like a sledgehammer, leaving an avalanche of social, corporate, and media protests in its wake. Like many people in the early days of Trump’s candidacy, I was shocked and horrified. However, as the campaign got underway, the nation’s reactions to Trump, evoked, in me, a resurgence of a racist incident that would cause me to question everything I believed about the fight for racial equality and inclusion.
Shine My Shoes.
During my first year as an undergrad, while working at a restaurant, I was preparing lettuce on a kitchen prep table. My then manager, who happened to be Mexican, entered the kitchen, and stood right beside me. For no apparent reason, the guy lifted his leg, placed his shoe on the table, pointed to it and said, “shine my shoes.” I had no such relationship with this manager where we played or joked in that manner. In fact, in many ways, I felt he didn’t like me and I was suspicious of unfair treatment by him towards me. Stunned in disbelief, I waited for the punchline. It never came. He removed his shoe from the table and walked out of the kitchen, leaving me with the question, “What the hell just happened?” As the night wore on I became angrier. The next day I arrived early to register a formal complaint. After a week of details and reports, the manager was reprimanded with one day off with pay.
A Soldier of Diversity.
Over the years, as I advanced in my college studies, I’ve packed away that experience and shoved it down deep somewhere. Coming of age at the time of political correctness and attending college during the dawn of the push for diversity, I rationalized that the incident was not as serious as “real” racism. My growing sophistication as a college-educated man reasoned that the incident was insignificant and that we are all people of color. That vile act of racism was not as serious as if it was committed by a white man, I told myself. Besides, I was about to graduate from college and teach. I was fine.
A few years before 2015, I was revisited by that experience as I listened to my nephew speak about being, he claimed, unfairly targeted and reprimanded by his Latinx higher-ups He lamented being passed up for promotions so much that his only option for advancement, he felt, was to quit. After telling me of the complaints he filed, I gave the young man the same advice I forced on myself years earlier: study hard, get your education, and don’t look at the negative side of things. People of color have to stick together, I again told myself.
Trump and the Hypocrisy.
Yet, when the protests and reactions to Trump’s immigration stance reached its zenith, my myriad of conflicting emotions coagulated into one big, messy clump of resentment. How dare they, I began to fume. How hypocritical, how self-righteous of Mexicans to march in the streets and point the finger at Donald Trump when they are as racist as he, I thought. They despise Black people and probably say worse things about blacks than Trump was saying about them, I reasoned in anger.I began to stalk my TV for Trump. I subscribed to Sirius XM for my car so I could listen to live events and interviews of the candidate while driving home from work. He was speaking the truth, I thought. A truth I felt I needed to hear. I began to stew.
Visiting with a college friend whose opinion I respected greatly, we talked about Trump’s scorched-earth campaign. I found myself defending Trump. My friend spoke of learning from our respective cultural differences and using those differences to strengthen and enhance our worldviews. Demonizing whole groups of people for the actions of a few is not healthy, she advised. That was that diversity garbage she and I learned in college, I thought. Why could no one else see that Mexicans were as racist as anyone else?
The Rage and the Resentment.
By the time the 2016 presidential campaign entered its final phase, I was a mess. I had been watching and listening to so much of Trump’s campaign until my critique of Mexican racial hypocrisy had morphed into choice words for fake white liberals and my own “gullible” Black people. I was angry. I had been angry for years. Unbeknownst to me, I had allowed the “shine my shoes” incident with my manager to fester. I resented fighting for “people of color” while I watched my own people fall further and further behind. I resented seeing Asian, Latinx, and newly immigrated groups benefit from the advancements for which Black people sacrifice their very lives with nary an acknowledgment or thank you. It seemed the only words that gave voice to my increasing internal conflict were those that came from the mouth of Donald Trump.
People of Color Being People.
In college, during my career, on elevators, while out shopping, I would experience, as a Black man, racism and mistreatment from Latinx, Asians, and Arabs. This has been my reality even though I often reasoned it away. In my career working with white liberals, I had to learn the skill of teaching or advising them in a way that allowed them to think I was the one being taught or advised. Why did I put up with this treatment? Because I was a proselyte of diversity who was taught and trained to see past race, color, or gender. I was achieving the high moral ground by standing in solidarity with other marginalized groups against the common enemy: white, patriarchal racism. Yet, as I marched on as a person of color, I could not avoid the fact that, in the cause of diversity, the scales of equality and inclusion for Black people do not balance. And this sentiment, I came to realize, was the source of my growing anger and inexplicable affinity for Donald Trump and his campaign.
Diversity or Anti-Blackness?
By internalizing the principles of diversity and the common struggle of marginalized groups, I had become crippled in my ability to speak about racism from a position of honesty, authority, and conviction. I had learned to blame race solely on white people when I had felt many a sting of racism from those who are not white. Although voicing complaints of racism and bias against other marginalized groups is viewed as counterproductive to the cause, the pain and humiliation I suffer from those who are not of the white male patriarchy happens and exists. The whole marginalized group diversity bag didn’t seem fair. And while the complaints of these groups against Donald Trump are justified, they ring so hypocritically. The more of these honest reflections I engaged, the more confused and conflicted I became. I felt trapped between Trump and a sanctioned social script. I began to think back to a time when I genuinely viewed people in terms of how they treated me and not their color, their political position, or their race. I needed to go back to the beginning; back when I still believed.
As the 2016 presidential election was drawing to a close, I received a call from a good friend from high school named Tony. A mutual high school friend of ours was hosting a comedy event and Tony wanted to go. He needed a ride. “Sure,” I told him. “I would be glad to pick you up.” Tony and I shared great times in high school. From parties to football games to work after school, we hung out. Tony is Mexican. Being a bit more level-headed than me in high school, Tony saved me from a few situations. I was a reckless dreamer in high school.
Earlier that year, Tony, being a Facebook friend, witnessed several posts of mine that appeared to support Trump. Several times via Facebook, he questioned me about the posts out of seeming disbelief. Once, in a direct rebuke, he spoke of how Mexicans supported Obama and now they needed our (my) support and this is the thanks they get in return? I didn’t respond. I did go on liking his posts featuring pictures of his annual Halloween costumes, his beloved daughters, and his wicked style for Chicago Bears jerseys.
The comedy show ended, we said our goodbyes and headed out. During the drive to take him back home, we laughed hard at our high school antics. We also remembered the time he saved my reckless, teenage self from being fired. I then realized I never thanked him for doing that for me. I thanked him then. While working at the grocery store, after I got my act together, the supervisor there wrote a letter of recommendation for me that helped get me into college. I told Tony how big a deal it was for him to save my job. “Ah, that wasn’t shit, Ty,” he said, brushing off the gratitude. “We were all wild back then and did stupid shit.” He was right.
As my car made its way through the frigid, icy streets, we talked some more. He talked about his concern about his dad’s failing health and his relationship with his wife. I told him about my kids, my business, my new girl, and some other projects I wanted to work on. We didn’t talk about Trump. I was glad we didn’t. Maybe he was also glad we didn’t discuss the campaign. I asked him why he needed a ride to the comedy show? Didn’t he have a car? He grinned sheepishly and said, “I have a DUI, Tyrone. Fucking can’t drive.” I drove and allowed his answer to sink in. Stable Tony. I had questions as to how this guy who I looked up to in high school could lose something so critical to life as the ability to drive. Stopping at a red light, I looked over and asked, “No driver’s license, Tony? How do you deal with that?” “Shit, he exhaled. Life’s crazy, man. You just deal with the bullshit and try to enjoy life the best you can.” Seeming to sense my overthinking the situation, Tony took a deep breath, looked at me, and said, “I just try not to look at things too much in a negative way, you know?” I turned my eyes back to the road, thinking long on the words of my friend. As the light turned green, I pressed the gas pedal forward carefully and continued the journey, steering the car carefully down the cold, dark Chicago street.