Everything we’ve been taught about “success” in this country and nearly every avenue we’ve used to achieve that success are now threatened by the same explicit racism that Donald Trump rode into the White House.
(This article initially appeared in TheRoot.com right after the election. In light of the openly racist governing coming out of the White House, I’ve updated it to reflect what’s happening now. God help us… Updates appear in italics)
When Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a racist tirade against Mexicans, he began the short process of renormalizing the racist sentiments that white people had been taught to hide since integration started 60 years ago. He literally made it cool for white America to be openly racist again: In just over a year, his campaign and election have drastically undermined more than five decades of integrated racial “progress.”
Now, as Trump fills key administration positions with white nationalist-sympathizing power brokers like Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Jeff Sessions for attorney general, and 31 year old Steve Miller, as senior advisor. Mr. Miller comes with a long history of white supremacist activism. With this dynamic trio leading the ideological charge to #MakeAmericaOpenlyRacistAgain in the Trump White House, it is clear that the Black middle class is in for a very harsh, rude awakening. Because for the past 50 years everything we’ve been taught about “success” in a society moving towards integration and nearly every avenue we’ve used to achieve that success are now threatened by the same explicit racism that Trump rode into the White House.
Racism has come out of the closet. It’s as if White supremacists have decided they gave integration a shot and decided they just don’t like it. So, it’s back to business as usual.
racist, anti-immigration 1973 novel about the invasion of Europe by deviant non-white migrants led by a ruler who eats feces. As the Huffington Post reported earlier this month, it is a favorite of both white supremacists and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has referenced it repeatedly as a comparison point.
The book’s plot centers on a story of what happens when “poor black and brown people literally overrun Western civilization.” These are the White men setting policy for the nation. Welcome to the new old America.
Black Economics: Abandoning Our Own to Sit at Their Lunch Counters
This administration presents particular challenges for Black people, in a way that it does not for other communities of color. Our Chinese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Russian, Jewish and other ethnic minority neighbors spent the past 50 years benefiting from integration while simultaneously building up their own collective economies. Yes, they sent their kids to integrated schools to take advantage of what integrated America has to offer. But these minority groups refused to give up their economic independence and they continued to engage in collective economic development.
They opened Chinese, Korean, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Russian, Jewish and other ethnic minority stores, banks, dental clinics, doctor’s and lawyer’s offices, construction companies, and corporations owned and operated by their own community. They learned how to meet their own needs when they had to and learned how to interact with local officials to get government funding when necessary. Which meant when their kids graduated from those integrated schools, they had options. They could work on Wall Street and/or help their family/community owned businesses expand and/or go back to their respective “home country” and engage in economic development there.
Unlike our neighbors of color, however, Black people spent the past 50 years tying our community’s economic success to integrating into White society. We trading working and living in Black owned businesses and neighborhoods for the opportunity to work in White corporations that had previously been closed to us. We deemed it a mark of success when we could afford to leave Black communities and integrate into White neighborhoods, even though our White neighbors began fleeing before we could put out the welcome mats.
Of course, due to our particular history, Black people are particularly susceptible to thinking the White man’s ice is colder. So naturally, abandoning Black own institutions made sense. However, due to the return of open racism, we’re going to pay a price for that belief.
As I’ve said before:
One of the lessons we can learn from the Birmingham bus boycott is that it is more important to build our own than it is to protest for the right to force someone who hates us to take our money. The bus boycott was a remarkable demonstration of collective power. However, in the pivotal moments after the boycott’s successful end, the Black community returned to riding buses operated by racist bus company owners. That was a missed opportunity. What if instead of giving racist bus owners their transportation dollars going back to business as usual, Black patrons decided to keep their money circulating in their own community? What if during the boycott, the Black community created and maintained its own bus companies, met its own transportation needs and circulated those dollars within its own borders?
If we were as concerned with protecting our own economic dependence instead of integrating to sit at the lunch counters of people who hate us, we’d have flourishing transportation, insurance, medical companies and athletic leagues that our kids could access for jobs and resources.
But instead, we have the right to eat next to racists who’d rather spit in our food. Yay for #progress.
Black Economic Success Skills: Make White People Feel Comfortable
Integrating into a society trained to hate us on sight required a special skill. So we tapped into our knowledge of how to make White people feel comfortable in order to make integration a success.
Making White people feel comfortable has always played a role in our survival. On plantations, making them comfortable meant that we might delay torture, death or whatever punishment they were thinking of at the moment. During segregation, keeping White discomfort at bay meant avoiding or minimizing the racial violence of angry White mobs. But when integration began, Black economic success began to be measured by how well we could integrate into White society, which meant that making White people comfortable was now one of the most viable paths to Black economic sustainability. That was a mistake.
We see this phenomenon earliest in schools. Black students who excel at making White teachers comfortable tend to be the students who can show their intelligence in ways that White people can easily recognize. It doesn’t mean that they actually are any smarter than the other Black students, but that their teachers (80 percent of whom are White women) just feel they are different (i.e., less threatening) from the rest. These students get access to gifted-and-talented classes and opportunities reserved for “special” Black children who show “promise.” This system replicates itself throughout higher education and the workforce.
All-White Everything: Pathways to Success?
As a result, the Black community’s economic-success model largely relies on centering Whiteness and accessing the resources it provides; which means our most brilliant students risk becoming incapable of addressing Black needs.
Many “successful” Black business students learn economic theory but have no idea how much the Black community spends annually. So they are ill-prepared to create economic models that capture and reinvest Black dollars. Black bankers can work in highly regarded financial institutions, but most either don’t know how or simply can’t set up financial service centers to help generate, protect and grow Black wealth.
Successful Black doctors can work in White-owned hospitals, but may never build hospitals that focus on diseases impacting Black lives the most. Black research scientists develop expertise on issues important to White corporations but never get to use their genius to explore issues related to us. Our best and brightest Black workers can get jobs on Wall Street, but most can’t create jobs for anyone in the hood.
If Black professionals were paid 40-50 hours a week to work on meeting Black needs instead of making White corporations rich, we could solve most of our own problems.
Hell, Flint Michigan might have clean water.
This all-White-everything approach to economic sustainability may have been fine (it wasn’t) when we had a government constrained by things like anti-discrimination laws and notions of superficial fairness. But that was before a candidate president who was fully endorsed by White nationalist groups won the election and created lines of direct communication between White supremacists and the White House.
Now, because of the renewed surge of openly hostile racism stoked by Trump’s campaign and the growing boldness of today’s White supremacist movement, this economic model means that the Black community will be one of the least prepared for what will come next.
Black Economics in a Trump Era
Before Trump’s campaign, for the Black working class in the era of integration, racism at work typically showed up as microaggressions: the “commonplace daily indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate racial slights and insults toward people of color.” If White folks let their racism step out of line, there were laws we could turn to for protection, like the Civil Rights Act. These laws were enforced by agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which interprets them and defends victims from discrimination.
And now, the EEOC is headed by Jeff Sessions, whose entire career specializes in implementing racist policy.
After the election, groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that schools and the workplace are the two places reporting the highest number of hate crimes and intimidation incidents.
It’s not that White people ever stopped being racist, but a delicate web of political correctness, the fear of being called a “racist” (which many hate more than actual racism) and the desire to pretend to support integration helped to keep public displays of racism down to a level that most Black employees could tolerate.
In order for this system to work, however, Black professionals had to play their part. Gaining access to White spaces and resources required us to leave our Blackness at home when we went to work, attended integrated work or social functions or otherwise interacted with White people. Each day, we put on “the mask”: the face we show White co-workers to prove we’re not angry, aggressive or any other word used to describe an emotional Black person who makes White people uncomfortable.
But none of that will matter in a Trump era because the president-elect’s campaign has empowered the White community to finally be honest about how they really feel when it comes to race. If Now that Jeff Sessions was confirmed as attorney general, his racist ideology will be is in charge of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. A Trump-era EEOC will evaluate claims of workplace discrimination. This means the legal framework that helps to keep racism in check will vanish. Sessions has already indicated he will no longer investigate police departments accused of racial violence. The old is becoming new. Again.
As a natural consequence, White people (whether they’re Ku Klux Klan members or merely harboring implicit bias) will be able to are now acting on those feelings. Once civil rights protections fall, there will be no safety net wide enough to protect Black workers or our community’s economic security.
Remember, even under integration, White-owned corporations hired as few Black people as the law required. Those same companies that can barely tolerate us now soon won’t have to hire any of us at all. We are entering an era where the very laws that protected us from racial discrimination are becoming unenforced and essentially nonexistent.
The Solution: Centering on Us
Malcolm X was prophetic when he said: “The White man is too intelligent to let someone else come and gain control of the economy of his community. But you will let anybody come in and control the economy of the community—control the housing; control the education; control the jobs; control the businesses—under the pretext that you want to integrate.”
The only option the Black community will have left requires us to center Black people as our solution and re-create a culturally grounded economic system based on meeting our own needs. Blacks are one of the largest buying groups, spending over $1 trillion annually. To protect our community from the threats that loom, we must turn that spending power into job and wealth generators. We have to create ways to capture our money and convert it into resources to meet our needs.
Because Black communities like the one in Flint, Michigan need clean water whether the racist government wants to supply it or not.
According to Ron Busby, president and CEO of U.S. Black Chambers, “There [are] only 1.9 million African-American businesses, but of the 1.9, 1.8 million have no employees. So we only really have 106,000 African-American businesses that have employees. We have to increase that number, and we have to do it with more young people going to work for small businesses in order for there to be production.”
Author Maggie Anderson (Our Black Year: One Family’s Quest to Buy Black in America’s Racially Divided Economy) stated that 1 million jobs could be created if black households with incomes of $75,000 or more increased spending with black-owned businesses from 3 percent to 10 percent. This is far better than any governmental policy could ever hope to promise or achieve.
Regardless of what your contribution to Black freedom may be, the fact is we need all hands on deck. In light of the Trump administration budget cuts released today (which cut every damn thing you can think of), we simply can not look to the government to meet our needs. Because this administration is returning to openly racist principles which means our needs no longer matter. So, think of every way that our community relies on government funding to meet our needs. Housing, medicine, food, education, etc. Now, erase the government funding we’ve relied on for decades–but still meet the needs. That is the new face of the Black struggle. #DoForSelf is no longer an academic debate–it’s all we’ve got.
A Trump presidency means that the days of relying on government for legal protections from racism are over. But if we take this opportunity to re-create sustainable Black streams of income, job and wealth creation, we may be able to advance farther than many dreamed imaginable. Thankfully, as Marcus Garvey noted, “When all else fails to organize the people, conditions will.” This new age of open racism may be just the mass organizing moment that allows our community to thrive.
Lurie Daniel Favors is an author and attorney and the general counsel at a racial-justice law center in Brooklyn, N.Y. You can get your copy of her e-book, “Afro State of Mind: Memories of a Nappy Headed Black Girl” here! Follow her on Twitter, or Instagram, “like” Afro State of Mind on Facebook or catch up on her latest Youtube videos! Opinions expressed here belong to AfroStateOfMind(tm) only and do not represent those of any other institution.