The dichotomy between black and white people in America has been distinct since African slaves were brought to the U.S. in the 17th century. There has always been a misunderstanding about what constitutes fairness by white people in America.
Robert Kennedy, former Attorney General and brother to former president John F. Kennedy, was praised for his progressive optimism when he declared, “There’s no question about it,” he said. “In the next 40 years, a Negro can achieve the same position that my brother has.”
Social critic James Baldwin was critical of the acclaim Kennedy received, explaining, “From the point of view of the man in the Harlem barber shop, Bobby Kennedy only got here yesterday, and he’s already on his way to the presidency. We’ve been here for 400 years and now he tells us that maybe in 40 years, if you’re good, we may let you become president.”
A little over 40 years later, Robert’s prophecy came true when former President Barack Obama was sworn into office in 2009. This seemed like a substantial victory for black people in the U.S. years after slavery, terrorist attacks on “Black Wall Street,” Martin Luther King’s march in Selma and Rodney King riots in Los Angeles.
The milestone served as a sanctuary to the mind of people who, for so long, have had great anxiety about public perception and action toward their skin color. Unfortunately, racism had not died, but became disguised. The fire that is racism had not been extinguished, but rather, sold as a flickering candle by a media who desperately sought a negative peace.
Eight years later, the incendiary election of President Donald Trump refueled the fire and unmasked a racism that had been disguised for many years. Fifty years after his Cambridge speech, Baldwin’s recognition of a double standard between black and white people in America remains true.
For a black person to become president, one of the most outstanding candidates in U.S. history was presented in the 2008 election cycle. Obama is a Harvard graduate with a beautiful family. He served as an Illinois senator and had impeccable speaking skills. His ability to persuade and his calm
persona in trivial times resembled American icon and former President Ronald Reagan.
His successor, Trump, is a direct contrast. Trump’s public image is nothing short of chaotic. He has had five children with three different women, dodged the draft, been rumored to evade taxes and frequently starts and engages in immature Twitter battles. He has visited his clubs, such as Mar-a-Lago, once every 4.5 days.
More recently, Trump is being sued by porn star Stormy Daniels. Daniels said she signed a nondisclosure agreement with Trump, which has prevented her from publicizing the affair.
Ironically, Trump has represented every racist stereotype that burdens the black community. One can imagine the racism that would have ensued if a black president would have abused the governmental system by not paying his taxes or struggled maintaining a traditional family. The dog whistles would have been inevitable if it were Obama who engaged in an extramarital affair with a porn star or spent as many days golfing.
The racist trope of “black laziness” would have been abused. The “superpredator” label may have lead to Obama’s impeachment if he was accused by multiple victims and corroborators of sexual misconduct, instead of Trump.
Obama’s supporters were ridiculed and perceived as voting solely for a black person to become president. White America’s reluctance to admit they voted for Trump because of this very logic is hypocritical.
In an article for the Atlantic titled, “Donald Trump is the First White President,” Ta-Nehisi Coates makes this argument. It is common knowledge that the presidency of the U.S. has been historically white, but Coates believes in the unity of opposites.
Coates claims for there to be a white president, there must exist a black president. He asserts, “The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy.” He associates the “power of whiteness” as a “bloody heirloom," implying whiteness as an entity people believe should be traditional in our institutions, such as public office.
This ideology is evident by Trump’s theory of “birtherism,” which was an attempt to delegitimize a black presidency by associating it with African ancestry. Coates identifies Trump’s recognition of white privilege, explaining “Trump, more than any other politician, understood the valence of the bloody heirloom and the great power in not being a nigger.”
For the first black person to be elected president, he had to study and endure years in a political system. Trump just had to be a white male. For a long time, American politics conducted disguised fascism to further white supremacy.
This is the “passive white power” Coates claims elected many presidents before Trump. A grave disappointment occurred for many Americans when Trump made this awful inheritance explicit.
If there is any optimism for Trump’s presidency, it is that racism is identified more easily. Recognition of a problem is the first step to solving it. We must do everything we can to combat racism.
Soheil Saneei is a biological engineering freshman from Metairie, Louisiana.