When Donald Trump failed to answer Lester Holt‘s question at Monday night’s first presidential debate about what he would like to say to African-Americans after perpetuating the racist birther lie about President Obama, he gave Black voters all the information they need to know on Election Day.
Indeed, there is a long evil history in the United States that involves validating and approving the access, acceptance, and achievements of people who can claim America as their own.
How can one group or individual appoint themselves as the sole arbiter of all things American, demanding that all others sit on the outside looking in, hoping for the divine providence of this figure to allow them access and approval? Like the proverbial losing lottery ticket that leaves you wishing, hoping, and praying, why couldn’t it be your lucky day?
But Trump has finally thrown up his hands and admitted that he was wrong all along. That’s not enough. He expects that we should essentially accept his “Sike, my bad!” and turn our attention away from the fact that he invested half of a decade in the service of othering America’s first Black president—and challenging his academic credentials in the process (please don’t forget that Trump also asked if the President had rightfully been accepted to Harvard Law School).
From my personal experience as the Season 1 Runner-Up on NBC’s The Apprentice and my time spent with Mr. Trump, I felt some of those same dark otherizing vibes as Mr. Trump attempted to figure me out by cross checking my corporate history through his contacts at my previous employers, as he couldn’t quite get his head around a Black Investment Manager named Kwame Jackson from Goldman Sachs, and Procter & Gamble, with a Harvard MBA appearing on his show. Why was I there?
I remember clearly getting an early, albeit less than lethal, taste of full-on “show me your papers” that would later be unleashed on President Obama. After all, the overtly racist Donald Trump we see now in 2016 was not simply the tough egotistical boss that I met in 2003. So I find this evil Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde devolution to be perplexing and scary all at the same time.
The Trump-led birther movement insulted not just President Obama and those who legally installed him in the highest office of the land, but also all immigrants and people of color who don’t fit into his narrow definition of “real Americans.” And he expects to retract the flames of a five-year-long character assassination in a heartbeat? Has anyone checked the validity of his academic record?
Being othered by Trump is the same aspersion that was cast on the late Captain Humayan Khan, who died as patriotic Muslim American and the son of immigrants. His service and supreme sacrifice somehow needed to be validated by a man who never served a day in his life. The very definition of WHITE privilege.
Of course, the challenges to one’s claim to a nation did not begin with Trump. Today, Latinos are forced to prove their immigration status at routine traffic stops, and state legislatures are voting for them to provide proof of citizenship on the spot or risk deportation simply for the crime of driving while brown.
It also crops up when successful people of color like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and even you, the reader, in your corporate climb, are presumed to be nothing more than beneficiaries of affirmative action or preferential treatment. All the while we look at White Americans who’ve made something of themselves—or had that ‘something’ handed to them, like Trump himself—and never even think to question their credentials because they’re American enough to cut the muster.
Even Bernie Sanders proudly claims to be the son of an immigrant growing up in post-WWII Brooklyn, and often exclaims that he was never challenged on his American bona fides like President Obama.
So with less than 50 days to go until we elect our next President of the United States, let us clearly remember this call to the polls.
Let us remember that the birther movement was a purely racist character assassination that should serve as fuel for our voting fire!
I know that many African-Americans are lukewarm on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for a number of reasons. But does that mean we are lukewarm on justice, on righting historical wrongs, on standing up for Obama and by doing so, standing up for ourselves and all those who have ever attempted to otherize us?
Let’s not be lukewarm on Election Day, let’s speak with our votes and leave no doubt that President Obama was, is, and will always be more authentically American than anyone has the right to question or decide. If you got mad, and sick, and set ablaze by the five-year campaign of birther nausea, fix it in one single day of voting!
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty