Black History Month in the Era of Trump

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was asked why it is important to promote Black History Month.

In the Trump era, it is hard to imagine a rational person arguing with his claim that we live in a racist country, although I’m sure there are some who would try. I am reminded of the days after Barack Obama was elected president and there was actually talk about a “post-racial America.” That was always a fantasy invented by white people who simply wanted to move on from the struggle.

This week Ed Pilkington provided us with a window into the fact that, in many ways, white people still live in a different world from the one inhabited by people of color. Here’s where the story starts:

Over a barbecue grill last summer in a park in Springfield, Missouri, Jonathan Herbert and his friend Marlin Barber fell to ruminating about the challenges they faced as African Americans when driving across the country.

Barber, who teaches history at Missouri State University, was planning a road trip to Arkansas with his white wife and two young children, and was apprehensive about what they might encounter in the rural backwaters. Herbert had an idea – why not float the dilemma to friends on Facebook and see what came back?

“Sadly, it’s 2017,” Herbert went ahead and posted, “and we still have to consider the racial climate of some of the most beautiful places in this country before we decide to vacation there with our families.”

The comment sparked intense Facebook reaction. A black friend divulged the fact that he had been called the N-word in Oklahoma and had run into the KKK in Texas. “I remember not taking our kids through parts of Missouri or Arkansas out of fear,” he said.

The discussion led to reminiscing about the Green Book, a historical travel guide for African American motorists from the days of Jim Crow. Pilkington travelled to some of the sites mentioned in the book as well as some that weren’t because they were particularly dangerous. The whole thing is worth a read to remind us that in many places, things haven’t changed as much as white people often assume. Here is what he learned from the two adult grandchildren of a woman who ran one of the most visited sites in St. Louis listed in the Green Book.

“In the past two years I’ve been surprised – but not surprised – at some of the attitudes expressed,” Calvin says. “There seems to be a new liberty people are taking with language, openness on the part of those who harbour negative feelings towards others.”

Is she talking about Trump?

“I didn’t want to mention his name, but yes. It makes me wonder where it’s all going to end.”

Calvin says she no longer drives on the highway at night. “I don’t feel comfortable doing that.”

Calvin actually has good reason to be concerned about driving while black in Missouri.

Official data compiled by the state shows that racial disparity in the frequency of vehicle stops by Missouri police has grown steadily since 2000. Today, African Americans are 75% more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

That data, combined with the recent passage of a law that makes it much more difficult to sue for discrimination, is what prompted the NAACP to issue its first ever travel advisory for African Americans in Missouri this summer.

The NAACP Travel Advisory for the state of Missouri, effective through August 28th, 2017, calls for African American travelers, visitors and Missourians to pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state given the series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently, and noted therein.

That is just a taste of what is going on in the lives of everyday African Americans in the so-called “heartland” at a time when the president says that immigrants from Africa come from “shithole” countries and prepares to campaign on “‘unexpected cultural flashpoints’ — like the NFL and kneeling.”

Popovich is right, “we live in a racist country…and it’s always important to bring attention to it, even if it angers some people.” I am reminded of one of Martin Luther King’s most famous quotes: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Welcome to Black History Month in the era of Trump.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .