written by Valerie Morales
In the minutes before her testimony was set to begin, civil rights heroine Fannie Lou Hamer patiently sat in front of the Credentials Committee of the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Television networks had anticipated this moment. Hamer was a wife and mother, the youngest of 20, the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers, a victim of sterilization, white supremacy and racists, and she ran for Congress. She had been beaten in a Mississippi jail and had a damaged kidney and a limp because of it. But now here she was about to testify. Just as the television cameras were poised to roll and capture what she had to say about women, politics, the state of Mississippi and civil rights, President Lyndon B. Johnson called an unplanned press conference. The networks then abandoned Hamer’s testimony, switching their coverage to the President.
As a strategy, it was contemptuous. President Johnson attempted to censor Fannie Lou Hamer by keeping her off television. Unbeknown to Johnson, however, was that Mrs. Hamer kept on speaking, regardless of if no one was watching. Later than night, to the chagrin of President Johnson and his White House staff, Fannie Lou Hamer’s full remarks were on tape, including her famous cry “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” President Johnson had succeeded in invalidating a woman of color in the short term because she made him uncomfortable but Fannie Hamer had the last word.
Different man, same theme, nothing allegorical. Women of color have made Donald Trump uncomfortable and he has tried to invalidate them by demanding they go back to “their country” when their country is his country. It’s all pretty absurd. He wants to silence women by erasing their birthrights, aligning them with immigrants who have little agency in the culture and whose voices are fractured. It’s monstrous behavior with very few gray areas. He meant what he said. It was received appropriately. In an election year, Trump is mining the fertile ground of insults, pejoratives, verbal aggression. They are his reflexes particularly against women of color and polls indicate Republicans agree with his strategy.
The political however doesn’t reshape the moral. One is not erased while the other is replaced. Trump is a feckless bully and an example that toxic white manhood can ascend to the highest office and positively stroke the innate xenophobia of his constituents (who find his racism heroic). Trump has always had a mean girls oeuvre that is symptomatic of men in his generation who can’t have what they want. It’s a kind of hate art. Beautifying the ugly for mass consumption.
For effect and votes, Trump flagrantly and proudly takes the low road, embracing and eroticizing the stereotypes that exaggerate his manhood. But he didn’t create women of color hatred. In a comedy routine, George Lopez once said “There are two rules in the Latino family. Don’t marry somebody black and don’t park in front of our house.” We celebrate the put down joke because we are not bold enough to publicly say the racist and sexist thing, and then own the backlash. That’s where Trump is unique.
Trump’s verbal vomit is tossed strategically. He mocks and pillages and lies to divide, and because he doesn’t have the intellect or wit to be a provocateur, he is just a wrecking crew. But he isn’t alone. He is in a group of many. What sets him apart is his level of power. But Donald Trump didn’t invent verbal violence against black women in white spaces, the threats, the emails, the harassment, both sexual and emotional.
History has done very little to inhibit white aggression and in many cases both conservatives and liberals shrug at the victims. White intimacy is one of privilege so this is all a little melodramatic. While Trump goes on one of his premeditated verbal rampages his coterie of admirers refuse to interfere as if they are pleased he is the one being authentic. They have no conscience and so in that vein they are Trump’s perfect foil and folly. They are in agreement in theory. Go back to your country: it is a dog whistle. A white supremacists cry.
Women of color are tolerated or despised depending on how willing they are to make white people comfortable in their own space. Jemele Hill wasn’t interested in comfort as she took on Donald Trump and privilege and the white supremacist cohort, and vainly, I was proud of her principles and stubbornness in the face of how many identify white men as victims. 30% of workers believe white men are sympathetic figures, according to research by Ernst & Young.
White men have to be protected. When women of color get in the way of that protection, when they call out supremacists and correctly identify the consequence of white patriarchy and privilege, they then become the targets of white rage. As women, they are dismissed as pussies, whores, monkeys, stupid, ugly. Or, not belonging to this country.
Women of color are reminders of the original sin, slavery. They are objectified and sexualized. Many are descendants of Jim Crow separate but not equal. Many came here desperate. A lot of us were kidnapped and stolen. We are the granddaughters of survivors and in many cases are out-achieving our vile oppressors which triggers a reaction among the whites that are left behind. Of course, it is going to be abusive. We will be shamed. Talented and aggressive congresswoman of color are making racists, misogynists, and supremacists accountable and uncomfortable. And so they attack rhapsodically.
In her speech that Lyndon Johnson tried to erase, Fannie Lou Hamer said. “I question America. Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives are threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings?”
Donald Trump’s racism bookends Americas propensity to feign innocence. It all trickles down like water on a hill, from the mighty to the small to the confused. Somewhere a brown girl is looking in the mirror and wondering if she belongs. If she matters. We call what Trump says racist but it also needs to be said out loud that it is cruel. It is lying. Lies are absorbed, inhaled, repeated. Believed. They have consequences in the lives of girls and women who have to inhale that garbage and fight against the inevitable shame.
This isn’t the same white man country. Because of the demographic change, racists and enablers and deniers slaughter brown women with their aggressive racist violence that they call freedom of speech. Whiteness is still weaponized against us but the difference in the texture and the context and ultimately the aggregate is that proud and strong women of color aren’t disappearing. Beneath the cyclicalities of white rage and gender violence, even as the powerful are intent on humiliating us, here we are. This land is our land.