President Donald Trump, in his town hall on Thursday, claimed that he has “denounced white supremacy for years,” despite his history and the fact that he has rallied behind far-right groups and white supremacists while in office, from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Portland, Oregon, to Kenosha, Wisconsin.
When I first began leading marches against police brutality and racial injustice decades ago, I was mocked, vilified in the press, attacked and stabbed, all for pushing to change the harsh reality of racism embedded in every facet of society. And while a lot has changed since then, we’re still fighting for equality. But when it comes to Trump and his administration, the challenge isn’t just figuring out a more effective way to fight racism; it’s figuring out how to get him to admit that it even exists in the first place.
Trump knows that if he doesn’t acknowledge that something exists, it’s easier to claim there isn’t a problem that needs solving in the first place.
Today, our country is at a crossroads: On the one hand, the protests against police violence and calls for racial equality have grown larger, stronger and more diverse than before. On the other, we have a president and an administration doing everything in their power to deny the problem of racism altogether and instead trying to rewrite history to fit their agenda. In the year 2020, we should not have to convince Trump that systemic racism is real; but what else can we do when the highest offices in this country refuse to acknowledge reality?
Going back to the first presidential debate between Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, the president refused to condemn white supremacy and instead told radical groups to “stand back and stand by.” It was an alarming escalation of the normalization of these hate groups, even more so as it came on a presidential debate stage set to decide the highest office in the country. And the fact that Trump failed to do so when asked point-blank exposed this troubling behavior at another level. This is the person we have to convince to take measures to tackle systemic racism?
Trump may deny that racial inequality is an issue of importance, but people’s actions indicate otherwise.
Actions like these reinforce the openly flippant and dangerous rhetoric from this White House and its surrogates. Trump knows that if he doesn’t acknowledge that something exists, it’s easier to claim there isn’t a problem that needs solving in the first place. In September, Trump directed officials to stop or revise racial sensitivity training programs and referred to them as “un-American propaganda.” This attack on critical race theory and sensitivity training is just one of the latest attempts to whitewash history and reality while trying to gloss over our current problems and reverse any small progress that has been achieved. Trump’s alleged plans to indoctrinate children with “patriotic education” is just more coded language to brainwash future generations into believing that the United States has done nothing wrong and that the systemic racism Black Americans have endured since we were brought to these shores never existed. In other words, he’s calling for revisionist history.
Trump may deny that racial inequality is an issue of importance, but people’s actions indicate otherwise: For months, people from different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, both young and old, have been demanding police reform, accountability and justice as they demonstrate daily across the country. Even as the cameras have disappeared and headlines have started to wane, people are out there advocating for equality as they chant the names of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Jacob Blake, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others killed by police. In August, my colleagues and I at the National Action Network led a march in Washington with many of the family members of these victims, along with civil rights leaders and tens of thousands of people who joined us at the nation’s capital.
Even with all this evidence, instead of addressing the inherent bias that permeates so much of law enforcement practices, Trump has demonized and ridiculed protesters, threatened the use of federal troops against them, and refused to take any action to address the problem. He has stood alongside police unions accused by the public of inherently biased behavior and doubled down on his hateful rhetoric against activists and those marching for justice.
During the vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence, Pence blatantly shrugged off the idea that systemic racism exists. Just like his boss, he deflected and denied that law enforcement have any problem in this area, and instead insisted that calls for police reform are an insult to officers. Though he may not have open racist outbursts or tweeted vile things on a regular basis, Pence is just as much of a denier of systemic racism as Trump is, and just as dangerous in his thinking and policies. They will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo and hinder any measure of reform.
Despite what this administration would have you believe, racial bias unfortunately exists in every area and layer of our society. Whether we’re discussing housing, education, jobs, law enforcement, voting, elected office, health care or opportunities in general, racism is a systemic problem, ingrained in the very systems that run our nation. The disparity we see across the board cannot be rectified if we have people in power who fail to even recognize its existence.
As they continue to block steps that could lead to progress, we must remind everyone that systemic racism is a part of the ugly legacy of slavery that still plagues us. We must continue to educate people, demonstrate for change, and push for equality everywhere and for everyone.
The fact that the highest levels of government refuse to right these grave wrongs is an insult to all those who have been fighting for equality before us and to all those demonstrating nightly for justice today. Our goal — our collective goal — is to live in a nation where we can reform systems that are inherently racist so that future generations won’t feel the pain and anguish of their reverberations that we do, and instead will thrive with an equal shot to chase after that highly coveted American dream.