Like many people, I tuned into the last presidential debate of the 2020 election cycle last week. The fragile masculinity of two American grandfathers and the way it manifested itself took up 90 minutes on every major news-media station and held the attention of myself and 63 million others on Thursday night.
In a way, I think that we have been spoiled. I spent so much of the first debate pointing out disrespectful quips, laughing, internally crying and outwardly cursing our founding fathers for drafting a governmental system that could be completely decimated by “an unlikely candidate.” You know, as if ‘unlikely’ has recently become synonymous with racist, misogynist, xenophobic and ignorant.
I have been seeing this new classification of the incumbent President Trump as “an underdog.” I had to refresh my definition of the word and found that it meant “a victim of injustice or persecution.” I feel obligated to express my displeasure that we classify the offender, our persecutor-in-chief, as “an underdog.”
Returning to the more tame and traditional Presidential debate that I tuned into on Thursday, I was bored. Their policies didn’t ignite anything within me and the laptop’s speakers were drowned out over benign conversation between friends. That was until, in a voice that brings me nothing short of anxiety, Trump announced with the entirety of his chest, “I am the least racist person in this room.”
In the spirit of Black feminist politics, my friend and I stopped, turned and simultaneously asked, “What did he just say?” The same Donald Trump who has sullied the Presidential Archives and my favorite social media platform with hate speech is less racist than Kristen Welker, the Black woman who was moderating? To drive that outlandish point home he punctuated it by thoughtfully reprising one of his favorite sayings: “Nobody has done more for the Black community than Donald Trump.” Now I say this respectfully (my parents would want me to exercise respect; it’s how I was raised): Give me a freaking break.
Since that comment, I’ve spent the latter part of the week compiling a mental list of all the things that I feel Donald Trump has done for me as a member of the Black community. And I think he may be right. He has been doing the most since he entered the office in 2016.
Trump has given me a paralyzing fear of red hats with the phrase, “Make America Great Again” embroidered across the cap. A long time ago, I read a tweet that associated them with the white hoods of the Klu Klux Klan and the association has been hardwired into my brain ever since. I once saw a man with a red cap on in a Stop & Shop and was so scared that I froze in place in the produce aisle, unable to move until I determined that the hat was representing an eastern Long Island family farm.
Donald Trump also gifted me the harsh realization that my faith and racism are not independent entities. Within the walls of my Catholic high school, I watched as the 2016 election emboldened my classmates, who I had been friendly with for the past two years, to speak their minds. As a Black girl in honors and Advanced Placement classes, I was granted the opportunity to become extremely familiar with words like “Affirmative Action,” “Handout,” “Diversity Admit” and the decision to not tell anyone where I applied to college until after I had an acceptance in hand. I wouldn’t give them the pleasure of watching the “stupid Black girl” being rejected. It would bring them too much joy.
Since 2016, I have been forced to be hyper-aware of my first-generation American Black girl status and how that interacts with the rest of the world. I was, of course, aware of it before 2016, I had been watching unarmed Black men and boys be murdered on national news since I was 13 years old, but this was a different awareness. I was suddenly forced to acknowledge that I was the only Black person in the majority of my social interactions. I didn’t have a group of Black friends, I wasn’t submerged in Black culture, people joked about me being a “white girl in a Black girl’s body,” —a statement that is problematic in its own right — but it wasn’t without merit.
I knew I was Black (I was reminded every time I looked at myself in the mirror) but Long Island had made my Blackness palatable to American whiteness. After 2016, my mannerisms didn’t matter, nor did my Long Island upbringing. I was Black and that rendered me to a very different American than my white peers; this time I wasn’t able to exist in both universes.
Donald Trump’s ascension to power has given me a lot of grief, but it also pushed me towards Cornell and towards my circle of beautiful, powerful, and smart Black women who are my support system on this large, predominantly white campus. It has made me grateful that my friends from Long Island continue to grow and educate themselves on the issue of racism in this country. He has empowered me to cut off the kids from my high school whose “affirmative action” rhetoric colored my upper-classmen years. I realized their comments weren’t ignorant but hateful; talk about a portion of instagram followers that I was happy to let go.
President Trump has also presented this Black girl with a clear image of who she doesn’t want in office come inauguration day in 2021, and a fervent desire to vote in her first election. I see the sentiment on instagram often and will echo it well after November 3rd: A vote for Donald Trump is a vote against me and a vote against this country.
Catherine St. Hilaire is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at [email protected]. Candid Cathy runs every other Monday this semester.