Donald Trump was already my president

The author and his sister in the 90's. (Courtesy photo)
The author and his sister in 1995. (Courtesy photo)

There’s been plenty of shock and condemnation lately that our president-to-be is a vehemently racist Cheeto with a bad combover and an inferiority complex about his “perfectly average sized hands.”

I remain unfazed. Why should I be bothered? After a ceaseless campaign of anti-intellectualism and nativism (especially Brexit — shout outs to the UK), this seems like the inevitable conclusion to a badly written screenplay. One written by atrophy and “benign neglect.” One penned with a very palpable discontent. One with filled with very real resentment. One that may end with a tire fire at best, and at worst with an ethno-religious registry, mass deportations, death and devastation.

As a black Bronx, New York native, a disabled veteran, and the son of an immigrant, Donald Trump was always my president.

I see no real clear or meaningful distinction between him and his predecessors. The bureaucracy just switches nameplates, but polices that target black and brown communities stay the same.

Change — the platform that every presidential candidate in history ran on, from Nixon, to Reagan, from Bush I, to Clinton, to Bush II, to Obama — was only incremental, at times to the benefit of colored people, and at other times their expense.

Donald Trump’s victory is unsettling, but black people have always endured men like him.

Some think of the 90’s, when I grew up, as being quirky and entertaining. But the memories I have are just as marred with state-sponsored death and racialized violence as they are wistfully nostalgic.

A national history of violence

In 1991, a high speed chase on California’s Interstate 210 ends with a black parolee being savagely beaten by law enforcement. He’s left with eleven skull fractures, liver failure, and permanent brain damage. In 1992, the offending officers are acquitted and South Central erupts in riots, the likes of which it haven’t been seen since 1965, in circumstances startlingly similar. The main difference is the fact that the 1965 riots were less fatal for its ‘belligerents’ than its 1992 doppelgänger. The 1965 riots ended with thirty-three casualties and the 1992 riots end with fifty five.

I’m only two, not old enough to make sense of the news, or to see the way the riots are turned against the black community, as “Law and Order” sentiment permeates the post-riot political conversation.

“Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools…Every day, we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder.” says Bill Clinton, at the White House in ’94. I’m five years old. He’s introducing his infamous crime bill. I don’t know it at the time but this legislation targets me, the members of my family, and others who share the same defining characteristic: our blackness.

The same year, the New York Times runs a profile on “Young and Impressionable” black children accused of murder. This is the same year, that Rudy Giuliani wins the Mayorship of New York City, and appoints Bill Bratton to be New York’s top-cop. A campaign of terror known as “Broken Windows Policing” ensues. Boys who look like me are now pending nuisances. While arrest rates of blacks begin their steady increase, it’s the fearful looks I got from white adults that stick with me. At Keene State, in 1996, First Lady Hillary Clinton gives a speech in which she justifies these fears: “They are often the kinds of kids that are called super-predators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

In 1997, a NYPD officer brutally beats and sodomizes a man in the 70th Precinct bathroom. The officer uses a plunger handle. His justification? The man had sucker punched him prior to his apprehension, so in return, the officer punctures the man’s small intestine. The plunger is alleged to have been shoved in the victims mouth moments after he was sodomized. I wince as the newscaster lists his injuries. I wonder if this is what Giuliani meant when he said he was going to “clean up New York” as I watch the victim’s interview.

In June of ’98, my mother, my sister and I sit around the T.V. for another tragedy. This one is a bit different. A man is murdered in Jasper Texas. He is dragged by his feet behind a pickup truck, alive, until a culvert decapitates him. My mother watches on in silence, and in horror. She can’t believe what she is hearing, and neither can I. In my 9-year-old naiveté, I wonder if he was in pain the whole time. I wonder if someone prayed for him since it is a Sunday. I never get my answer.

Donald Trump’s victory is unsettling, but black people have always endured men like him.

A family history of resilience

Life has been many things, but I wouldn’t say it’s been easy. As a child we moved around while my mother searched ceaselessly for economic opportunity, just like her mother had before her.

One of my uncles was once a successful HVAC man who became addicted to hard drugs due to his paranoid-schizophrenic episodes. He was in and out the system with no mental health support and eventually was deported to Jamaica. I wonder how many times he was beaten and mocked by ‘New York’s Finest’ before they decided that continuous apprehension wasn’t going to magically cure a mentally ill drug addict.

My parents fought for middle-class respectability in a strange and unkind land after fighting off destitution and starvation in another.

Before this, his younger brother was found dead upstate, with no identification, just a slip of paper with a phone number. That is how they identified him. On my father’s side, another uncle was murdered by friends he trusted. My father’s older brother sold drugs to survive, feed his children, and to take care of his mother, and sometimes even subsidized my father’s education.

When I look at these men, I see people fighting their hardest through personal tragedy to give their kids hope. But perhaps this was just my childhood naïveté. In Giuliani’s New York, these men were always the problem. The problem wasn’t an underserved and over-policed community. The problem wasn’t the system that criminalized their poverty, and in many cases their mental illness. It was our very existence.

The author's grandmother. (Courtesy photo)
The author’s grandmother, when she immigrated to the U.S. in the 1960’s. (Courtesy photo)

I am from a family of immigrants who are salt of the earth people. My parents fought for middle-class respectability in a strange and unkind land after fighting off destitution and starvation in another.

Both of my grandmothers came to this country as hardened tradeswomen. Women with callused, knowing hands that understand distinctions and necessities.

These are women who do not clasp their hands in church to ask God for a lighter load, but that they be more austere so they can bear a heavier one.

Trump doesn’t scare them, and if you’d let my grandmothers tell it, they’d say, “only God does that!”

And God, Donald Trump is not.

I am my ancestors. I am the culmination of their generations-long struggle, and I embody their resilience. I have watched men and women die at the hands of the state my entire life. This is just another iteration. The names of leaders will change, but policies that target the vulnerable will not.

I cannot panic. I cannot cower. Those that came before me had to persevere, and I am no different. I am the descendant of the loudest, rowdiest, hardest working borough in all of New York. I am a child of what Saul Williams calls the “pitbull orchestra, Rottweiler choir.”

I ain’t scared of shit.

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5 Comments

  1. This article made for an awesome read. I actually relived the stories told in this article because I was part of that story. I am so proud of my son for writing this piece in the hopes of encouraging others to be strong even in the face of adversities.

  2. This article was a invigorating piece of the Truth. The author is my Older brother and I’m both proud and happy he’s being a blessing to others with his gifts of gab

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