I remember when I became Black.
I always knew exactly who I was, but because I was home-schooled in a Black neighborhood surrounded by Blackness, my interaction with White people, and therefore the specter of racism was limited to the books my mother made me read and the tales I had heard.
It happened when I was a freshman in high school, and officially joined the nerd team. To be fair, I was always a member. I was raised in a family of nerds who had actual wrestling-style championship belts for the family Scrabble champion. I read encyclopedias for my own enjoyment. I played chess against a computer for hours on end. As my mother home-schooled us during my pre-adolescent years, before she left for work she would leave notes around the house with multisyllabic words we had to look up before she arrived home. Every evening, as my family of nerds gathered around the television to begin our prescribed television viewing hours, our opening ceremony was watching a game of Jeopardy. Yes, we took score.
When I was 11 or twelve years old, the family and I both knew that no one in the house could beat me.
So I signed up for the nerd team when I started going to high school. The actual name of the group was the “Quiz Bowl Trivia Team.” One of my favorite teachers–Ms. Merck–hand picked me for the after-school activity, and we would travel to other schools to challenge their nerd teams, in sanctioned nerd-off bouts. I was the only Black person on the team, but I was clearly the standout. I knew stuff no 14-year old was supposed to have in his head. All year we prepared for the big Quiz Bowl championship–which was televised on a local television station–where all the state’s best teams competed for the nerd crown. I was quietly nervous because I had never been on television and I knew I was the bedrock of our team and our only hope for winning. I knew that my family would be proudly watching me display the intelligence my mom had single-handedly pumped into my brain. But my team was confident, because–Mike.
On the day of the big competition, Ms. Merck somehow couldn’t go with us, so we had a substitute who gathered the seven team members together before our first televised bout to select which three of us would compete. This was significant because the team couldn’t substitute players for the remainder of the bouts. Three played and the rest would be alternates. She scanned us up and down, and–without knowing any of our skills or ability–chose the three White males on the team.
We lost the first bout.
There are times when the weight of Blackness crashes down on you like Atlas carrying the earth on his shoulders. I knew why she didn’t select me. I watched my teammates struggle through that first match from the bleachers in the television studio, and as I mouthed all the correct answers that they didn’t know, I struggled to hold back my emotion. I will never know for certain if I was overlooked because of racism, but it felt like it. I wasn’t even angry at our substitute. I wasn’t even sad. I was just disappointed in my teammates who had seized the opportunity to shine under the bright lights without speaking up and saying, “No, we need Mike.”
Even before he placed his Cabbage Patch Doll-sized hands on the Lincoln Bible and recited the Oath of Office for President, there were already people holding signs and repeating the mantra “Donald Trump is not my President.”
I understood their sentiments. He had already indicated that he had no intention of being an advocate for certain groups of Americans. He explicitly stated how he would take the constitutional rights of freedom of religion for Muslims. He intimated that he would deport millions of people who were mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers of citizens born in this country. He belittled women and disabled people. I can’t blame them for stiff-arming the idea that he was their leader.
But I also remember when they said it about Barack Obama. I remember how right-wing confederate flag-wavers called said he was born in Kenya. I remember how politicians ginned up so much fear that people went out and bought guns, because they thought that jack-booted thugs would kick in their doors and round up their weapons. They were so afraid of the idea of a Black President that the vote totals, the electoral college and the constitution didn’t mean anything to them. They were “true American patriots,” but he was not their President.
I also know the difference. I know their hatred for Obama was based on racism, low-information and #AlternativeFacts spread by people who wanted to obstruct everything he tried to accomplish. They feared what they thought he would do, whereas the Trump resistors fear the things he actually said he would do.
I struggle with this. When Republicans filibustered every bill, I called it “anti-constitutional.” I said that needing 60% of senators to approve any legislation or bill is not what the constitution intended. Now that they are in power, I sometimes hope that they will filibuster all the conservative efforts to marginalize gays, people of color and immigrants. I wonder if it is hypocritical for me to wish that Democrats would stall his Supreme Court nominees when I railed at Republicans for doing the same thing.
But here is the thing:
This is my shit too. My ancestors spilled as much blood for this country as any of the Heil Hitler-waving alt-right adherents. People of color have fought and protected this country since Crispus Attucks took the first bullet of the American Revolution. When they say they want “their country back,” I know what they are talking about, and I liken it to the person who lived in my house before I bought it showing up at my doorstep and telling me he wants me to move out. We should show them our bloody mortgage and our tear-stained deed of ownership and tell them to get the fuck off our doorstep.
There is a tendency to call people like me who point out the faults of this country”Anti-American,” as if trying to fix the broken gutters and repair the weakening structure of our home is an indication that we don’t like it. It is quite the opposite. I am not one of those people who said they are moving to Canada if their candidate didn’t win. I am sorry White people, but I have too much sweat equity in this motherfucker to “go back to Africa. I ain’t going nowhere.
When he took the oath of office the Orange Shasta Stalin pledged to represent me too, and, although I didn’t vote for him, I will not remove myself or my people from the equation with the neo-liberal, progressive whine that he is “Not my President.” I will be a rock in his shoe who calls out every misstep and mistake he made. I do not throw my hands in the air in futility, I will ball up my fists. I am not that easily dismissed. He is my President too, and I will hold his feet to the fire and work every day to make sure he doesn’t overlook me.
No, I am not a flag-waving patriot. I am a realist. I know that Black people aren’t going to move into some dreamed-about Utopia and reclaim their homeland. Those of us who are here have only two choices:
Either remain silent as overlooked victims and remove ourselves as participants in this so-called “democracy…”
or we can fight. We can make sure they know we are here by raising our voices.
I plan on being loud as a motherfucker.
Barack was their president, even if their hatred and ignorance made them refuse to acknowledge it. Even though I hate everything Donald Trump stands for, if they gave me a front seat at his first State of The Union, I wouldn’t scream out, “You lie!” If someone insinuated (as they did with Obama) that he should be assassinated, I’d think they were evil (plus, that would make Mike Pence the President–and trust me–no one wants that). When the SNL writer made a joke about his son, I thought it was out of bounds, because I’d be mad as fuck if they said that about Malia or Sasha.
After we lost the first day of the competition, Ms. Merck showed up for the second day–the consolation rounds. My teammates recounted to her how we crashed and burned, and she immediately knew why I wasn’t chosen. Although she was usually a bouncy, positive flower of a woman, she pointedly asked the substitute why she hadn’t chosen me. The she asked team why no one had spoken up for me. No one had an answer.
Ms Merck allowed me to pick who would play during the consolation rounds, but I told her to allow the teammates who hadn’t been on TV yet to play. I sat out.
I never played on that team again. My family never got to see me shine on the glorious stage of our local public television station. Everyone on that team sat in the same gifted and talented, Advanced Placement nerd classes with me for the rest of my high school years, and I became buddies with some of them. But, in the back of my mind I knew that when push came to shove, they would throw my Black ass under the bus. I sometimes wonder if that is racism, privilege or simple self-interest. I wonder if I would have spoke up, if their shoes were on my foot. In the end, I know I would have said something. If I was one of the scrub on the team, I would not take the spot from an undeserving player for my own glory. Maybe it is because I know about sacrificing small bits of myself for the greater good of the team. Maybe it is because I am not accustomed to unearned privilege or opportunity falling in my lap.
I can understand the reasons people say it, but am a Black descendant of the people who built this country, and yes, Donald Trump President the same way Barack Obama was their President. I know saying it won’t make him any more open to the issues I care about, but writing him off completely means that the only voices he hears are from his blind supporters, Maybe he believes all Americans want to lock up Muslims and don’t want to see his tax returns because he has only heard the echoes from the red-state base screaming at his rallies. Perhaps he thinks we all want “law & order” because all he surfed to the Presidency on a wave of White tears and chants of “build that wall.” Maybe he thinks that is America.
Nah, bruh. You’re my President too, and it ain’t gonna be that easy.
I know not everyone will side with me on this, and I’m not even advocating that anyone takes this position. I know there are people who wholly reject the entire idea of being “American” because of how we were historically treated. But I also am not one of those people who black out profile pictures or refuse to watch inaugurations. I am not with symbolism for symbolism’s sake. When I say, “Donald Trump is my President,” it makes me cringe. It is supposed to hurt. Just because I didn’t watch the inauguration doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. The Presidency is not like that bullshit legal message that passes around Facebook every few months. Just because I formally, publicly declare him “not my President” it doesn’t make me immune to the laws he passes.
I will not repeat the mantra “Not My President” like the butt-hurt tea partiers or the pink hat-wearing, white liberal whiners because I knew it was wrong when they said it, so I won’t do it just because it benefits me.I am a lot of things. I am sometimes petty, I can be an “Angry Black man,” I am competitive, loud and I don’t like being overlooked. But I am not a hypocrite, and even more important:
I am not like them.