We were sitting at the bar in Longhorns, eating our salads, when the two men one chair over began pointing at the TV and talking about this week’s debate.
Did you hear him say he was gonna lock her up? one Bubba said to the other.
Yeah, answered Bubba Jr. He should. He should lock her up.
My boy, who knows his momma all too well, shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He might have been praying. He knew for sure I wasn’t going to let that pass.
Excuse me, I said, leaning over the chair between us. Do you know what they call that?
Call what? Bubba Sr. asked.
When you lock somebody up that way? Just at will?
Both Bubbas shook their heads. Their mouths full.
Totalitarianism, I answered. Only I had a hard time enunciating it because of braces and generally not prone to using big words. So I repeated myself. Then explained.
That’s not democracy, when they lock you up without due process. That’s not democracy. My father died in Vietnam. Freedom means something to me. That’s not freedom when you threaten to jail somebody just because you don’t like them. Trump is an idiot.
Hey mom, this isn’t your Facebook page, my son whispered. Save it.
Okay, sorry, but you know it drives me crazy, this stuff.
I know, he said.
Four hours later, the hotel clerk noticed my Hillary button. That Trump’s a mess, she said.
Sure enough, I concurred.
I am from California, she explained. When he goes on TV talking about uneducated blacks, not working, not having an education, I said to my husband, who is he talking about, ’cause he ain’t talking about me. I have an education. I have a job. I’m smart enough to know not to vote for him.
Dang right, I said. If Blacks would vote, Hillary could win in Georgia.
Sure enough, she said.
Are the black preachers preaching that?
Yes, she answered. Can you imagine if a black man with three baby mamas and five babies tried to run for president? Huh-Oh-No way, she said. They wouldn’t be having no black man with three baby mamas running for president.
No, because it would never happen, she said. Only rich white men can act that trashy and still run for office.
He ain’t going to win, I said.
No, she said. I don’t believe he will.
Still, the truth is, we are all losers in the long run.
She nodded in agreement.
Prior to this election, I could pretend that friends and family members I love and care about weren’t racist. I can’t do that any longer.
When they would trash Obama, I would tell myself they were ranting on Obama because they didn’t like his political agenda. That they didn’t believe in health care for all, didn’t want to pay for it, didn’t see it as their responsibility really to care for others. That they were worried about creating a welfare state and robbing people of the incentives for working and purpose. I could sort of wrap my brain around all of that because, yeah, we need to be careful as parents not to overdo for our children less they fail to do for themselves. We need to allow kids to learn coping mechanisms because we aren’t always going to be around to help them cope.
So I could grasp all that.
But then along comes Trump and I realized that all those friends and family members who have made it clear they are voting for Trump are really racists because there is no way in H-E-DoubleToothpicks they would vote for a black man, no matter how rich he is, if he had five children by three different baby mamas.
A black man who has five children by three different baby mamas wouldn’t get anywhere near the White House. He would be called all sorts of ugly racists names and quickly dismissed.
A black man who brags about grabbing a white woman’s privates at will would be demonized by the very same crowd of people who are declaring Donald Trump is God’s chosen for such a moment as this. And it wouldn’t matter if that black man were pro-life, promising to overturn Roe v. Wade. If a black candidate talked about how he “moved” on a married white woman “like a bitch”, Paul Ryan and the GOP would yank him from the campaign trail so quick his neck would break.
A black candidate who bragged about walking into a room full of beauty pageant contestants in all stages of undress would be arrested in this country.
A black candidate who encouraged his followers to take up guns in this country would scare the hell out of us.
A black candidate who urged other blacks to turn out at polling places to monitor the vote would be viewed as someone inciting racial violence.
A black candidate would never earn the endorsement of the law enforcement unions of this nation.
A black candidate would never be able to say stand before the masses and yell “I want to punch them in the face” without getting punched in the face himself.
A black candidate would never be able to speak to a white woman the way Donald Trump speaks to Hillary Clinton. Imagine a black candidate yelling from the podium “Lock her up! Lock her up!” The masses of white people would not cheer that. No way in hell.
A black candidate had never attended church, who misquoted the Bible, who mocked Evangelicals would never have been anointed for the position of presidency by James Dobson, Jerry Fallwell Jr, and Franklin Graham. There is just no way these three white men would ever have called together their evangelical friends to lay hands on a black man and anoint him as the GOP frontrunner.
Heck for that matter, there is no way Mark Burnett, the force behind Celebrity Apprentice, would have put a black man into the role of Donald Trump. The next time you doubt whether racism is at the heart of this election, consider how many millions would have tuned in each week to see a black man declare “You’re Fired” to a host of other celebrities?
How long would Celebrity Apprentice have lasted had a black man been in the seat occupied by Donald Trump?
Donald Trump’s popularity among the voters, waning as it is, has been built not on the content of his heart, nor the capabilities of his mind, or the goodness of his soul. It is built on nothing more than his appeal to the racist within us.
And there is just no getting around that.
So when he loses this election – and he will – we are going to have to sit down to Thanksgiving table realizing that those breaking bread with us don’t just differ on matters of policy, but that our differences are Grand Canyon wide.
It is one thing to forgive your grandmother for her racism. She grew up in a time and place where she didn’t perhaps know any better.
But our peers, our cousins, our brothers and sisters, they know better and have still chosen Trump.
Reconciling that is not going to be easy.
Will we just pass the gravy and keep pretending that the lens through which we view people of color doesn’t really matter?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).