Making America Racist Again

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
March 13, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeWhen President Donald Trump promised to make America great again, no one believed he wanted the United States to relive its dark history. To be sure there was a desire to return to a time when things appeared to be less complicated—a kind of white-skinned Utopia—but no one believed the president would hark back to a period when racial bigotry, religious scapegoating and ignorance prevailed.

Betsy DeVos, the new US secretary of education, believes in the efficacy of charter schools that function independently of established public schools. She also believes historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were the “real pioneers” of school choice. My younger daughter who attended Hampton University in Virginia, an HBCU, could have told her that HBCUs were founded because black students were not allowed to attend white segregated schools.

Rev. Richard Allen, born into slavery in 1760, founded the African Methodist Church (AME), the first national black church in the United States in 1816 because black parishioners were discriminated against when they practiced their religion. Emanuel Mzumbo Lazare (1864-1929), one of Trinidad’s most famous AME members, was described as standing up “in his manhood as a full blooded Negro with no apology for his existence” (The Crisis, 1920). He championed black rights in this country.

Dr. Ben Carson, one of the best neurosurgeons in the United States, couldn’t get it right about the origins of the black presence in the United States. He described African Americans as being among the earliest immigrants who went to Virginia in 1619. He observed: “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer [than whom?], even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land” (New York Times, March 6).

Carson is a black man. Caught in a muddle, he explained his misstatement a few days later: “You can be an involuntary immigrant. Slaves didn’t just give up and die, our ancestors made something of themselves” (New York Times) which explains his success in the field of medicine.

On February 1, the beginning of Black History Month, President Trump declared: “Frederick Douglass is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more, I notice” (The Washington Post, February 2). One isn’t sure if he meant Douglass is still alive. Dana Milbank opined: Trump “raised the dead” (Washington Post).

Taking the president’s error in stride, Douglass’s family averred: “Like the president, we use the present tense when referencing Douglass’s accomplishments because his spirit and legacy are still very much alive, not just during Black History Month, but every month” (Huffington Post, February 2).

Not even Pope Francis is exempt from assault by ignoramuses. Conscious of his role as father of the Christian Church, he asked the leaders of the Western world to be more compassionate about the plight of immigrants and refugees. He was especially sympathetic to Muslim refugees. This attempt at mercy has become a sore point between Washington and Vatican City.

President Trump wishes to limit the number of immigrants who come into the United States. He placed a three-month ban on their traveling into the country. Some people justified President Trump’s position. They say it was part of the mandate he received from his constituents during the last elections.

But one is hard-pressed to understand why Pope Francis should be the butt of ridicule and opposition from persons inside and outside Vatican City. One of Pope Francis’s most ardent opponents is Raymond Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, who has emerged as the face of the anti-Francis opposition.

Stephen Bannon, Mr. Trump’s ideological guide, is a friend of Cardinal Burke. Recently, he met Matteo Salvini, leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League. They all oppose Pope Francis criticism against unfettered capitalism and his 2015 encyclical on environmentalism and climate change.

In an interview with Il Giornale, an Italian Conservative newspaper, Cardinal Burke remarked: “The whole history of the Islamic presence in Europe is an attempt to conquer it” (Financial Times, March 8). If Cardinal Burke had read Christopher de Bellaigue’s Islamic Enlightenment, he would have known that when classical Islamic civilization was at its height (between the eight and thirteenth centuries) Europe was in the Dark Ages. It was Islamic scholars who kept the treasures of Hellenistic science and philosophy while Europe was asleep.

Pope Francis has been called “an illegitimate holder” of the papacy in much the same way President Trump tried to delegitimize Obama’s presidency by claiming he was born in Kenya. While three early popes were Africans, Pope Francis is the first non-European elected to the papacy in modern time. Correspondingly, President Obama was the first non-European to be elected as president of the United States.

African and Islamic civilizations have not always been in the rearguard of intellectual thought. We should resist any attempt to falsify our history or to slander our illustrious leaders. In this time of deception, watchfulness is our only guide to action.

5 thoughts on “Making America Racist Again”

  1. Would there be a follow up opinion piece by Dr. Cudjoe explaining the complexities of the demographics behind Trump’s success at the Presidential elections? I don’t think it was as simplistic as the writer is now painting of Trump’s America now. It would be interesting to see how pre and post election Trump propaganda and agenda compare and contrast.

  2. Make America Racist Again. Again?

    Selwyn Cudjoe couldnt possibly be living in America. America IS a racist/classist country. Not unlike Britain. Or any of the former colonial Empires.

    Why comes as a surprise is beyond me.

    The demographics behinds Trump’s America is A Tale of Two Cities. It reflects different demographics, income, employment, media, wages, pensions, unions, immigration and a host of other things too numerous to mention.

  3. The popular phrase used by Trump in his quest for the presidency and succeeding beyond “make America great again”, nothing more than militaristic term to identify the might of the U.S.A. To his supporters and military thinkers who agree with him, the U.S.A must be unquestionably the greatest military power alive.
    There are also connotations that suggest that the U.S.A should return to some form of authoritative supremacy on how it is viewed and with policies around the world to suggest that its authority should not be questioned. There is no doubt that deep within this philosophy is the continued battle for supremacy in religion, race and intelligence. One of the more outside sign of this supremacy is the new administration’s policy of limiting muslim migration into the United States. Even more odious is his supporters disdain for “the terrorists”, whom they view and believe are all muslims. There is no wonder why the Trump’s ban on immigration is only from muslim countries. In the fight against terrorism, the conservative mind is always aware of the battle of christianity vs Islam. Hence, in many States controlled by Republicans or Conservatives they pass laws designed to outlaw the practice of Sharia law. Because they see this as an affront to the challenge by muslims to christianity. So the term “make America great again” has a very loaded meaning in the minds of the politicians who use it and those who follow the doctrine. Imbedded in the doctrine, is the lurid feeling of some conservatives like Congressman Steve King of Iowa, that the European (wasp American) should remain a pure race and not be entangled with people from other origins.

    To those who do not subscribe to that doctrine, it can with some degree of reality, be interpreted that the policy in the new administration in Washington is really to “make America racist again”.

    If that is true, then how do we as a non-white nation deal with with such a government? While not a majority in our population, muslims are a sizeable portion of our country. In the current atmosphere of the fear of “islamic terrorism”, they might very well be viewed as ‘potentials’ in the fight against terrorism. In many of his statements for the 2016 preisdential campaign, President Trump has used statements that characterized blacks as living in urban poverty, gang infested neighborhoods; Mexicans as druglords and rapists; and of course those belonging to the Islamic religion as potential terrorists. True or not these characterizations have a tendency to stick to people belonging to those communities.
    The effect of those characterizations are becoming evident in the daily life of most Americans. Jewish synagogues are being attacked, muslim mosques are being burnt, Mexicans are being targeted for deportation and of course there are many cases of black people being attacked and beaten.

    It is too early to tell what will become of this phrase “make America great again” but we do have an idea of what “make America racist again” is causing to the average man in the street. It is also a challenge to the non-white nations that will inevitably have dealings with the new Washington regime.
    What is left to be seen is, how will the Trump administration accommodate nations that do not look like the one Steve King and Rudy Guiliani are most comfortable with.

    We, as Caribbean natives are geographically close to the Americas. We have a historical alignment with the American administrations whether Republican or Democrat. It is hoped that President Trump will not employ the narratives he is famous for in his politics when dealing with us. But we can only hope that it will continue to be business as usual and not one that have deep roots in the racial politics of the United States.

  4. It was just a generation ago when young black men were attacked for the civil rights marches across America. We talk about South African arphateid but the US was one of the chief culprit since the abolition of slavery to institute a system of discrimination of the highest order. From Alabama to Washington white police armed with guns, baton and fierce dogs unleashed a reign of terror.

    The US has had a long history racism, it’s 9/11 was at wounded knee where natives were rounded up and slaughtered like animals. Along with that Mississippi Burning reflected the dept of racism existing in the great United States against black people.

    It is against this background with a president strongly align to the white supremist movement that there is great cause for concern. The return to a world view that disregards and put people to the back of the bus via institutional racism is a scary but real prospect. It is happening, one look at Trump cabinet and you get the picture. Power can turn the pendulum in any direction. This time it is far right.

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