“why? (am i treated so bad)” – the staples singers (1965)


Last week, members of the Trump administration and various lawmakers met to strike a deal concerning the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy.  DACA allows those who had entered the United States as minors to apply for a two-year deferred action period exempt from deportation and be permitted to get a work permit.  DACA had been put into effect in 2012 during his administration, but was rescinded by the Trump administration in September 2017.  However, a grace period of six months was granted in order to figure out how to deal with the 800,000 individuals affected by the policy change.  The meetings last week align with that grace period

Social media and major media news outlets went into a firestorm when it was reported that Trump referred to immigrants from Haiti and Africa as being from “shithole countries.”  A spokesman for the Trump administration did not deny Trump’s comments, but were later confirmed by the U.S. Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin.  Trump has since denied this comment was made has claimed he is both not a racist person or the least racist person anyone can know.

Paying attention to the news reports and social media feedback on Trump’s latest blunder in a long line of national embarrassments leaves me astounded and wondering if things could any worse.  In short, they can, and I don’t know why I even asked the question.  This new low in presidential decorum has steered this country into a strange and peculiar direction.  I never thought I would ever see national news reports using the word “shithole” so forwardly.

Causal swearing made common on television is not the worst aspect of this latest Trump scandal.  It is the fact that it has now become so apparent that American policy is being driven by a racist agenda.  Prior to this, it was no secret that Trump was a racist.  Even before stepping into the public and political arenas, the specter of racism has followed him throughout his career.  When renting or selling properties through Trump, people of color received a special code on their application that indicated their non-white status which impacted their ability to acquire property or reside in a Trump owned property.  That detail has stood the test of time in illustrating that Trump’s racial prejudices has been long-term.  I could keep going and elaborate on dozens of racist quips or anecdotes Trump has made over topics like the Central Park Five, David Duke, or Colin Kaepernick, but I just don’t have the time.   Plus, the fallout from the “shithole countries” controversy potentially has the biggest impact.

The news media, when reporting on Trump over the years, has always skirted the issue on his racism.  Historically, they suggest that Trump “made racist remarks” or “bigoted statements.”  The issue isn’t that those claims are not true, but they miss the bigger picture.  They are passive statements that don’t say directly that Trump is a racist person.  On the campaign trail when he called Mexicans rapists, those comments were racist as opposed to the candidate being racist.  Whether it was some professional courtesy or ethics issues I am not fully aware of or understand, the journalists driving the national dialogue in our media wouldn’t just call the situation out for what it was.

Since the “shithole comments” were made, journalists and reporters are now making the distinction.  Instead of suggesting that Trump made “racist comments,” they are now truthfully asserting that Trump is racist.  That’s great we’re now crossing that line in honest report, but it also seems a bit too little and a lot too late.  Trump is almost done with his first year as president and he has, on several occasions, shown his true colors as a racist.  He has had one full year to use racism to influence his global and international policies.  If we got to “shithole countries” before the first anniversary, imagine what is going to happen in years two, three, and four (hopefully not more beyond that).

All this happened the weekend before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day where we celebrate the life and legacy of one of the greatest civil rights leaders.  Dr. King was shot 50 years ago this April.  He preached a form of non-violent protest.  He was the voice of a generation and a movement that sought equality for a marginalized people.  So much can be said about this man that I know I couldn’t do him justice.  However, he is a hero and a symbol for hope.

Over the weekend prior to the national holiday celebrating Dr. King, Trump made statements that he wasn’t a racist and attacked Durbin how confirming his racist remarks in the DACA meeting.  Trump suggests he isn’t racist and that he is the least racist person you’ll ever interview or meet.  Funny thing, Don.  Racist people don’t have to go out of their way to prove they are not racist.

It was troubling to see all this just days away from Dr. King’s holiday and then see his message and image coopted by those who actively oppress people of color, women, and LGBT with their policies.  Vice President held a ceremony at the Dr. King monument in Washington, D.C.  Speaker Ryan posted a photo of him staring in awe of a bust of Dr. King.  I don’t know what Trump did, if anything, and I don’t care.  They are all racist men who take active measures to apply their racism in official policy.  The audacity of Pence to praise Dr. King’s message at the foot of his monument when he left a football game just months before when players took a knew during the national anthem is unfathomable.  Hypocrisy at its most blatant.

In the media yesterday, I kept seeing articles and editorials where white supremacists and nationalists were coopting Dr. King’s image and message to prove their racist points against activists like Colin Kaepernick.  Admittedly, I didn’t read any of them.  I just couldn’t bring myself to delve into that bullshit.  The country is still scrambling to resolve the “shithole countries” issue.  I didn’t have the energy to read some bullshit point from bullshit people for bullshit reasons.

Over the summer, I visited Washington, D.C.  While I was there, I made sure to visit Dr. King’s memorial.  I was in awe of the size and power of the display.  King’s sturdy and resilient image coming out of the rock sent shivers down my spine.  I know that I am a white man who has benefitted from our racist society, but I am still moved and emboldened by Dr. King’s message.  Especially during a time with such a racist administration.  I know that I am not the one affected by their racist policies, but I can stand up against them.  Motivated by Dr. King, I can choose to not remain silent.

Roebuck “Pops” Staples wrote “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” in response to the Little Rock Nine protests.  In 1957, nine black students attempted attend the segregated Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas.  Three years prior, the United States Supreme Court declared that school segregation was unconstitutional.  Angry protestors and armed members of the Arkansas National Guard stood in the way of their students trying to enter the school.  President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the students into the high school three weeks later.

The Staples Singers recorded “Why? (Am I Treated So Bad)” in 1965.  According to Greg Kot’s book “I’ll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the Music That Shaped the Civil Rights Era,” the song became a personal favorite of Dr. King’s.  Dr. King would always request Pops to have the song performed when the Staples Singers were singing at any of the civil rights rallies organized by Dr. King.  The song asks why the singer is treated so bad despite having done nothing wrong.  The message is clear, concise, and simple and it served as an effective anthem for the civil rights movements.

I read Kot’s book on the Staples Singers a few months ago.  In December, I got to see Kot interview Mavis Staples, one of Pops’ daughters, about her life and career.  She talked about Dr. King and providing a soundtrack for the civil rights moment which was a big part of Kot’s book.  However, Mavis drew the experience and lessons from the 60s to the contemporary issues we are facing today with the recent rise in white supremacy.  She said she may not be the one to provide a musical outlet to express rage, frustration, and determination in these times, but she championed the artists of today like Chance the Rapper who continue the legacy of fighting for civil rights.

As the blowback from Trump’s “shithole countries” comment continues, it is hard to see where his racism will go from here.  His supporters have been emboldened by his statements and determined to push a white supremacist agenda.  Not only that, but the behavior continues to be normalized.  This wasn’t just one mistake.  It’s another racist comment in a long line of racist comments, but it won’t be the last.  Trump is changing the game on what the nation can claim is presidential.  And his supporters love it.  It makes them energized and they thrive on the chaos and madness.  Saying that people from Africa come from “shithole countries” may be shocking now, but it might become the norm when Trump has the potential to say and do even worse things using the platform the presidency provides.

I am glad that people are angry.  However, I am trying not believe that the anger expressed will only exist in the short-term and be forgotten when something even worse comes along thus normalizing the previous offense.  This weekend will mark one year of Trump.  We’ve got three more.  And until that man is removed from the office, we must fight for this country and for those treated so bad.


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