Years ago at a party, a fete filled with the gorgeous mosaic that is New York City, an African American friend told me a joke. “What do they call a black doctor in the South?” she asked. Before I could respond, she said, “Nigger!” And she said it in that slavemaster-from-“Roots” kinda way for dramatic and comedic effect. We both howled.
The joke was as ugly as the word that is its punchline. But it voiced a truth all black professionals feel deep in their core. No matter how hard we work. No matter how hard we play by the rules. No matter how much we prove through grades, degrees or just plain success, we are less-than. And to be clear: less than white people. No matter what we do, we will never measure up. We will never truly have it made.
What made me — and countless others, blacks and whites, I’ve heard from — so sad yesterday was that even as president of the United States, a job he worked hard to attain and will have to work even harder to keep, Barack Obama was not immune to the reality of my friend’s crude joke. His legitimacy as president was challenged by folks who doubt his American citizenship. But even after the racist birther conspiracy was once again proven false yesterday with the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate, Donald Trump dug deeper into the racist rabbit hole by questioning Obama’s academic achievement.
Lawrence O’Donnell last night went right at the loathsome dog-whistle politics employed by Trump.
“Trump turned from attacking one man’s birth certificate to trying to undermine the acceptance of the academic credentials of not just Barack Obama,” O’Donnell said, “but of African Americans generally.”
And with that sentence, O’Donnell spoke to why I and countless other African Americans felt wounded by what Trump did. As I explained on O’Donnell’s show in response, we felt wounded because in 2011 you can work hard, play by the rules, achieve great things academically and professionally and still have people look at you as less-than, look at you as not deserving of the things you worked hard to achieve, look at you as unqualified despite plenty of evidence to the contrary because you are black — even if you are the leader of the free world.
After the early victories in Obama’s quest for the 2008 Democratic nomination, young whites drawn to this transformational figure took to chanting “race doesn’t matter.” There have been debates and countless column inches devoted to whether we now live in a post-racial society as many insisted. What happened yesterday — from the release of Obama’s long-form birth certificate to Trump’s taunts about the president’s academic achievement — should show everyone that we do not live in a post-racial America. Not when even the White House can’t be a refuge from racism. And not when someone who proclaims to have “a great relationship with the blacks” gleefully proves every day that that’s a lie.