By Daudi Abe
While Donald Trump shocked the world with his victory in the 2016 presidential election, students of history recognized it as one more significant moment in response to African-American history regarding the three branches of our government: legislative, judicial, and executive.
In the legislative arena, the abolition of slavery by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution stands as the most important moment for African Americans. Adopted in 1865 upon the conclusion of the Civil War, a time of joy and celebration for blacks — particularly those who lived in the South — brought forth unprecedented levels of lynching and other forms of racial violence during the next several decades. Public executions — advertised, attended by families, and photographed for greeting cards — spiked as a tactic to instill fear, maintain control, and marginalize African Americans. Over 3,200 lynchings took place in Southern states from 1889-1918, a period covered by a report from the Alabama-based non-profit Equal Justice Institute titled “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror,” as well as the 1995 book A Festival of Violence by Stewart Tolnay and E.M. Beck.
On the judicial side, the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 striking down segregated schools as unconstitutional was historic and caused a backlash. However, the reaction to O.J. Simpson’s acquittal by a predominantly black jury in 1995 on charges that he murdered his ex-wife Nicole and Ron Goldman split along racial lines, and the verdict drew a hostile response.
Whites viewed Simpson as guilty on the basis of physical and circumstantial evidence. Many blacks remained skeptical, largely because of the LAPD’s involvement in the Simpson investigation and the Rodney King case in 1992. Simpson’s trial represented a high-profile example of a Black person walking on charges of murdering white people – role reversal with numerous cases that littered American history. Reaction was summarized by a headline in the October 11, 1995, edition of the Los Angeles Times – “How White People Riot: Quietly, but Lethally, at the Ballot Box: Race Relations: If the Simpson verdict damages the faith of liberals, count on more support for gutting programs that benefit minorities.” The story concluded by noting not even children would be immune from political retribution. “Most dramatic of all, but pushed out of public discourse by the clamor over the Simpson verdict, Congress is trying to virtually eliminate Aid to Families With Dependent Children. In Los Angeles, 38% of all children receive AFDC assistance.”
Barack Obama’s election in November 2008 and his subsequent time at the helm of the executive branch drew immediate pushback from those who became known as “birthers.” This movement, essentially led by Donald Trump, claimed Obama was not actually born in the United States, and thus was not legitimately president. After eight years of dancing to the racist overtones around this issue, Donald Trump became the Republican nominee after a primary campaign that attracted support from White supremacists. Many white progressives and people of color found it difficult to separate support for Trump from racism and discrimination. As he prepares to assume the presidency, the names of potential staff as well as some of those celebrating Trump’s win appear to include both new school, smoothed-out White supremacists such as the Alt Right and old-school haters like the Ku Klux Klan.
While this legislative-judicial-executive cycle has concluded, it ain’t over. We don’t know the net effects of the policies of a Trump administration on people of color and on the population in general. Whatever comes, history tells us that we should all be ready for just about anything.