The Calculus of Color in Trump’s America
I was driving on Highway 90, just outside of Bellevue, WA, where I live- in the first week of September, 2020. The drive East from Bellevue on I-90 is for the most part absolutely incredible. The physical beauty of the land, the sylvan cover, the density of the vegetation- all of these remind one that the Earth has beautiful parts, even those parts touched by humankind. I’ve done this drive hundreds of times. This time, however, the drive was unique. And it was not the beauty that made it remarkable.
About ten minutes into my drive, a car pulled up next to time. The driver gesticulated to me, but I couldn’t decipher the meaning of his performance. He then moved a bit ahead of me and put his hand outside the window and flashed the “okay” sign, a talisman of White Supremacy. He did so not once but three or four times then transformed the same hand into a “gun” and fired a faux bullet. Much, much worse things have happened to people but irrespective, it was unsettling to say the least.
Such incidents are grounds for reflection, but certainly not by the victims-in this case me. I don’t reflect even for a moment about myself here or what I did wrong. But while I want to say my only reaction was “fuck him!” I will admit that such acts scare me- for my safety and for the safety of my family- especially my old parents and my children.
I know and have always known, that equality in actuality is a chimera. Thousands of years of struggle and sacrifice- replete with death, destruction, heartache, pain, and savagery — got us to the point where many societies adopted de jure rules of conduct that made it appear possible to have equality. But anyone who has lived a real day in the real world knows of the thousands of indignities- small and big- that are visited upon people daily, because of their race, gender, relative status, class, religion, sexuality, and a thousand other variables. Most of these indignities don’t kill. But some do. In the US, that “okay” sign often comes as a package deal- sign+gun+thuggish asshole who likes to use the gun. It’s like getting a hot dog, nachos, and a large Coke- any one of them is bad but all three together will kill you.
As the Covid crisis continues unabated and most of us are grounded, my family and I had a discussion about holiday plans and who we’d see and where we’d see them. The conversation had two branches. Branch one- can we fly? If so, we’d do X. Branch two- flying is proscribed. If so, we’d do Y. Y did not include seeing my family, all of whom live at least 2000 miles away. Looking for a hybrid, I thought to myself, “Maybe I’ll brave a long drive to see my parents or my new nephew or my brother.” Then I remembered that I’d have to drive through parts of the country that I’d be terrified to traverse. So I abandoned that plan and with it, any hope of seeing loved ones for the foreseeable future. Such indeed are the — somewhat minor — demerits visited upon anyone of color in the US today. Even a short drive just a few miles from my house produced such an unsettling event, how could I possible consider a 2000 mile drive through Trump country?
Such a calculus is virtually impossible for the majority community to understand but it’s as easy as basic arithmetic to many of us.
It’s disgusting, pathetic, and laughable. To be reduced to a blob of brown ectoplasm in the eyes of a brute. But then you realize- the brute can’t colonize your mind but he can your body.
If only, one could follow the directions of the old ballad by Slade- “run, run away.” But where would one go?