November 21, 2016

De/Constructing America: Part 1

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By Amanda Xu and Jeremiah Kim


For many Americans, we can trace the origins of our family tree to an immigrant story. One of hardship, sacrifice, and — for the lucky few — bittersweet triumph over circumstances. If our nation is shaped by diversity, how have we ended up in such a problematic time marked by extreme divisiveness and inequality? We may never know where the origin of our racism and systematic disadvantage…

Jk it’s slavery.

Jk again (kind of) — the relationship between race and disadvantage is extremely complex because the tentacles of systematic disadvantage extend far beyond individual cases. Communities of color share a common pool of social capital marked by a history of injustices and inequalities. Everything — from wage inequality to housing discrimination to political disenfranchisement — has created the infrastructure that systematically disadvantages people of color today. For example, redlining and blockbusting severely hinder black families’ from accruing wealth, living in better neighborhoods and raising their children in better-resourced environments. After generations of compounded problems like discriminatory housing practices, poverty traps, job discrimination and mass incarceration, almost 1 in 4 black Americans are in poverty. Almost 1 in 3 Black men are in the carceral state. The welfare system is more likely to help white women than black people, and the state of American politics has done little to help those at the bottom.

Another system of disadvantage that oftentimes overlap with racial prejudices is the growing inequality between those at the top and the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. While the white working poor do not face racial discrimination, they also live under a set of different experiences scarred by economic insecurity and alienation. In rural areas, 88% of counties are considered “persistently impoverished” (having poverty rates exceeding 20% over several decades). While there is a scarcity of jobs in small, rural counties, even non-metropolitan workers are more than twice as likely to be poor than urban residents. While this means that many families sometimes do not have food, running water or electricity, governmental social services allocate little to no resources to help rural areas.


So, America was fucked up. And then Trump happened. You don’t need me to tell you that this election has left a lot of people reeling. We (the liberals, the people of color, the Obama generation, the gender nonconforming, the immigrants and children of immigrants, the “sane” ones on the right side of history) sift through our consciences and our Facebook feeds – biased reflections of ourselves – in search of answers, explanations, accusations, and signs of the end. Many of us are scared; others angry, disgusted, paralyzed, or resigned. For some, the right to simply exist has been thrust into jeopardy.

The nation has come out against us – or at least, against our kind. Article after article breaks it down: this election was a referendum on the political establishment, the elites, the media, the smug academics, the crybaby college millennials. Apparently, we were all too busy sticking our heads up our dainty liberal asses to notice what was going on in the real world: ordinary people in rural areas suffering from declining industry and stagnant wages who’d grown disillusioned with a system that appeared determined to leave them behind. Keep in mind, however, that on a national level, the median wealth of black and Latina/o households continues to decrease in the wake of the Great Recession while white wealth has increased. Also important to note is the disparity between the median household income of Trump supporters ($72,000) versus the national median ($56,000) and that of Clinton/Sanders supporters (both $61,000). Regardless of their relative privilege, angry white Americans found their angry white messiah in the gold-plated truisms of a larger-than-life business tycoon-turned-television personality-turned-populist demagogue, and all of us have to deal with the consequences.

With the wave of a tiny hand, Donald Trump focused the anti-establishment sentiment of the white working- and middle-class into blistering hyper beam of hatred trained towards communities that were already bearing the brunt of America’s patented, scattershot brand of prejudice and vitriol: undocumented immigrants, “the blacks”, Muslims, Latinas/os, disabled persons, gay people, trans people, women, indigenous peoples, minorities in general, welfare recipients, the list goes on. Supposedly in retaliation to the stigma that comes with being labeled “racist” and “homophobic”, half the country concluded that the only solution was to embrace a candidate who consciously invoked those ideals. So now we have a president-elect who’s been endorsed by the KKK, who hires white supremacists and right-wing extremists to his cabinet, and who has triggered a renaissance of racist/xenophobic/homophobic/misogynistic language and violence in our daily lives. Yes, America already had those tendencies – they were part and parcel to the experiences of marginalized people before Trump, and will continue to be after his reign. It’s just…everything’s all out in the open now.

At the time of writing, the Southern Poverty and Law Center has collected 701 nationwide reports of hateful incidents of harassment since election day. The majority of these cases occur in K-12 schools, and unsurprisingly, they primarily target immigrants (or people perceived as immigrants), LGBT-identifying individuals, African Americans, Muslims, and women. President Obama – whose administration, on its own, deported more people than all the previous presidential administrations combined (approx. 2.5 million) – has deferred his amnesty program for undocumented immigrants into the hands of the Donald Trump and his merry band of ultra-conservative ideologues. Talk of a mandatory registry for Muslim Americans and Muslim immigrants has resurfaced in light of promises Trump made on the campaign trail, with one Trump surrogate recently citing Japanese internment during WWII as a logical legal precedent for such a database on national television. I could go on.

To put it politely, Donald Trump is the gaseous stink emanating from America’s dirty laundry, centuries overdue for a serious cleaning. As we brace for the tumultuous cycles of violence, oppression and polarization that loom large and dark on the nation’s horizon, it’s important that we not lose sight of the long-standing injustices faced by marginalized communities that have only become more vulnerable on the eve of a Trump presidency.

Keeping our eyes trained on institutional inequality and blatant discrimination, we ask ourselves: What are we going to do about it?

Part Two coming soon.