Jason Rowland: What do we have to lose?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016 - 6:21pm

It’s often said that the worst thing about opinions is that everyone has them, and this election cycle has seemingly set out to prove this. On the campaign trail, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s divisive and dangerous rhetoric often makes it seem as though he’s attempting to alienate almost every potential voter before Nov. 8. From describing Black communities, in front of a mainly white crowd, by saying, “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs,” to assuring Billy Bush that women will let men do anything to them if they’re stars, Trump’s uncanny ability to torpedo his own campaign is definitely worthy of some admiration.

However, despite Trump’s unfavorable record with the electorate — and with telling the truth, for that matter — many of his supporters fail to acknowledge exactly why he lags behind with voters who don’t fall so neatly in the “high-school-educated-white-man” category.

Just this past weekend, I was discussing the election with a friend who intends to vote for Trump next month. When the issue of race came up, he acknowledged that Trump was polling in the single digits among the nation’s Black voters. Additionally, this friend admitted that he could see why marginalized groups don’t support Trump. His reasoning behind Trump’s lack of a racially diverse voter base is where our disagreement occurred. He thought the main reason Trump doesn’t have the support of marginalized groups, such as Black Americans, is because of decades of Democratic lies and pandering — not because of anything Trump has said or done himself. I, on the other hand, feel that marginalized groups don’t support him because, when he asks predominantly white audiences, “What the hell do (Black people) have to lose?” when describing the supposedly “terrible” state of Black communities, the answer is “everything.”

I didn’t expect my friend to agree with me, and I recognize that he has a right to feel however he wants about the candidates, but that didn’t stop me from trying to explain my reasoning to him. Luckily, he was willing to hear me out. Since my friend has lived his life as a white male, I explained, he never had to face the rampant discrimination that marginalized groups have faced from the birth of our nation to the present day.

To him, Trump’s endorsement of the infamously unconstitutional “stop-and-frisk” policy is a great way to clean up the inner cities. Fortunately for him, he’d never suffer from, or even witness, racist policing the policy promotes because he has been privileged enough to not live in the neighborhoods where stop-and-frisk had been a problem (and if he did live there, chances are he’d be stopped much less frequently than his minority neighbors). It’s easy to support Trump’s policies when you won’t be on the receiving end of their negative consequences. The same is true for Trump’s rhetoric, as we’re currently witnessing.

Even if Trump loses the election next month, severe damage has been done to American race relations over the past few months, in part as a result of his campaign. In order to see this, we need not look beyond even our own campus. It’s evident that Trump’s racist campaign has only emboldened his fellow racists to act out on their obsolete views. Two weeks ago, racist flyers were posted in Mason Hall — urging white students to embrace their “whiteness” and warning white women about the dangers of dating Black men. Last year, students chalked the Diag with the message “Stop Islam,” and not too far from the chalk were, unsurprisingly, the words “Trump 2016.”

In response to the flyers, the conservative student publication, The Michigan Review, published an article titled “Next Time, Leave the Posters on the Wall.” In the piece, they condemned the University for denouncing the posters. While the administration was focused on creating an inclusive space for all students, regardless of the color of their skin, Erin Dunne, the article’s author, felt that University President Mark Schlissel and the administration stepped out of line. And I can see why she feels this way — she’s likely never been in a place where she has been discriminated against because of her race or ethnicity. As a result, she can’t put herself in the shoes of students of color across campus. 

In a similar case, the Michigan Political Union recently hosted a debate where it concluded that Black Lives Matter was harmful to race relations in America. On a campus where, as of 2011, 63 percent of the student body belonged to a household that made more than $100,000 per year, and, as of fall 2015, only 4.1 percent of the students are Black, that felt like a bizarre, but completely expected, conclusion to reach. BLM is not the problem; it is merely a reaction to the inequality that Americans of different skin colors face. Racism, not the backlash to racism that Black Lives Matters represents, is harmful to race relations. Yet, on a campus of privileged students — most of whom have never been and will never be exposed to the realities of racism — it’s all too easy to brand BLM as a dangerous movement because many non-allies can’t see why such movements are necessary. 

I attribute most of this spike in racism on campus and across the country to the Trump campaign. He has given a voice to racists, who feel empowered by the fact that someone who holds their same bigoted views can make it to the highest office in the land. It’s telling that Trump asked what Black communities have to lose in front of a mostly privileged audience, because to them, we have nothing to lose. The privileged won’t be the ones who will experience any of the negative repercussions of Trump’s policies, so most will never realize all that’s at stake during this election.

Jason Rowland can be reached at jerow@umich.edu