The excitement around Donald Trump’s presidential campaign exposes the political bankruptcy and limitations of the United States’ political landscape. On the one hand thousands of Latinos, Mexicans, immigrants and women are rightfully offended and appalled by his racist comments; on the other, thousands of mostly poor, middle-class white people feel as though someone is finally around to represent their best interests.
Trump’s strategic scapegoating of immigrants and Mexicans redirects the growing energy focused against Wall Street billionaires, like himself, and divides working people against each other and purposefully misinforms large parts of the population.
It is clear that Donald Trump is the new face of white supremacy. His rhetoric, specifically the fear mongering and misinformation about “illegal Mexicans” and the dangers they pose to society, has been equated to statements heard at KKK rallies. One of his “consultants” on immigration policy is an Alabama senator who has been linked to white supremacist groups and is an advocate of anti-immigrant policies directed at Mexicans and Latinos.
Many would agree that it is necessary to confront Trump’s racist, anti-immigrant, anti-latino, anti-Mexican and mysoginistic rhetoric not only because it is hateful and hurtful, but also because these statements reproduce a false narrative about people of color and, as we have seen, translates into physical violence directed at Latinos and immigrants. It also works to ignore the systemic racism embedded in U.S. institutions and policy.
However, in the context of one of the most significant social movements that emerged in the past year, #BlackLivesMatter, it is insufficient to simply be anti-Trump. The #BlackLivesMatter movement shifted the public discourse around race and has been key to making visible the systemic levels of state violence that have intensified in the recent years.
After the Ferguson rebellion, it is impossible to talk about race or discrimination in the United States without acknowledging the way economic policy has reinforced systemic racism and how the criminal justice system has disproportionately been targeted against blacks. Racism is not only a manifestation of individual hate or prejudice towards another due to the color of their skin. It is systemic discrimination and exclusion when it comes to the acquisition of wealth, employment, housing, education, among other critical factors.
The focus exclusively on Trump not only blurs the current realities of systemic racism and the state violence faced by people of color and immigrants, it also actively undermines and redirects the power of grassroots mobilizations towards the presidential campaign and electoral politics.
While certain policy advances have clearly been made recently when it comes to supporting the Latin@ and immigrant communities, the political establishment overall has not been too kind when it comes to issues in regards to Mexicans, Latinos and immigrants.
It has been recently reported that private prison lobbyists have raised tens of thousands of dollars for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, highly questioning her ability or willingness to release women, children and transgender immigrants currently detained and facing rampant physical and sexual abuse. Additionally, Clinton has supported the deportation of children fleeing violence from Central America, many of whom qualify for humanitarian relief.
The Obama administration has spent $2.5 billion dollars on the Mérida Initiative, a program designed to “fight organized crime” but that has been linked to the perpetuation of human right abuses in Mexico, as well as the deportation of over two million people, more than any other U.S. president.
The list goes on.
Despite the fact that these issues may worsen under a Trump presidency, we must not forget that many of the issues he rants about have existed, and in many cases worsened, under both Democratic and Republican administrations.
A cornerstone of the #BlackLivesMatter movement was that their initial focus dug deeper than any one individual candidate, policy or institution. The movement, which radically shifted how we discuss race and racism, gave light to the contradictions of a system that has been organized to disproportionately target black and brown men and women. Their strength was neither in the candidate they chose nor the policy they attempted to reform, but on the community consensus that black lives do matter and their refusal to accept the status quo.
They have refused not only to endorse political candidates, but also to accept the rhetorical statements made by the Democratic Party by stating that “The Democratic Party, like the Republican and all political parties, have historically attempted to control or contain Black people’s efforts to liberate ourselves.”
We cannot replicate a movement like #BlackLivesMatter, but we can learn from the strategies produced by it. We can avoid the top-down efforts to simplify the violence and racism faced at the grassroots. Finally, we can learn from the failures and limitations of reform- and policy-centric movements that have conceded so much and ended in meaningless rhetoric.
While celebrities, politicians and high-profile Latinos express their outrage toward their colleague Donald Trump, everyday folks who have been facing systemic discrimination for years must have a different strategy, one of survival, community and hope.