Trump and the Resurgence of Everyday White Aggression

Since the election of Donald Trump much has been given to the topic of racism, and especially white supremacy, and its malfeasance in the public’s eye, or shall I say, the media’s eye. And while undoubtedly there has been an uptick in such occurrences what is being misconveyed is the important fact, historically as well as present day, that white aggression in the United States has been far more than a few bad apples. For many non-whites, especially so-called African-Americans. white aggression was as ubiquitous as it was vernacular, meaning that white hostilities directed towards blacks was not simply a privilege some white elites enjoyed inflicting on blacks but in fact, its apparently one of the few joys poor whites could enjoy. It would appear that the 2016 election has breathed new life into this phenomena and re-authorized that contingency of white America to again openly and unapologetically flex its muscles. Yesterday, at 1:00pm, I had my own personal encounter with it.

As I stated above, one of the biggest contributors to how race, racism, and racially-motivated hate is misunderstood (especially in educational institutions where many of us take our queues from) is the media. From Ferguson, Missouri, to Charlottesville, Virginia, the media has played a pivotal role in how we see and understand racial tension and violence in America. An important outcome of how the media has framed these incidents is the way in which it has elevated them to the level of sensationalism. The outcome has left many Americans with an understanding that such bad actors are Nazis or members of white supremacist movements. And while unquestionably there are organized white supremacists who are committing acts of racially-motivated violence, what’s left on the cutting room floor is the more quotidian, commonplace, and what I would like to emphasize here, spontaneous and unorganized racially-motivated hatred that doesn’t get vaulted into headlines. An example of this is—an encounter eerily similar to my own—can be seen between an older white woman and Belinda Panelo, a Filipino American and former MTV VJ, accompanied by her son in Playa Vista:

Both Ann Arbor, where my own incident took place, and Playa Vista, are affluent, mostly white communities. What often fails to make the headlines is the everyday-ness of these encounters in which people of color are subjected to dehumanizing treatment and even threats to their lives. It is this point that deserves greater emphasis in our national understanding of race, violence, and aggression. We also need further introspection into why so many in white America seem to feel reborn in their aggressive rhetoric and behavior towards non-whites and what is the strategy to deal with it.

Aggressive racially-motivated behavior does not operate in a vacuum and cannot easily be summed up in slogans. It also cannot be fully understood without examining the institutions which enable, actively or tacitly, these aggressions. As I stated, my outrage over my own incident had as much to do with the Ann Arbor police department and their lackadaisical response to the situation as it did with the perpetrator of the incident, to begin with. In short, the following is a summary of my interaction with the police after myself and my mother were threatened by a white male claiming to have a CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon):

  • The police responded in about 10 minutes after the call was placed;
  • The attitude of both officers conveyed that they did not take the situation seriously with one of the officers refusing to make eye contact with me;
  • Neither officer offered their badge numbers, cards, or any other means of identifying them or following up with them;
  • The officers ignored an eyewitness who corroborated the account I gave them;
  • The barista from the coffee house, RoosRoast, came out and informed us that security cameras would have indeed recorded the incident; the officers made no attempt to retrieve that data;
  • I was swiftly advised by one of the officers that “he’s probably already gone” and that there wasn’t much they could do. When I pointed out that the suspect was actually right next door and his 1999 Chevy Silverado (Ohio plate number PKB 2805) was parked outside what appeared to be his workplace, neither officer seemed to display any interest in following up on that tip;
  • I was allowed to leave the scene without having any means of referring back to the incident;
  • The incident required that I call the police to inquire about any outcome;
  • I was informed by the officer on the phone, who was not one of the responding officers, that “the police are quite busy” and that “we have a lot of people with mental health issues” to which I asked if
    • (a) the officer was capable of making mental health assessments and
    • (b) how he could make such an assessment without having any information related to the suspect outside of his race (white);
  • After receiving a call back several hours later from one of the responding officers, he remarked that “you must be one of those people who doesn’t care if officers get shot” to which I asked how that was relevant to the case at hand in which it was my mother and myself who were threatened to be shot, not the officers;
  • The sergeant in charge informed us that, “like a frat party, we’re not allowed to enter private property” to which I informed him neither myself nor my mother are frat kids who were drunk or partying and that such a comparison made no sense;

In essence, the complete lack of professionalism and empathy from the Ann Arbor police department is not only deplorable but is also far too common when assailants are white and those who seek police protection are black or people of color. As a result, whites who’ve either felt historical sleights or wrongs at the hands of blacks or people of color (real or otherwise) feel empowered to take matters into their own hands for the simple fact that they are (a) far more likely to be believed when they call the police on blacks and POC and (b) far less likely to face the scrutiny of law enforcement when the roles are reversed. Matters are made worse when the police rationalize and justify violent behavior from whites underneath the universal banner of “mental health” even though they are not trained or authorized to make such assessments.

Until we recognize that we have a segment of white America that has felt it has had the right in the past to circumscribe black life through criminalization and intimidation—a right that has had new life breathed into it since the 2016 election—then very little is going to change, especially the threat to black lives and other peoples of color.

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