My heart goes out to my liberal white friends who are struggling to deal with their hatred.
I understand why the intense emotions you feel for Donald Trump seem foreign to you. America was established by your people and for your people, so you have never experienced being victimized by your own government.
But I have. Every African American has.
Trump is not the first contemptible politician to sit at the helm of government. He is, however, the first to make white people feel personally targeted.
He is the first to threaten your comfortable way of life. He is the first to jeopardize the civil liberties you have been allowed to take for granted.
Never have you been so disappointed in the nation’s leadership or felt so vulnerable. This is the first time you have ever been this eager to cast your ballot, not necessarily for someone — but against someone.
Never has your blood boiled at the mere mention of a president’s name. Never have you wished him ill health or worse. Never have you been so repulsed by his entire cabinet, the political party that enables him or the supporters who blindly follow him and treat him as though he is a god.
Trump is the first president who has made America seem unrecognizable to you. But if you are wise and empathetic, the past four years have caused you to question whether you ever really knew America at all.
Throughout our 400 years here, Black people have suffered at the hands of hateful politicians. We are still struggling to overcome the egregious acts put upon us.
Though we are angry, most African Americans have chosen not to hate. You can learn coping skills from us.
Trump has not only divided our nation over political ideology, he has done more than any president in nearly a century to escalate racial tensions rather than attempt to calm them.
Still, he pales in comparison with Andrew Johnson, the nation’s 17th president. Imagine how the former slaves must have hated Johnson after he snatched away their 40 acres and a mule.
Johnson was the most lowdown president America has ever had. To this day, Black people are still trying to get back the reparations he stole from them.
After the Civil War, Union officials decided that resettlement assistance was necessary to help the newly freed Americans become self-sufficient.
So in 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, Gen. William T. Sherman issued Special Field Orders, No. 15. It said “each family shall have a plot of not more than 40 acres of tillable ground.” Though the order did not specify it, some also received mules left over from the war.
But as soon as Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson rose from his vice presidency role to become president and rescinded the order. The Confederate property, which had rightfully been seized from Southern landowners, was promptly returned to them.
Though Black people had spent generations sowing the land for free, they were left with nothing.
The former slaves did not did not stage a rebellion and go after their former slave masters with a vengeance. For a century, they did the best they could to work within the system that had been assigned to them. And for a period during Reconstruction, they thrived through hard work and determination.
Black people always have known that the power to change a nation could only be obtained at the voting booth. So when the 15th Amendment finally gave Black men the right to vote, they eagerly sought to take advantage of it.
But Johnson again got in the way.
He saw to it that states were granted the right to establish their own governments, which meant Southern lawmakers would have dominance over how most former slaves were treated by the government.
It was no surprise that most state legislatures tried to limit the rights of African Americans. The “Black Codes” they enacted were designed to stifle the advancement of Blacks and keep them in a perpetual state of economic and social despair.
They took our vote away from us and never have entirely given it back. Now Trump is trying to take away yours.
You can understand the hatred African Americans must have felt for the white poll workers, who forced them to submit to complicated and frivolous literacy tests that those administering it could not pass themselves.
Imagine how Blacks must have hated Alabama Gov. George Wallace, who in his 1963 inaugural speech, proclaimed, “segregation today … segregation tomorrow … segregation forever.”
Imagine how they abhorred Georgia Gov. Lester Maddox, who once owned a small diner and vowed to close it rather than serve Black people.
But they did not succumb to it. African Americans marched in Birmingham and Montgomery, and they traveled to the deep corners of Mississippi to register people to vote. Many were beaten or killed.
How they must have hated their assailants. But hatred, neither theirs nor their attackers’, couldn’t sway them.
Consider Native Americans as well.
Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, was responsible for the heinous Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced tens of thousands of Native Americans from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast to make room for newly arriving Black slaves.
In periods of turmoil, there is no time to hate. Hatred is a diversion that forces you to take your eyes off the mission. It sidelines you with such debilitating pain that you cannot think clearly, much less do the work needed to bring about change.
During the civil rights movement, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was able to force a reluctant government to pass sweeping civil rights legislation designed to secure voting rights and end desegregation.
He could not have accomplished that by harboring hatred. Instead, he advocated anti-hate in the form of nonviolent protests.
King said, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
Trump’s outlandish dictatorial behavior, compulsive lying and overall deceitfulness have tested the tolerance of Americans of all races. Liberal whites, however, seem more conflicted over their reactions to it.
As the majority in America, white people have the power to change things, with assistance from the rest of us. It’s up to you whether to use it, not just for your own benefit, for everyone’s.
If you are blinded by hatred, you cannot see the truth. You cannot see the path forward, though it is right in front of you.
If hatred wins, Trump wins.
©2020 Chicago Tribune