The Black Middle Class Is About to Get Trumped

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When Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a racist tirade against Mexicans, he began the short process of renormalizing the racist sentiments that white people had been taught to hide since integration started 60 years ago. He literally made it cool for white America to be openly racist again: In just over a year, his campaign and election have drastically undermined more than five decades of integrated racial “progress.”

Now, as Trump fills key administration positions with white nationalist-sympathizing power brokers like Steve Bannon as chief strategist and Jeff Sessions for attorney general, it is clear that the black middle class is in for a very harsh, rude awakening. Because everything we’ve been taught about “success” in this society and nearly every avenue we’ve used to achieve that success are now threatened by the same explicit racism that Trump rode into the White House.

Black Economic Success Skills: Make White People Feel Comfortable

Making white people feel comfortable has always played a role in our survival. On plantations, making them comfortable meant we might delay torture, death or whatever punishment they were thinking of at the moment. During segregation, keeping white discomfort at bay meant avoiding or minimizing the racial violence of angry white mobs. But when integration began, black economic success began to be measured by how well we could integrate into white society, which meant making white people comfortable was now one of the most viable paths to black economic sustainability. That was a mistake.

We see this phenomenon earliest in schools. Black students who excel at making white teachers comfortable tend to be the students who can show their intelligence in ways that white people can easily recognize. It doesn’t mean that they actually are any smarter than the other black students, but that their teachers (80 percent of whom are white women) just feel they are different (i.e., less threatening) from the rest. These students get access to gifted-and-talented classes and opportunities reserved for “special” black children who show “promise.” This system replicates itself throughout higher education and the workforce.

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