Freedom Rider: No protest for black people

Donald Trump is certainly a motivator for white liberals. That group was quiescent when other presidents committed human rights abuses and war crimes, but they spring into action when Trump does something they don’t like.

It is commendable that thousands of people converged on airports in 2017 to protect victims of the Trump travel ban against seven Muslim nations. Now the outrage over the official policy of immigrant family separation has produced another groundswell of protest. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) offices have been blockaded, ICE employees are outed online and presidential staff are chased from restaurants by angry people. To be clear, the anger is justified and the protest is necessary.

But where is this level of outrage when black people are victimized by this system? Anti-black racism is the most prevalent and the most accepted of all prejudices and bigotries extant in the United States. The subjugation of black people through incarceration, police brutality, job discrimination and various forms of racial profiling are committed thousands of times every day around the country. Keeping black people literally in their physical place and preventing them from forming any political cohesion or movement building is the driving force behind law making and public policy.

This oppression is so routine that it hovers like bad background music. Even those whose political beliefs ought to inspire action shrug their shoulders or plead powerlessness. The implications of this divergence in treatment of peoples is disturbing. At worst, it means that the brutality inflicted against black men, women and children is not just accepted, but supported.

Latino and other immigrants provide a safety valve for people who support or accept anti-black racism as an inevitable fact of life. These immigrants aren’t white but they aren’t black either. So the racism inherent in most white Americans is not acted upon. At the same time they can show concern for non-white people and “resist” Trump without doing anything about the elephant in the room.

All of the tactics that are part of the family separation protests can be used against the police, prosecutors, and judges who devastate black communities. Where is the online list of prosecutors whose misdeeds send innocent people to prison under draconian sentences or even to death row? Why not barricade courthouses and police precincts? The 1,000 police who kill every year in this country certainly deserve a list of shame in cyber space.

The selective indignation is a symptom of the depth of animosity directed at black people. The hostility is singular. It lies at the very foundation of the country and excising it requires a level of introspection and soul searching that is unlikely to occur.

Liberal white Americans will latch onto almost any injustice that isn’t directed towards black people as a group. Non-black immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, or anyone else can have their grievances acted upon quickly. Gender-neutral restrooms appeared like magic overnight for the small transgender community while the numerous ways in which millions of black people are attacked go unaddressed.

The walls, deportations and separations must be opposed by anyone who calls him or herself a progressive or a leftist. And one must not forget that there are millions of black immigrants, such as the 60,000 Haitians whose Temporary Protective Status(TPS) has just been revoked.

The Trump anti-immigrant effort must be opposed. Any talk of “infestation” and “invasions” are inherently racist and should always be remembered as such. But no one should be let off the hook of political responsibility just because they cringe at the thought of children being separate from their parents. That outrage is the lowest hanging fruit.

Obviously white liberals know how to speak up. They simply choose not to do so on behalf of black people. In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 17-year old Antwon Rose was killed, shot in the back, by a police officer. Rose’s family are now separated from him in the most literal way possible. The subsequent protests were attended almost entirely by black people. Perhaps there just isn’t enough energy to manage more than one protest at a time.

The Trump administration has already back pedaled from its harshest immigration rules impacting children and announced an end to family separation. The change is entirely due to the self-inflicted public relations debacle. The effectiveness of mass protest is proven once again.

Of course black Americans are the people who used that tactic most effectively. The liberation movement spawned others and ended decades of America’s legal apartheid. That movement was crushed precisely because it accomplished so much. But it cannot be forgotten as a tool for change. The people who were so briefly liberated must resurrect it themselves. It is obvious that there is no one else who is willing to do so.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in BAR, and is widely reprinted elsewhere. She maintains a frequently updated blog as well as at Ms. Kimberley lives in New York City, and can be reached via e-Mail at Margaret.Kimberley(at)

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