“How many times do we have to tell y’all?”
– Ancient African American Proverb
— Clint Smith (@ClintSmithIII) January 11, 2018
Yeah, yeah, you guys did. I wish I could apologize for all of the people who didn’t listen when you told us and for the times the white people paying attention to you guys told them, hoping they would listen to us ’cause we weren’t brown and weren’t “making it about race.”
I can’t, though. I know that by now those who don’t want to hear it won’t ever. For the longest time and still today, I have never once defended Donald Trump’s dog whistles, have called them out, and mocked them. Though I have defended a lot of the people who voted for Trump because they were blind to it because of their situation, their frustration at the system, their desire to “send a message.” I still believe, because I’ve got to hold on to the hope that even some of the worst people in this world can eventually be redeemed. Consider it the lasting gift of my Catholic childhood. The polls show that his popularity has plummeted the more he has talked out his shithole, and I would like to think or at least hope that some of them finally listened to you. Yet there are always going to be those who will just hate and oppress people no matter what, and I just can’t defend them.
I can’t apologize for people who don’t want to be forgiven. I can’t apologize for people like Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan who empower this racist shithole who clearly doesn’t even know that DACA and Dreamers refers to the same thing, who bans brown people from countries he doesn’t own property in and defends monuments to slave owners and traitors. These men who prop up a sundowning, morally bankrupt, and criminal bigot who would nuke the world in a petulant fit after Hillary had the audacity to exist in public just so they can enact some Randian Übermensch wet dream. Those men might honestly be more morally corrupt than he is, since they would sell you, everyone who looks like you, and the rest of the country for 30 pieces of silver, knowing full well what they are doing. There are some basic violations of universal human decency that can never be defended, much less rationalized and excused. If there were any justice in this world, these men would be condemned to damnatio memoriae or join the ranks of Benedict Arnold.
I wish more people understood that while yes, Haiti and many nations in not just Africa but around the world, have their issues, such as poverty, discrimination, and corruption, it’s not due to race or any failure of morality. I could write 10,000 words on why so many of the problems in their countries can be traced back to things people who have the same skin color as me did to them and not even scratch the surface. I know I could write 10,000 words on Haiti alone. People like Trump see their problems as some sort of failure of their race, when these countries have busted their asses to overcome colonial exploitation and mismanagement, proxy wars from the World Wars and Cold War, and corporations that will make them strip naked in front of mercenaries (never call them contractors, they’re hired thugs) lest they try to sneak off with a tiny diamond to sell so that they can send their kid to school. These people have worked harder to overcome more than I could ever fathom.
In my life I have known immigrants who have worked harder than me, are smarter than me, are willing to do the things I would hesitate to do. I recall one of my sergeants in the Army, an immigrant from Sierra Leone who was one of the best leaders I ever had. Sure, he had a lot of cultural differences from me that I didn’t get and a life story I would never fully understand, but I knew he would always treat me fairly and respectfully, so what did those differences matter? Hell, it made him more interesting to be around than some of the generic white guys I knew. Who wants to hear another story about growing up in California when I can learn about someplace new?
That’s why while I may not be as mad as you, all the people of color, and all the — God I couldn’t even count them all — immigrants I have met in my life, I can be angry alongside you. That sergeant from Sierra Leone was a man I would have gladly shared a foxhole with. That Iranian in my unit who we had to send back from Iraq to Kuwait for a day so he could take his oath of citizenship might have been an occasional shady jackass, but he was over here in a war with me for a country that wasn’t even his yet, when a lot of those jackasses with jingoistic and warmongering stickers on their pickup and would call people like him a raghead and a terrorist would cry like bitch if they got a draft card in the mail. Nowadays I work around social workers for my day job and God knows how many immigrants from Africa, Latin America, and hell, just recently a Ukrainian (I’ve known an oddly large number of Ukrainian immigrants) who make shitty pay, doing a shitty unrecognized job, for their fellow citizens of a country that wasn’t even theirs to start.
I’m Irish-English. My Irish side came here as a potato famine refugee and fought for the U.S. in the Civil War. I came from a place “they” used to call a shithole. There was once a political party that existed just to keep people like me out just because we came from a Catholic shithole. Almost everyone here came from a place you could call a shithole at one time or another. Hell, some Americans, even the “woke” ones, think that since I’m from Mississippi and live in Oklahoma I come from a shithole. Yet I think about every immigrant I have known personally from one of these shitholes. I think of all the black and brown people I have met who were born here. I think of all the immigrants who came here and did something amazing, whether it was to create art, explore science, sacrifice their life for our ideals and freedom for others, start their own business (that shit is actually pretty hard), and beat us at sports we invented, or simply start a family. There is no way a shithole could produce people like that.
Yeah, you guys warned us. You told us. You’ve been yelling it for years. I know it took me years to learn to listen properly to you guys, and I know for a fact that I still fuck it up all the time and I’m going to keep fucking it up. I’m trying, though; a lot of us are trying. Give us a chance to yell it with you, and know that some of us are willing to be called shitholers with you.
AMANDA KERRI is an Oklahoma City-based writer and comedian, and a regular contributor to The Advocate. Follow her on Twitter @amanda_kerri.