“There aren’t enough bad people in America to elect Trump.”
This was my response to Scalawag editor Matt Whitt’s subtle uneasiness about a potential Trump victory, back in the summer, when everything seemed up for grabs.
Imagine my cockiness. An Afro-American man sitting on North Carolina’s death row, beating my chest to the rhythm of “Land of the free, Home of the brave.” Thinking good thoughts about the progress of our great country. How arrogant! What was I thinking? Had I forgotten my “humble beginnings?”
As a child growing up in inner city Philadelphia, I viewed live news footage of firemen using high velocity water hoses to flood the basement of a Black nationalist headquarters, while police pummeled and stomped the unarmed occupants evacuating the residence. I was nine years old.
Mere months later, I was a firsthand eyewitness to police brutality, when my older brother was physically assaulted by two cops, on my first and last day selling ice-cream on his Jack and Jill ice-cream truck. I ran home believing my brother would be dead by the time I reached our doorstep.
At age ten, I was falsely arrested and jailed at Veteran’s Stadium, because my winter coat gave the appearance of a brown face hoarding stolen merchandise. I was placed in a jail cell and intimidated by police until I literally pissed my pants.
Events like these challenged my esteem as a young Black male.
So, in sixth grade, when a classmate at my predominantly Latino Catholic school called me a “conceited maricón,” I was more familiar with the Puerto Rican expletive than the English adjective preceding it. I assumed that it meant that I was a mean “M. F.,” because I had just told the speaker’s homegirl, Maria, that I did not want to be her boyfriend. The true meaning of conceit had no place in my life by the time I declined Maria’s proposal. Believe that.
I now understand that conceited means vain, arrogant, or self-centered. That is exactly what I displayed last summer, when I downplayed the possibility of America electing Donald Trump president. Sitting on death row, I believed my optimism for change was in sync with reality. I had foolishly put aside my primitive notions about political corruption, and the grand scheme to make America White again. For eight strong years, the First Family was a Black family. I couldn’t see this country leaping backward.
But, in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, my political evaluation (and pretty much everyone else’s) was eclipsed by the boisterous shenanigans of a tax evading misogynist, whose own self-centeredness is funded by the “economical genius” of his slave-owning ancestors. Trump’s outrageous conceit warrants major concerns about the upcoming four years; not optimism.
This fall, I’ve wondered why so many White women would grace the antithesis of feminism with the sacred independence of their vote. For any woman to support a close-minded, sexist, and racist presidential candidate seems no different than the “Missus” closing her eyes and covering her ears to ignore the plantation owner invading the slave quarters with his licentious intentions.
But, in a discussion with a dear friend and Hillary Clinton supporter, it became clear to me how a man’s world is a great burden on the shoulders of any woman. She explained that simply being female means being objectified by males, by the age of nine. And, truth be told, Black men were eventually emancipated, while even White women remained defined by, and yoked to, their grandfathers’, fathers’, and husbands’ last names. It is so common within our American history for little girls to be groomed to accept living in a man’s world. This might somewhat explain why so many White women would support the ideology of a “Trump America.”
It’s even harder to understand how Trump overcame the Black vote. It’s not that many Afro-Americans supported him; it’s that many felt no sense of urgency to “Rock the Vote” this time around. This may be because some took offense at the Democratic Party’s lack of genuine effort to assure that protection—as well racial progress—would take priority over being served and slammed by police.
The pain of this plight is palpable to even my estranged existence. I felt that disappointment too. But I can’t help thinking about our ancestors bailing that cotton. Enduring the sweltering heat. And surviving the searing humiliation of cat-o-nine tails because their options—to endure or die—were so limited. So today, with the option to vote, to be heard, without the immediate consequence of death, there remains a percentage of Afro-Americans choosing to not be heard. Unbelievable.
Due to my present circumstance, I was prohibited from casting a vote in the ‘08 and ‘12 presidential elections. But this did not silence my ability to be heard as an American. Through my blog, I had a word with President Obama because I felt as though he was the solution to the turmoil infused by American capitalism (http://word2themasses.blogspot.com/2012/06/mann-to-man.html, 6/24/12). I saw in him someone we could hold accountable. Someone that gave this country a very slim chance of mending the wounds of racial injustice.
I was also prohibited from casting a vote in 2016. It is only right that I share some words with the latest President-elect. Not because I expect him to strive for racial equality, and not because I need him to know the injustice of my incarceration and death sentence. In all honesty, these words are to, not for, the new President-elect. I wrote them just after the election, and they have everything to do with me being true to myself.
Wednesday, November 9, 2016
At 2:30 AM, the votes were in. I guess congratulations are in order for your recent surprise victory. However, “deflated” is a term that best describes my mood, on this post-election Wednesday.
To be perfectly honest, it feels much like the morning after a state-sanctioned execution. I am skipping breakfast to avoid the collective disappointment of an event that impeded our progress, as logical human beings, the night before. I have perfected this routine over the course of nineteen years, witnessing thirty-five executions.
Maybe I’m crazy, but for the past eight years, I have allowed myself to be drawn into a familial connection with the residents of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. For the first time in my life, I honestly felt like the people living there were a true representation of the change this country needs. People who empathize with the plights of unaffordable health care, child obesity, wrongful incarceration, and the disturbing rates of unemployment amongst Blacks—itself a systemic ploy to encourage alcohol and drug dependency.
This country is more than familiar with the frightening statistics of Afro-American males losing their lives to drug addiction. To drug distribution. And to the all-too-inevitable drug sentencing. Facing the American public before the election, President-Elect, your response to this crisis was simply, “What does the Black community have to lose by voting for me? Your lives are already bad.”
The 13th Amendment contains an exception clause, which states that slavery and involuntary servitude are prohibited “except as punishment for crime.” So tell me, how does your campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” apply to the folks whose lives are already bad?
I don’t mind telling you that it is as if the last eight years have been a tentative progress, at best. Familial ties to the presidency have been drastically disrupted by this election. I feel like a grown man finding out that the people who raised him are not his biological parents. Seeing you as the commander-in-chief makes me feel very un-American.
It is no wonder why a dear friend would suggest that I keep a quiet mind. Tend to the heart. Look at the sky, and think of the best of human goodness. Well, I must admit, achieving such a degree of solace will be difficult whenever you and your brood are referred to as “the First Family.”
Looks like the same old Klan to me.
There is nothing new about what you represent. Your ancestors have hoodwinked, bamboozled, and murdered for the right to say, “This land is my land.” You don’t pay federal taxes to the democracy you now represent as its lead spokesperson. Yet the ancestors of slaves are paying taxes, and much more, for land that was never theirs to begin with.
In closing, let me just say as you transition into this nation’s 45th president, please know that you and I can agree on one thing: The 2016 presidential election was fixed. I wholeheartedly believe that 9/11 and 11/9 are the most tragic dates in American history.
Leroy E. Mann
Leroy E. Mann is a resident of death row in Raleigh’s Central Prison, where he is a witness to the injustice of capital punishment. He is the author of a memoir and an unpublished novel titled Concrete Seeds, and he has blogged at Word to the Masses for more than six years.