During the campaign and the first few weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, it didn’t seem as though African Americans were explicitly targeted with negative policy directives (other than the cuts facing most middle- and working-class Americans, of course).
Clearly, immigrants and people of Islamic faith were in the crosshairs. Trump’s campaign rhetoric was filled with talk of banning Muslims from the U.S. He spoke of mass deportations and erecting a border wall like the Great Wall of China to keep out the imaginary “bad hombres” who haunt his dreams.
Trump didn’t completely overlook African Americans. Black people were said to be living in “hell,” our neighborhoods like “war zones” because of extreme levels of crime. We were said to be living in poverty with “no homes.” Trump saw us through the prism of vicious racial stereotypes, but offered no policy agenda explicitly directed at our communities.
But now, folks, we are in the crosshairs too. Trump is pushing policies that are bound to create even greater racial inequality.
This week, Trump unveiled his 2018 preliminary budget blueprint, which includes cutting the U.S. EPA’s budget by 31 percent and its workforce by 20 percent. He wants to get rid the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which was created to analyze and limit environmental racism. Trump’s antipathy toward the EPA and environmental justice led Mustafa Ali, the senior advisor and assistant associate administrator for environmental justice who helped found the program, to resign two weeks ago.
The Office of Environmental Justice exists because communities of color have spent decades pushing for recognition that not all pollution is equal. For instance, people of color are more likely to live near sources of pollution like toxic waste. Nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant produced by cars and heavy industry and linked to asthma and heart disease, is more prevalent even in well-off communities of color than in white communities with similar income levels.
Environmental justice advocates made headway in 2016 with the creation of EJ2020, an EPA plan that includes a commitment to address pollution in 100 of the most overburdened communities. In addition, the EPA vowed to focus on ensuring safe drinking water and reducing exposure to lead, which is found in the bloodstreams of far too many children of color.
But now, in addition to EPA cuts, Trump is calling for $6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Meal programs, community development grants and the cleanup of abandoned properties could be gone. According to Trulia, the budget cuts mean nearly 8 million Americans are at risk of losing public housing. And nearly half of public housing residents in the U.S. are African American, thanks largely to hundreds of years of systemic racial discrimination in the housing market. To make matters worse, Trump also plans to cut Department of Education funds targeting afterschool programs and aid for low-income college students.
African Americans, on average, earn significantly less than white Americans. We’re disproportionately poor and in greater need of federal support. So how does Trump show empathy and compassion for the supposed “hell” we live in? By taking food out of our mouths, forcing people into homelessness and allowing abandoned properties to further deteriorate.
Trump also forcefully backed House speaker Paul Ryan’s healthcare plan, which would’ve reduced subsidies to help lower-income Americans buy health insurance. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 24 million Americans stood to lose coverage under Ryan’s plan that failed to win enough votes in the House last week.
We know how this rouse works. Trump’s playing the old divide-and-conquer game that scapegoats and sacrifices communities of color for the benefit of working-class whites. But working-class whites will be disadvantaged under Trump as well, since the budget and health care plans the administration backs will solely benefit the wealthy through generous tax cuts. Many white Americans also benefit from federal housing subsidies, the Affordable Care Act and environmental justice initiatives aimed at helping lower-income Americans.
I don’t doubt that Trump will be successful in increasing racial inequality. But I also don’t doubt our communities’ ability to fight back. We will stay woke, focus, strategize, organize and protest. And we can start by pushing the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate to oppose this budgetary attack on the welfare of all Americans.
The history of Trump’s disruptive policies will be written based not only on what he does, but also on what we do. Eventually, the charade he’s playing on the country will be evident to far more people. Trump’s popularity will fade. He will be held accountable. And new visions will take us to a better place.