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When the Issue is Trauma and Trust

This past Monday, my Brooklyn NAACP Census team and I set up our table and banner on the corner of Nostrand and Fulton, the jugular vein of Bedford Stuyvesant. Our mission was to preach Census to the community for two hours. We had our Covid packets – which are basically a few masks in a plastic bag with Census material – to give to people in need of PPE. We had two gallons of hand sanitizer, so that anyone who needed to refill their bottles could do so. Most importantly, we had tablets on hand for people who needed to fill out Census.
One by one, community folk passed by our table. And almost every person was questioned in some way by someone from our team.

“Have you filled out your Census?”
“Do you need masks or hand sanitizer?”

“Can we talk with you for a moment about the importance of reporting for Census?”
By and large, the women passersby were the most vocal in their responses. Some said that they did fill out their Census, while others said they hadn’t but promised to call the number on our Census cards. The men responded differently. Most men said nothing as they passed, totally ignoring the prompts to engage in conversation. One guy, when he realized we were giving away hand sanitizer, finished the bottle of water he was drinking and filled the bottle with sanitizer, but didn’t want to discuss Census at all. There was one guy, around my age, who walked by twice. The first time, he totally ignored me when I asked him about Census. When he returned passed me and I asked him again, he smiled and said, “I’m good bro. I ain’t about reporting anything to the government.”

I responded, “Bruh, in order for the federal government to fund our communities the way they are supposed to be funded, we have to let them know that we are here. We have to be counted.”

He responded so quickly, it was as if he had his rebuttal prepared. He said,
“But, that’s my point. They already know we are here. I have a Social Security number and I work. They take taxes out and they send mail to me at my apartment. So, they know we are here. It’s like this Census thing is just another reason for them to not give us anything. I’m telling you bruh, I don’t trust the government.”

With that, he walked away.

All on social media last week, the trending comments were about Kamala Harris being tapped to run as VP on Biden’s ticket. From 2004-2015, Harris served first as the District Attorney for San Francisco, and then as California’s Attorney General. Her record as a prosecutor came under scrutiny during her own campaign for President. Harris dropped out of the Presidential race in December 2019, but the stigma of her record has lingered, especially with those in the Black community. I have this one Facebook friend, I know him to be a good guy. He constantly posts on his page about community development and upliftment. Ever since the news broke about Kamala becoming Biden’s running mate, he’s gone on the attack. He’s chided Harris for having a white husband. He’s posted memes showing that Harris was the prosecutor during the infamous Oscar Grant killing in Oakland. Everyday, he sends vitriol through his keyboard at Kamala Harris. Yesterday, he said he isn’t voting because a Biden/Harris ticket is no better than Trump. But today’s post is what inspired me to write this column. Today, he posted “You can’t trust this government. I don’t care who’s in office, America is still the same racist nation.”
Black men, particularly in inner cities and underserved communities, tend to exhibit a moderate distrust for American government and authority. This lack of trust is predicated on generations of systemic oppression and subjugation, Black men are perpetually receiving the vicious brunt of America’s racist ire ever since the first slave ships docked in Jamestown in 1619. From the apocryphal Willie Lynch letters, to the Tuskegee Experiment, to COINTELPRO, to the Rockefeller Drug Laws, to the Clinton Crime Bill, to the constant and unfettered killing of Black men and women in this country at the hands of law enforcement, the distrust exhibited by Black men towards the government is not only based in merit, but it is validated and reinforced from one generation to the next.

So, in matters of Census or voting, when coming across Black men that exhibit skepticism or flat out detachment from these practices, we have to be mindful to frame the conversation around the nature of the distrust, instead of accusing Black men of simply not wanting to be active. We must also be mindful not to propagate false realities. For example, while it might be true that Whites nationwide vote at a higher percentage than Blacks nationwide, it is also true that Blacks nationwide vote at a higher percentage than Latins and Asians nationwide. The idea that Blacks don’t vote just isn’t substantiated by the numbers, when speaking about America as a whole.

In matters of domestic violence, we all agree that the victim should leave the relationship as soon as possible to avoid further injury. So, how can we be mad at Black men for deciding that the relationship between them and America is so toxic that there should be a limit to their interaction with one another?

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