There isn’t much more that could be said or done, by the president, that can shock me. During his time as a presidential candidate, right into his time as president (why does it feel like the longest four years ever), he has made some of the most public derogatory statements. No one was safe. Race. Gender. Sexuality. Culture. Place of birth. Class. Anyone that he believed to be of a lesser group, or in opposition to his beliefs, were subject to his harsh words…or tweets.
His rhetoric has touched everyone, be it foe or supporter. And how one chooses to interpret what he says is dependent on much more than one’s political association. His words have been of much controversy throughout his presidency, so it was no surprise when the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio and El Paso, Texas took place that many speculated if his words influenced the shooters.
Yes, video games, mental health, and gun control all had their moment, and continue to have their moment, in the hot seat. But was it something much more powerful that influenced the shooters to take such drastic measures?
Hearing Trump say aloud, what some have kept confined to private conversations with their family or friends, or held hostage in the mind, has created this superficial connection between them and Trump. This idea that he sees them. And what do some people want more than to simply be seen?
When people feel abandoned, they look to others for acceptance or understanding. Someone they can identify with. Trump offers that to a portion of the population that feels forgotten. Misunderstood even. Trump, for some, represents those that have gone unheard. People who believe a return to another time will set things straight. The time people are referring to, is unknown because there has rarely been a time in American history when peace was anything more than temporary.
I rarely say this in talking about Trump, but I don’t believe we can point the finger at him. Yes, his careless word choices have certainly left many emboldened. However, he did not place guns in those men’s hands and tell them to kill innocent people.
I know what did though: history. Centuries of stereotypes, racism, discrimination, oppression, and longstanding generational thoughts, beliefs, and traditions were the culprit. Targeting minorities did not begin when Trump took office. This is an issue that has existed in America since the first set of colonizers landed. Since slavery. Since Natives were forced from their land. Since Japanese people were placed in internment camps. The idea that one group is superior over all others is stitched into America's fabric and stained with the blood and tears of its victims.
Trump definitely has his role. Personally, his words seem to have normalized the hate filled thoughts and actions of his supporters and like-minded people. But, the problem cannot be placed squarely on his shoulders. As a leader, should he be genuinely denouncing racism and taking more responsibility for his words? Absolutely. Can he change hundreds of years of history on his own? No. I don't even trust that he would try.
It takes way more than Trump saying racism is bad, oppression is bad, or murder is bad for things to change. It takes a shift in mindsets and support from people outside minority groups to say this is wrong, to advocate for change, and act in a way that pulls the country together versus divide.
All of that requires change. And if life has taught me nothing else, its that change can only happen when people welcome it into their lives. The unfortunate events from this week, and from the past, further demonstrates that America's citizens are not on the same page. Some still yearn for the America from centuries ago. When people knew their place. When this country "belonged" to a superior race. Until these faulty ways of thinking are set aside, and the language is changed from "me" to "ours", America has only one thing to look forward to and that's generations of the same violence.
If the goal is to repeat history, then we're right on track. But, if the goal is to create a different world, America has a long way to go.
About the author: Latanya Muhammad is a writer, advisor, and group facilitator whose essays and short stories have appeared in multiple publications. When she is not writing, she is wrangling her two children and husband. To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook and Instagram.