Trump supporters picked a fight with black-lives-matter members at rally
Amid the chaos and the clashes at Trump rallies Friday, a small group of people on opposing sides tried to reason with each other in St Louis – loudly, but civilly
As Trump supporters and protesters clashed outside rallies in Chicago and St Louis Friday, there was screaming, spitting and physical scuffles, and racial slurs were levelled at protesters.
In St Louis, a small group of black protesters and white men in Trump hats tried something different: they had an actual conversation.
After the rally had ended and many of the protesters had left, a few dozen people lingered and engaged in a series of loud but civil debates. A Muslim teenager explained why she felt Trump was demonizing her. A younger white man compared the police killings of black Americans to the killing of ranchers in Oregon by the federal government. A white business owner asked whether Obama had helped or hurt race relations.
In a brief moment of agreement, 33-year-old Tamara “Bates” Dodd, a musician who grew up in St Louis, explained why “All Lives Matter” was the wrong response to black suffering.
“The reason why we get offended when white people say, ‘Oh, it’s happening to white people too,’ is because it’s dismissive,” she said. “It’s like me saying, ‘Hey, my house [is] burning down,’ and somebody say, ‘Aw, shit, well, my house burnt, my cousins’ house got burnt too, weeks ago.’ Feel my struggle for a second, you know what I’m saying?”
A man in a signed Trump hat laughed and nodded. “Yeah, OK,” 50-year-old Rudy Kelsey said.
But the conversation broke down over the question of who is responsible for racism in America. As Dodd tried to explain the difference between prejudice and systemic racism, another protester shouted: “Black people can’t be racist. It’s impossible for black people to be racist.”
“He said it, it’s over,” Kelsey said. A few minutes later, he repeated: “It’s over,” and walked away.
Kelsey told the Guardian that he had been raised Amish, so he knew that white people faced discrimination, too. As a “self-made millionaire”, he said, he did not believe color was as much of an impediment to success as the black protesters were insisting. He said he would definitely be voting Republican, though he was not sure he would support Trump.
Perry Jay, 27, from Jefferson City, said he would be voting for Trump. But he told the Guardian that the argument with protesters had an effect: “My mind got opened a little bit.”
What struck him most, he said, was “how deceived a lot of people are … They think racism is a lot bigger deal than it actually is, because Democrats keep telling them that.”
So what happens when Trump supporters and protesters actually have an extended conversation? Here are their exchanges on Muslim refugees, police violence, Obama, and a divided America.
On Muslims and Trump
Omida Shahav, a 19-year-old from St Louis, said she came to the rally to try to engage in conversations about the way Trump was talking about Islam. Earlier in the day, she said, a white man had called her a terrorist when she tried to talk to him. With Kelsey, she had a longer conversation.
“I’m a Muslim and he’s demonizing me,” she said of Trump.
Kelsey said: “I thought he was more demonizing terrorists. When you have a hundred thousand Syrian refugees coming to this country a year. Eighty-plus per cent of them are 20- to 35-year-old males. I’ve got a damn problem with that.”
Jay asked: “If there’s that many coming in here that are able-bodied males, OK, why aren’t they staying there to fight for their country like we did in America?”
A woman listening to the conversation weighed in. “Shit, it’s going to take him 200 years to accept them, they ain’t accepted us being here.”
A young man noted: “I ain’t seen one Muslim in America yet shoot up a church or a school.”
“San Bernardino!” Kelsey said.
On police violence and white Americans
“Hold on,” a woman said. “What was the little white boy’s name that got shot in the streets and got left there for six hours? Name him.”
“I don’t know him,” Jay said.
“Cause he don’t exist,” Dodd said.
“Tell me,” the same woman said, “what was the white man’s name that went out to sell cigarettes and didn’t make it home to his family?”
Jay put his hands over his ears.
“Eric Garner,” someone said.
“No, I said the white man – the white man,” the woman went on. “Because he said the same thing is happening to white men, so I want to know the name of these motherfuckers.”
Jay said: “I’m trying to make a point here,. How many of you have heard about the deal going on in Nevada, with the federal government going after these ranchers? You heard about that?”
A black woman standing next to him gave him a look of utter disbelief.
“Yeah, BLM land,” Kelsey said. “They’re murdering those white ranchers …”
“In Oregon and Nevada,” Jay broke in, “these white ranchers got shot and killed by the federal government ’cause they were trying to fight for their rights.”
Another listener interrupted: “That was after how much, though? They were out there for days.”
If it had been black men with guns in a federal building, another man said, “they’re killing them on sight”.
On Barack Obama and race
“So, in your opinion, did Obama take the country forward on racist matters, or backwards?” Kelsey asked.
“I think that Obama has nothing to do with it,” Dodd said. “I think that cellphones, camera phones, and all this other shit that’s allowed things to be more in the public eye, that’s what’s changed the country. This shit was already here.”
“So you don’t think it’s either went forward or backward?” Kelsey said.
“Actually, right now, I’m having more great conversations like this one than I was having five years ago,” Dodd said.
A man behind her jumped in: “The only way Obama affected – people finally started showing their real hate toward black people, because there’s a black president.”
These disunited states
A younger man in a gray blazer and a red Trump hat joined the debate. “The government will disappoint you every time,” he warned the protesters. “Don’t listen to the government. Don’t look to the government for help. It’s like that one guy running for Congress said earlier. They’re trying to divide America.”
“It’s already divided!” Dodd exclaimed.
“It’s been divided!” another man shouted.
The man in the red hat backed up and cowered theatrically, his hands on his red hat.
Can black people be racist?
“When somebody says, ‘Black people being racist, y’all be good white people and be like, ‘How?’ OK?” Dodd told Jay and Kelsey. “Ask the how the fuck that happens. Because we cannot implement this shit without power. We do not have power. Truth be told, who invented racism? Y’all may not like it, but it’s on y’all. White people. Y’all invest this shit. Y’all came over here and did this. Y’all did it in other countries, too. Ya’ll did it in India …”
“Hey. I’m going to stop you right there …“ Jay said.
“Time out! His turn!” Kelsey insisted.
“You sound like a racist to me,“ Jay said.
“Black people cannot be racist, my brother!” a protester shouted. “Black people cannot be racist! It is impossible for black people to be racist.”
“He said it. It’s over,” Kelsey said.
Jay said: “You were saying, ‘Y’all people did this.’ My ancestors never did one thing to do anything pro-slavery. My ancestors got persecuted for leaving the Catholic church, for being Christian. So, first, why are you categorizing me? Is it ’cause I’m white? Is it because I’m white? Yes it is.”
Kelsey repeated: “Whenever he said, you can’t be racist if you’re black, It’s over. It’s over.”
Dodd later told the Guardian that she appreciated the debate. “Those guys that we were talking to, even if it doesn’t sway their vote away from Trump, it’s still a worthy conversion to have,” she said. “White guys like themselves represent the majority of the nation.”