Dear President-elect Donald Trump,
This past spring, I left my sleeping wife in a Borgata hotel room early one Saturday morning to go downstairs to jump into a poker game. I was one of nine white men at the table. About an hour in, I turned to the television by the table and watched as the news channel simultaneously broadcast one of your campaign rallies, as well as a news story of a white policeman killing an unarmed black man. The sound on the televisions was muted; instead of listening to the social commentary around the story, Chet Baker’s trumpet filtered through my ear buds.
The men at the table started to speak their minds, us white guys all alone. “How come they’re not upset about the black-on-black shootings in Chicago?” To which my immediate thought was: Because we know that criminals kill people without good reason, but cops aren’t supposed to.
I tried remaining focused on the game, knowing that no one’s mind at the table was up for changing.
“Those people need to be put in their place,” another one said. A third chimed in, “They’re like animals. Trump will take care of them.” They were so comfortable speaking like this, with no person of color within earshot. Just a group of white guys at a Saturday morning poker game; lawyers, business people and a couple of pros.
As I seethed, my wife texted me that she was walking into the poker room to get into a game. I told her to come over to my table in the back to say good morning. We had a secret to share.
“Hey, Honey,” my smiling wife said as she tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to get up and kiss the tall, beautiful black woman who has been my wife for 20 years.
The table went dead silent. She went to her game in another part of the room as I sat back down to mine. No one said a word or made eye contact, with me or each other. One guy waited a couple hands before rushing off to lunch—at 11 am. Two other guys put their headphones on. One guy put on sunglasses. Their bigotry had been outed.
I smiled as I made a small profit during the session while, one by one, these guys all started to explain what they “really meant”: that they all had black friends and were all for racial equality, that what was happening to black men was both unfair and unjust.
The irony, Mr. Trump, is that your election represents the best chance our nation has ever had to come together across racial and ethnic lines. Someone from the left could never have attacked bigotry, because their voice would not have resonated as loudly with the people who never supported them in the first place. You alone are the best fit for the job, for this job, in 2016. Only someone openly supported by the KKK, David Duke, and other white supremacists can condemn and defeat bigotry and intolerance.
I did not vote for you, but I placed a small wager on you to win months ago. I knew that your understanding of branding and marketing and your indefatigable drive would bring you close to the White House. And I knew that the angry white men who hated watching for eight years as a black man took charge of our nation would seal the deal.
Today is a new day, and I am rooting for you to be the best President we have ever had. I want you to change our nation and our country. I want to vote for you in four years and want you to overwhelmingly win the popular vote, carrying majorities across racial lines like none before you. But your campaign slogans instill both fear and hope in what you may bring for our nation.
“Take Our Country Back” scares me. I don’t want to go back. I want to move forward. “Make America Great Again” stirs me. I believe in our people and our potential, and I agree that our progress has been paused.
“Make America One,” though, inspires me. We can only defeat our enemies at home and abroad if we are a nation united.
Having listened to you say, “I am the least racist person you have ever met,” I know you believe this. Truthfully, I am not the least racist person I have ever met. I wonder who is. But as I enter the 21st year of being married to a black woman with three interracial kids, I am in a better position to understand how both sides think. So, please, read with an open mind.
If you really want to unify our nation, here is what you need to know:
1) Everyone who is not white and straight is this country is more afraid for their safety and the safety of our children than we were on November 7th. Black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, Muslim, Gay, Trans… They are all afraid that you will allow their communities to be terrorized by white terrorists who will use your name and our country’s flag to bully, harm or—yes—kill our children.
You don’t have any time to decide which side you will take. Days after your election, the hidden anger that white hate groups feel is already showing its ugly face across America, as are protests by people of all races who fear what your presidency will bring.
You must know of the race-based rhetoric that is being spewed in your name, and you owe it to Americans of every color and stripe to condemn and act against these heinous crimes being committed by some of your supporters.
2) Every day our kids leave the house, we are more afraid that they will be stopped by a cop than we are hopeful that they will be helped by a cop. Recently, my oldest son got his driving license. I am worried that when he gets his first violation, an officer will break his tail light, plant drugs in the trunk, and shoot him dead while he has his hands on the wheel. Really. No kidding.
My family lives in the suburbs, on the western Main Line of Philadelphia. The eight homes on our cul-de-sac are all valued in the millions. No one here walks down the street and gets shot, and our kids attend private schools.
Over a recent five-year period, I was stopped ten times for assorted violations by local police—emissions, registration, speeding (once going 85 in a 45 mph zone). Nine of those times the police asked me to slow down, get the inspection or registration done and then politely sent me on my way with a warning. “Have a nice day, Mr. Berger.” “Please slow down, Mr. Berger.”
In the same period, my wife and mother-in-law were stopped ten times, total, for similar violations, although they both drive slower than I do. They were given nine tickets in ten stops. Only once did they get off with a warning. My father-in-law was a 25-year Air Force veteran. I’m certain that my wife was respectful of the officers that stopped her, as she is of every man or woman who serves this country.
Police treat people of color differently than white folks. Please just admit it. The next time a policeman kills an unarmed black male, sit at the front during the funeral, with the family. Before we know the specifics, who did what and whether the shooting was justified, let us know that you value the life of that young man about to be lowered into the ground. Blue lives matter, white lives matter and black lives matter.
3) When people say “The country has never been more divided,” what they mean is, “White folks have never been this angry.” America has always been more divided than today. First, we had slavery. Then we had lynchings and Jim Crow. We had Japanese-Americans in internment camps during WWII. Until the reforms of the sixties, Americans had to attend separate schools, eat at separate counters, and use separate bathrooms. None of this exists in 2016, and we are so much better for it.
If you truly want to get a sense for what it’s like to be a minority, to be a president for all Americans, spend one dinner every week as the only white person in a room full of people of color, even in The White House. Make sure that no one on your Secret Service detail that night is white. Get comfortable. Your children and grandchildren will be in the minority by 2044. America will be more brown than white very soon. If you can start to see the world from a different perspective, you can Make America One.
God bless you, Mr. Trump. And God bless America.