Recently I saw more than a dozen people wearing “Make America Great Again” hats in what I would have thought would be the most unlikely place:
The National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington D.C.
As I approached a 1850s slave cabin that once stood on an Edisto Island, S.C., plantation, I saw the gathering over my shoulder — first one, then three, then more. Some wore the familiar red hats, while others opted for white, President Trump’s preferred color. Some also sported T-shirts bearing Trump’s slogan. All of them were white teenage boys.
Clearly, this was meant as a provocation.
They did nothing disruptive. In fact, the Trump Youth barely seemed to do much of anything at all. They moved together as a group, occasionally casting a bored eye to the right or left. Although I didn’t notice an accompanying adult, they could have been part of a class trip.
On second thought, this had nothing to do with class. As the boys walked by, African-American visitors had a variety of reactions. One woman looked them up and down, then shook her head. A man rolled his eyes. Another woman gave them side-eye so sharp it could have pierced metal. Still, people refused to give them the greater acknowledgment they might have sought. We had more important things to do.
Since its opening in September 2016, the museum has become hallowed ground for many African-Americans. It is a sanctified space to learn, reflect, and see the path, with all its pitfalls and triumphs, upon which we still move forward.
Perhaps this incongruous show of Trump allegiance was intended to rile us. Apparently it’s not the first time these sartorial politics have been on display. After I posted a photo of one young man holding his MAGA hat, others tweeted that they’d also noticed white teens wearing the caps at the museum.
“When my family visited the museum last year, we saw a white teen with the same hat,” wrote Wendi C. Thomas, a journalist. “Felt like trolling.”
That’s an appropriate assessment for those supporting this racist troll of a presidency.
Since Trump’s 2016 election, his name has been used to threaten Jews and people of color. According to a hate crime database compiled by ProPublica, more than 150 school bullying incidents through May 2017 included evocations of Trump’s name or his divisive comments. This included white students, after a Florida high school football game, chanting “Donald Trump!” at black students from an opposing school.
In her award-winning book, “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” Carol Anderson writes, “White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets or burn crosses, or take to the streets.”
These days, all it has to do is scream the current president’s name.
Whatever the intent of the MAGA cap wearers, I hope the disaffected white teens also recognize this: If they only marvelled at the cruelties one race has inflicted on another for no good reason, then they should have stayed home. If they looked at the Klan videos, the hoods and robes, especially the one in a very familiar shade of red, and wished again for a time when its members marched unmasked in the nation’s capital, near where the museum now stands, they should have stayed home.
To denigrate African-American history is to denigrate American history — their own history.
African-Americans survived the Middle Passage, centuries of enslavement, families torn apart, systemic sexual abuse, lynchings, racist Supreme Court decisions, police violence, and Jim Crow. Every effort to dim our light has only made it burn hotter and brighter.
We’re still here, unbowed. From the magnificent museum that celebrates our uniquely American story to the communities where we live, we will won’t be intimidated by people in MAGA hats — or the noxious president they represent.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham