Last week, millions of Americans haplessly watched Donald Trump do the impossible and seal a victory to become the 45th president of the United States without ever holding a government job. As clouds of doubt hover over the country’s future, Chicago rapper Vic Mensa remains fearless. Mensa — who unleashed his unflinching EP There’s a Lot Going On earlier this year and joined Chicago protests over the shooting of Laquan McDonald — continues to seek justice. Days after soaking in the reality of Trump’s forthcoming term as president, Mensa relives the moment he found out about Hillary Clinton’s loss, his phone conversation with his dejected sisters, and his mind-set moving forward as a black man in America.–As told to Carl Lamarre
I was kind of woozy when I first found out. Just to see such a symbol of hatred and opposition to equality be put in our nation’s highest office.
I was in Atlanta working with The-Dream on some things. I had to remind myself that this wasn’t my election to win or lose. Then, when I woke up in the morning, I realized that this had to happen because we’ve been pacified by having Barack [Obama] in office. That pacification would have only continued by having Hillary elected.
My fight doesn’t end here no matter the outcome. I could have felt a bit more comfortable but a felt sense of security had Hillary won, because the things that I’ve been talking about this year and going hard on are the same. Those things have not changed. They’ve just manifested themselves in slavery, Jim Crow Laws, segregation and mass incarceration. Even the conversations people have about mass incarceration don’t get to the issue. They always talk about nonviolent crimes. They don’t even get the issue and how different this nation treats its prison system. It’s not just nonviolent offenders that need to be re-evaluated. It’s the entire mother—-ing system.
To people who have been led to believe you are white, race is the child of racism; racism is not the child of race. Race is a fairly new idea that’s been used to divide and conquer. If you look at a lot of historical texts, when you’re describing Italian war generals, it wasn’t described as black. Might have been North African. People had real backgrounds. We have Irish people, English people, Polish people, Russians, and Chinese people, and Indians from India, Native Americans. All of this brown, black and white has stolen the true identity of humanity and been used to categorize people so they can focus on their differences more than their similarities.
This is not the first time in American history where poor people have been led to believe they’re white and have also been led to believe that their problems are the result of Mexicans, Muslims and black people. It’s just a scapegoat technique to keep them confused and keep them from looking at their real enemies, who really propagate their state of disenfranchisement and major corporations like the president-elect. They’re just pawns in a bigger capitalist and imperialist game. Until we can regroup and re-identify the real issues in our society — which I think Bernie Sanders started to get people focused on — we’re gonna have all of this pointless fighting in this country that’s not taking us anywhere positive.
We can’t solve the problems of the poor by blaming other poor people. It’s not poor people taking each other’s jobs; it’s major corporations. It’s shipping companies overseas, technology changing and factory positions being done by machines. But, right now, it’s just a hoax. I feel like that’s gonna bring out the worst in a lot of people in America because hurt people hurt people. I know that. Some people in these small towns with heroin epidemics and lack of employment — they’re hurt — and the easiest way to approach that is to blame somebody of a different race; to blame “the others.” It’s a lot more difficult to identify the real structural issues that have us disenfranchised all across this nation. I think when you start getting at those things, that’s when the assassinations happen.
When Martin Luther King starts working on a poor people’s movement and he starts organizing people of all races to recognize how they’re being oppressed, police start cutting him off. Like Fred Hampton, when he was in Chicago, and the Black Panthers were uniting with Latinos and Asian revolutionary groups, they kill you in your sleep. So obviously, there’s something to be found there.
I’ve been having conversations with people from a movement right now about creating something a lot bigger than a Black Lives Matter campaign — something very inclusive. For us to make real change, we’re gonna need everyone and people of all different walks of life to recognize the part that they play and how these powers at hand affect them too. I feel like these ideas of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, Islamophobia and homophobia are so damaging to both the hater and the hated because having that type of energy on your heart and on your mind [is hard]. I know how it feels to really f—ing feel like I hate somebody and it is f—ing tiring. It’s exhausting and it’s so hard to think rationally. It skews your perspective and I think that people are hurting all over this nation for different reasons and they’re only leading themselves to more pain.
It’s discouraging getting on the phone with my sisters and listening to them crying because they don’t feel safe as black women in America right now. They’re not with the family. They’re not in Chicago. I got a sister in Memphis, Tennessee, right now and a sister in Rhode Island, and it hurts to hear them cry because they fear that they’ll be the victims of assault or abuse. As much as I wish I didn’t have to tell them this, I’m telling them, “Well, you know what? You should have already been on your toes. You have to be looking over your shoulders and watching your back before this election if Hillary was elected, because this nation was not built to serve your interests.”
I don’t sing the national anthem. This is not “my country, ’tis of thee.” This is not a sweet land of liberty for people who look like me and not has been. So, yeah, the white nationalist groups and the KKK are being empowered right now and they’re getting bolder, but they were there. They’ve been there. We’ve been getting killed in the streets by police like dogs with a black president in the White House and there’s no accountability for those white officers. We already had to mother—-ing watch our back. This was not a safe place for us to begin with.
The advice that I’ve been giving to my friends is that if you know someone that’s a Trump supporter, you need to have conversations with them because it’s wrong and needs to be proven wrong. We’ve been preaching to the crowd this whole time. We’ve been talking to a lot of people that’s been agreeing with us, but we’re seeing now that that’s not the state of America. The state of America is a lot more volatile than The New York Times or The Huffington Post ?and New York City, L.A. and Chicago. This gigantic massive land built on the backs of slaves and stolen from its native people with disease, massacre and Trail of Tears, the state of America is far more in the dark than us.
The reason that Trump was able to empower so many people was because it was all affirmative. You know, my brother Malik Yusef is always telling me that, “The power of yes is so much more than the power of no.” So when Trump tells a lot of people, “We’re gonna make America great again. We’re gonna make America yours again. We’re gonna bring you back to your position,” he’s basically telling them, “Yes, white supremacy is the answer” to their white nation. Our whole f—ing approach was, “No, that’s wrong. No, that’s not right.” We can’t do that anymore. We’ve seen how that’s not powerful enough. We need to unify and decide what it is that we really believe in — that’s what we need to fight for. We can’t just fight against injustice. We gotta fight for justice.