I had my last popular political opinion when I was nine years old. In the aftermath of 9/11, everyone on my television screen was praising President George W. Bush for his fearless leadership. I have a vivid memory of turning to my friends at recess one afternoon and saying, "If Al Gore had been elected, he'd be hiding under his desk in the Oval Office right now!!" What a brainwashed idiot I was. Now, like a majority of Americans, I don't trust the news to tell me the truth. I am genuinely baffled every four years when the otherwise intelligent people I know invest themselves fully in watching staged cable news shows and sharing clickbait articles they probably didn't even read. This election cycle, many of my misguided social media friends have tried to make Black Lives Matter and the crusade against police brutality the top political issue for African Americans. As an African American, I find this extremely insulting to my intelligence.
Don't mishear me: Preventing police abuse is a critically important issue, as the recent murder of Terence Crutcher illustrates. However, it is irresponsible of us to focus our civil rights efforts exclusively on the symptom of police brutality, and not the disease of socioeconomic inequality that infinitely exacerbates the problem.
We need to remember that economic crises trigger violence around the world, and that falling wages for low-skilled workers in the United States have been directly linked to increases in violent crime. The fact that the unemployment rate is twice as high for blacks as it is for whites should not be considered in isolation from the reality that our 13 percent slice of the population also commits over half of all homicides. Our economic vulnerabilities decrease our standard of living and increase our chances of having negative interactions with the police. African Americans deserve a presidential candidate with pragmatic solutions for correcting the root causes of the issues we face.
That candidate is Donald Trump. "[Hillary Clinton] promises uncontrolled, low-skilled immigration that continues to reduce jobs and wages for American workers, and especially for African American and Hispanic workers within our country," Trump said in a speech on immigration that has been, at it's most polite, called "out of touch with reality." There is an impulse to respond to comments like these made by Trump with disgust—but he's right. Despite the popular liberal myth that undocumented immigrants only take jobs Americans don't want, they really are displacing African Americans from employment opportunities. In 2008, the United States Commission on Civil Rights found black men to be disproportionately employed in low-skilled labor jobs and in direct competition with undocumented immigrants. One year later, the Federal Reserve connected record-high American youth unemployment with an influx of low-skilled laborers entering the country. Perhaps most damningly, the National Bureau of Economic Research examined census data from 1960 to 2000 and found "as immigrants disproportionately increased the supply of workers in a particular skill group, the wage of black workers in that group fell, the employment rate declined, and the incarceration rate rose." The negative knee-jerk reactions Trump receives for referencing these uncomfortable truths is what Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute calls "the hypocrisy of the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies." It's much easier to center a political movement around criticizing an amorphous external force—"the system!"—instead of around the much more complicated task of reversing internal cycles of violence and poverty with tangible policy decisions. The potential of a Trump presidency shouldn't scare Black Americans, but a Hillary Clinton administration is worthy of our concern. The racial justice section of Clinton's website doesn't address economic revitalization until the eighth of nine bullet-points; the first point is dedicated to "criminal justice." Adding insult to injury, Clinton's immigration reform section promises to extend a pathway to full citizenship for undocumented immigrants within the first 100 days of her presidency.
Voting for Trump has its drawbacks, of course. Some economists think low-skilled labor jobs are never returning to the United States, and even if they do, robots will take them all anyway. Additionally, some black Americans are offended when they hear Trump bluntly discuss impoverished inner cities, the low-skilled labor force, and the benefits of stop and frisk. There is a reasonable sentiment that since not all black Americans fit into the narrative of despair that Trump describes, it's wrong of him to characterize us as a struggling monolith. However, the economic divide between blacks and whites is already so large it'll take 228 years for us to amass the same amount of wealth whites currently have. I believe Trump's overzealous presentation comes from a place of honest indignation over how US immigration policies have displaced black workers, exacerbated crime, and prevented many of us from fully realizing the American dream. When respected civil rights leader Representative John Lewis says Trump's divisive rhetoric reminds him of segregationist governor George Wallace, he's not entirely wrong: Trump's rhetoric is divisive, but some divisive policy-driven rhetoric is exactly what African Americans need right now. We might even be getting the message. Before Monday's debate, the Los Angeles Times/ University of Southern California tracking poll showed that blacks were turning from Clinton and to Trump. In his immigration speech, Trump told all Americans, "If we're going to make our immigration system work, then we have to be prepared to talk honestly and without fear about these important and very sensitive issues." African Americans must look beyond the absurdist racist caricature that has been painted for us of Trump and be prepared to talk honestly about how illegal immigration is one of the many forces hampering our success.
Economic vitality—not police brutality—should be the primary political concern for African Americans this election cycle. Establishing economic stability is a gateway for us to begin effectively addressing the plethora of other historical disparities that disrupt our pursuit of happiness. Trump makes a compelling policy pitch that deserves our consideration if we truly want to prove that black lives matter.
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Read a response to this essay on VICE.com tomorrow.