Derrick Z. Jackson

Derrick Z. Jackson is a Fellow in climate and energy at the Union of Concerned Scientists and a periodic essayist for The American Prospect and ESPN's The Undefeated. He is a 2001 Pulitzer Prize finalist, a 2018 winner from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, and a 2017 winner from the National Association of Black Journalists.

Recent Articles

Trump’s Great American Whitewash

Why do so many white people believe that the president has their best interests at heart?

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
With Donald Trump becoming in spectacular short order our most racist modern president, it must be asked: What are white people getting out of him? I know he does not speak for all white people: One in three voted for Hillary Clinton and millions of white Americans opposed his presidency and policies in 2017, as people marched to support women, science, climate, and immigrants, to name a few Trump targets. After giving 52 percent of their votes to Trump, it is a hopeful sign that white women have taken a decisively dim view of him, with a 37 percent approval rating in the latest Quinnipiac poll. But the majority of white men remain undisturbed by comments that get more applause from Klansmen and American Nazis than anyone else. After Trump’s recent “shithole” assault on Africa, Haiti, and El Salvador, 51 percent of white men told the Quinnipiac poll that the statement was not racist, compared with just 43 percent who said it was racist. A recent Washington Post /ABC...

Facts Again Go Missing as Trump Declares Opioid Addiction a National Health Emergency

During a speech last week declaring opioid addiction a national public health emergency, President Trump made the extraordinary claim that 64,000 American lives were lost last year due to drug overdoses. “More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined,” he said.

Trump continued to embellish his case, adding that the “shocking death toll,” of addiction has resulted in “families ripped apart and, for many communities, a generation of lost potential and opportunity,” he said. “This epidemic is a national health emergency, unlike many of us [have] seen and what we've seen in our lifetimes. Nobody has seen anything like what's going on now,” Trump added. “As Americans, we cannot allow this to continue.” 

The opioid crisis is indeed a public health menace. But Trump’s narrative, one that claims that drug-related deaths are a greater scourge than gun homicides and motor vehicle deaths put together is at variance with the facts. Every raised decibel on overdoses only serves to amplify the silences on the deaths that he downplays.  

About 35,000 people died in car crashes in 2015, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s most recent data, and the United States has the highest rate of crash deaths in the developed world, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. also ranks near the bottom of 20 nations for front-seat seatbelt use and has the second-highest level of accidents involving drunk drivers.

Families are no less ripped apart by deaths involving a drunk driver. In 2013, nearly a third of traffic deaths involved a driver operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, yet a president has never declared a public health emergency to force the auto industry to make cars safer; encourage drivers and passengers to be more conscientious; entice drivers off the road with better public transportation; or to make drunk-driving punishments harsher.

Trump played fast and loose with the number of Americans who have died because of gun violence. Homicides actually account for only a third of the 34,000 annual deaths involving guns. The other two-thirds, more than 21,000 a year, are from suicide.

Why Trump chose to ignore gun suicides is unknown. Is it because he wanted to blow out the embers from a gun control debate that got reignited after Las Vegas? Was he afraid that spotlighting the high U.S. gun death rates would anger the National Rifle Association? Did the president want to downplay a racial issue? It’s well known that the opioid crisis has ripped through rural and low-income white communities. Less commonly known, because the NRA and their puppets in Congress make sure there is little or no funding for federal gun studies, is that white men account for seven out of every ten suicides, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Or did some White House officials simply realize that Trump’s fudging of the numbers on gun and motor vehicle deaths and comparing those figures to the numbers of opioid deaths was flat out wrong?  

The opioid crisis demands attention. But despite the declaration, Trump has said little about long-term solutions or funding to address this national emergency. It is also extremely unclear and highly doubtful that an administration that is rolling back regulations with a vengeance will spend any time looking into the role of the pharmaceutical industry that pushes the sale of prescription opioids that many patients have abused.

If Trump really cares about public health emergencies, the efforts to fight opioid addiction should include concurrent actions against gun violence. When Congress cannot even act on the bump stocks that enabled the Las Vegas gunman to turn his weapons into virtual machine guns, that failure to act speaks volumes about the willful disregard about public health crisis. Put another way, about half a million Americans have died in domestic gun incidents since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Families have been ripped apart and in many communities, a generation of promising young people have died. When does the president plan to declare a national emergency for that?

White Nationalist Bigotry Is the Official Policy of Trump’s White House

Conservatives who indignantly hounded African Americans from government jobs during the Clinton and Obama administrations haven’t batted an eye at the overt racism of Donald Trump’s appointees.

(Photo: AP/Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President-elect Donald Trump wasted no time in establishing a hideous double standard of racist privilege in the White House. His appointment of Stephen Bannon as chief strategist and his picks of Jeff Sessions for attorney general and retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn as national security adviser have been praised without qualification by Klansmen, neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and other white supremacist groups. That stands in stark contrast with the quick, off-with-their-heads terminations of controversial African Americans during the Clinton and Obama administrations. While no white appointee for Trump can be too offensive, no black government official could ever survive being seen as, to borrow from Malcolm X, too black, too strong. There was President Bill Clinton’s abandonment of Lani Guinier in 1993. Nominated for assistant attorney general for civil rights, she was tarred as a “quota queen” for writing that districts with a history of voting...

Race and Representation in the Twilight of the Obama Era

Will the eight years of America's first black president lead to more political voice for black citizens—or less?

(Photo: AP/David Guttenfelder)
This article appears in the Winter 2016 issue of The American Prospect magazine . Subscribe here . When Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States, I received a warning of sorts from my late great-aunt, Myrtha Overstreet. She lived to be almost 101, and when she was 98 she voted in Cleveland for Obama’s first election. She did so with a sage’s sobriety. I called her to ask her if she ever thought she would live to see a black president. She told me, “No, but now that he’s in there, he’ll be just another politician.” My great-aunt’s wariness understated what was coming. Seven years later, as Obama’s presidency enters its final year, the collective optimism that African Americans had at the beginning of his presidency has collapsed. At the beginning, the percentage of African Americans saying race relations were good soared from 29 percent to 59 percent in New York Times polling. It was back down to 28 percent this...