Make Racism Wrong Again
Last week, I was driving through the oft-underrated state of Connecticut. I was sitting at a light when I noticed a sticker on the car in front of me:
“MAKE RACISM WRONG AGAIN.”
The core problem is, of course, racism. Coupled with the genocide of the natives, the enslavement of Blacks is the original sin of this country. That problem, whether manifested in slavery, Jim Crow, or some other unholy vessel, has persisted without interruption since this nation’s founding.
A secondary problem is that racism seems to be getting worse, not better. We are now living through perhaps the only moment in our nation’s history where the slow creep towards racial equality has not only been paused, but reversed.
Shame used to serve as an effective — albeit frail — deterrent. In a former life, politicians did not want to appear bigoted. The old formula went something like scandal, apology, resignation. Now it seems to be scandal, another scandal, double-down, and attack. (It always humors me when a conservative will disregard an article because the publication purports to have some sort of “liberal bias,” when that article merely reprints the president’s words verbatim.)
Even privately racist politicians would give lip service to notions of equality. Then, of course, the same politicians would write the legislation for mass incarceration or redlining. But they talked the talk, publicly anyway.
Now, in the new age of politics, there is no shame. No public facade of attempting (unsuccessfully) at legislating equality. Dogwhistles have become foghorns. Now, anything goes.
I try to write about political or cultural topics without mentioning the current occupant of the White House as much as possible. But Trump is a black hole, a dense, self-centered vortex of any conversation. Escaping a political discussion without his mention is truly a remarkable feat. Racism is making a resurgence, and while the problem extends beyond any single person, the president is not without blame.
Trump referred to African nations as “shitholes.” His personal lawyer testified under oath that when Trump was driving through a struggling Chicago neighborhood, he said that “only Black people could live that way.” Trump then told his lawyer that Black people “would never vote for me because they are too stupid,” according to the testimony.
Even if you were to put the last five years aside, Trump has a proven track record of racism. In 1973, the Justice Department sued Trump because he told his employees “not to rent to Blacks” and only to “executives.” Black employees at his casinos were told to “get off the floor” when the boss came in. Trump once complained about a Black accountant because “laziness is a trait in Blacks.”
The list goes on and on. What’s the point? We all know who Donald John Trump is. Racial views of Donald Trump is an actual Wikipedia page with eleven sections and sixty-one subsections, like “white power retweet,” “opposition to diversity training,” and “Nazi symbol in Facebook ads.”
Trump often claims that he is “the least racist person in the room.” Only if he is in the room by himself. My conservative friends will often ask me, “How is Donald Trump a racist?” To which I normally reply, “Yes, besides his words and actions, how is he a racist?”
We need to make racism wrong again. Slow progress on racial issues isn’t ideal, but it is far better than we are currently experiencing. Two steps forward, one step back sounds better than three steps back.
A majority of Americans describe race relations as “generally bad,” and most believe that Trump has made racial relations worse. Presidential behavior matters. The tone that is set for the country often begins at the top. Tax cuts may not trickle down, but racial resentment certainly does.
I am thinking of Georgia Republican Senator David Perdue’s comments last week. Serving as the warm up act at a Trump rally in Macon, Perdue mispronounced and then mocked Kamala Harris’ name. “The most insidious thing that Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden are trying to perpetrate, and Bernie, and Elizabeth, and KAH-mah-la, or Kah-MAH-la, or KAH-mah-la or Kamala-mala-mala, I don’t know, whatever,” he said.
The point was to cast Kamala Harris as “other” or “different,” even as undeserving. Does that name sound American to you is the vibe he seemed to be going for. Perdue isn’t some populist red-hat wearer or some Fox News personality. Frankly, he hasn’t made a lot of racially insensitive marks in the past. The former CEO of Dollar General and Reebok, he represents the very ethos of the corporate wing of the Republican party. Perdue isn’t a foot soldier in the culture wars, he solely exists to give himself and his rich friends tax cuts and deregulation. As a sign of the times, even he thought that comment was acceptable.
No shame, no hesitation, no apology. This is where we are.
One election won’t eradicate racism, but it can make racism wrong again. And that’s worth fighting for.