We aren’t even two years into Trump’s presidency, yet somehow it feels like he's been president for ages. Every day brings a new horror, a new outrage. Just when you think he can’t go any lower, he manages it again.
But for me, what really feels exhausting is the continuing national dialogue on racism, regularly provoked by Trump’s attacks on public Black figures and his consistent denial of humanity for everyone but white-bodied people.
Trump’s record on race speaks for itself. Remember, this is a guy who was sued by the Department of Justice way back in the '70s for discriminating against Black people. Any reasonable look at Trump’s background reveals a deep anti-Black bias, which makes the revelation less than surprising that former White House aide (and one-time Apprentice show contestant) Omarosa Manigault Newman heard Trump use the N-word in the White House (and that she has it on tape).
Make no mistake, Trump would not be the first racist president to utter the N-word. As a recent op-ed in the New York Times states: “Trump isn’t the first politician to harbor and promote racism. Presidents Truman and Nixon actually used the N-word — the former writing to his future wife, 'I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman,' while the latter was recorded telling Henry Kissinger 'Let’s leave the niggers to Bill' — Secretary of State William Rogers — 'and we’ll take care of the rest of the world.'”
What is surprising is how many people need explicit proof of Trump’s racism. In this and many cases, white people can’t seem to recognize racism unless it is directly, explicitly in their faces. This conveniently ignores actions and policies and statistics that show a litany of racism across all aspects of society, from the public to the private. Too many white people need a written statement, as if to certify from some mythical racism accreditation body that racism actually exists.
Often, even when the proof is made explicit in writing or recording, plenty of white people play devil’s advocate. They say that the politician is diligently separating their (racist) beliefs from the way they execute legislation and policy.
The problem is that this denial of reality has seeped into all areas of our public life — including our media, where too often there is an outright refusal to name racism. We recently marked the one-year anniversary of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville where a young activist, Heather Heyer, was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of anti-racist activists. As the nation marked this somber anniversary, the national media twisted itself into knots providing airtime to "both sides." NPR’s coverage of the event suggested that a car rammed into a crowd of "counter-protesters" rather than accurately naming that a white supremacist took his car and deliberately drove it into the crowd. The difference may seem subtle, but it matters.
Since Trump’s election, countless thinkpieces have been written trying to analyze the typical Trump supporter. Initially, the standard takeaway suggests that economic concerns were the driver that led to his win. However, more recent research has revealed that the average Trump supporter was driven by a fear of losing their dominant status, not by economic concerns. Simply put, fear of losing the perks of whiteness led folks to vote for Trump, a man skilled in dog-whistle politics.
So let's call it what it is: Racism drove people to vote for Trump. Why are we are still debating whether Trump supporters are racist?
Racist white people voted for a unqualified yet racist white man. In the nearly two years since he was elected, we've seen a marked increase in hate crimes, overt acts of racism by both the Average Joe or Jane white person, and racism coming out of the White House.
Yet far too few people can name it. Instead, they talk about “racially charged” actions and beliefs, but they won’t call people or their actions racist. They struggle to confront the personal racists in their lives and get mad when we use the word, but they are OK with the acts of racism themselves.
We don't do this for other diseases. Alcoholism, for example, isn’t properly confronted by saying, “Sometimes I drink too much” or “I’m prone to imbibing more than I should.” It is confronted by saying, “I am an alcoholic and I want to change that.”
We are a nation with a lot of white people. These people hold the majority of power and wealth and influence and votes. Too many of them refuse to say, “This nation is built on racism and still largely fueled by it.” We need to say it. We need to change it. Otherwise, we will continue to wallow in the addiction to white supremacy and all the hurt that goes with it.