A Racist White House Doesn't Surprise Black People
A white guy endorsed by KKK affiliates becoming president is scary, but not unprecedented in American history.
President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump shake hands following their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, November 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
The sky is falling.
At least that's what many alarmed by the coming ascension of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States would have America believe. How could a country assumed to be so morally advanced by so many elect a man so overtly foul? That's what has brought a healthy number of people into the street night after night, their social media outrage bubbling over into IRL rage.
But as much as I encourage healthy activism, some of these people need to check their history. Trump's win isn't a massive deviation from the norm, but an affirmation of business as usual in American politics. The cold reality is that it's the same shit, different day. America has a long, putrid legacy of racism: The country was developed on the backs of slave labor, expanded and fortified via a genocidal campaign against Native Americans, and has waged war in one way or another on countries and communities of color practically since its inception. Why is it still surprising when America does something despicable?
Now, if you're worried about a president-elect who's been endorsed by affiliates of the KKK, I get it. But in the last 50 years alone, we've had at least one Supreme Court justice and a US senator who were once in the Klan, and multiple presidents have been accused of KKK membership at various points in their careers, as well. There's nothing new here.
The fact is both the Democratic and Republican Parties have played key roles in upholding the ideals of white supremacy. Democrats ushered in Jim Crow in the post–Civil War South, and their cause was carried well into the 20th century by racial blowhards like Bull Connor and George Wallace. And the GOP's exploitation of racial anxieties among white working-class voters since the 1960s (which came to be known as the "Southern Strategy") has been devastatingly effective.
Of course, some will argue it's a knee-jerk response to label Trump's win the product of racism, suggesting instead that he seized the White House because of his "populism." The argument goes that Hillary Clinton was seen as too cozy with DC elites and the moneyed classes of America; in this telling, Trump's faux working man's champion shtick was enough to convince many whites he cares about people like them—even if he has a solid history of shafting the little guy for his own benefit. (Really, the greatest hustle of all is Trump's con of making working-class whites think that he gives a shit about them.)
But guess what? Non-whites don't have the luxury of overlooking the racist rhetoric of powerful white people. And given the violence that often accompanies such oratory, the promise of new jobs from our bankrupter-in-chief for depressed areas is not enough to allay these concerns. If you voted for Donald Trump, I think you're a racist by proxy. And the fact that Trump didn't just win working-class whites, but—if you buy exit polls—college-educated and affluent white folks, as well, means there are a hell of a lot of racists running around.
Maybe this was inevitable, as a common gripe echoed among white men in recent years has been their feeling marginalized as our country slowly began its overdue metamorphosis into a more inclusive society. They started to view themselves as casualties of a sort of imagined reverse-racism, forced to share power they entertained exclusively for so long. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, these sentiments reverberated online and festered in forums on 4chan, Facebook, and Reddit, finding cohesion in the "alt-right." That movement's driving force is the idea that white identity and Western civilization are under relentless assault at the hands of "political correctness" and "social justice."
Alt-right or not, many Americans seem to have grown tired of a new, cosmopolitan America where a black president wielded power, women asserted themselves and vocalized the need for wage parity, blacks demanded racial justice by proclaiming that their lives matter, and immigrants were able to achieve upward mobility. Millions of white Americans said "enough" last week, and, in tribal fashion, voted to return America to a state they are more comfortable with. They really do want to, in the words of their dear leader, "Make America Great Again."
For the record, I'm not afraid of Donald Trump. He's a bully within his moneyed circle who's never really known struggle. He's a gilded tough guy and a political lightweight who champions anti-intellectualism, and whose allegiances change like the blowing of the wind. Want proof? He's already begun to change his tune on eliminating Obamacare. And his proposed wall on the border of Mexico is completely infeasible.
See, my concern is not so much that Trump will do horrible things—my concern is that Trump legitimizes racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic behavior and emboldens others to do horrible things. It's not the man that's a concern to me, but his supporters and his political party.
Tomie Lenear Jr., a student-parent success counselor at UC Berkeley, echoes that sentiment, noting that students quickly began to feel the same anxiety after last Tuesday. "Some of them feel like a Trump administration will deport their family members or people they know," Lenear told me. "And a lot of them say the overall social climate is more violently charged. They think we're headed for conflict in the streets."
Those fears are not unwarranted, as allegations of hate crimes and intimidation have spiked since the election.
Not that Democrats have been particularly good for people of color—they haven't. Hillary Clinton had a sullied history that rightfully prevented many from supporting her. Perhaps the party's defeat will force it began to take seriously my assertion, and the belief of many others, that its leaders take African American support for granted—and should began to truly address concerns relevant to us and other people of color. Pandering for votes come election time, only to disappear until the next one, will no longer cut it.
For now, it seems like things have to get worse before they get any better. Time will tell whether or not the Trump administration is as damaging as many fear it will be. Either way, I'm prepared—we've been here before. It's just disheartening that, in 2016, we find ourselves here again.
Paris is a hip-hop artist and activist from the Bay Area. He's owned several businesses that never went bankrupt. Follow him on Twitter.
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