It is my belief that for black Americans, and other people of color in America, dealing with racism is unavoidable. It is built into the economic structure. It is sewn into the social fabric by negative stereotypes of people of color.
However, the optimist in me hopes the nation is gradually growing more aware of its biases – more cognizant of history and social privilege.
Hence, the era of Trump has been an outright depressing era. It is a period of constant reflection over how the country could have elected a leader who displays his biases shamelessly.
But a headline I saw in the news recently offered me hope.
Or it at least stopped me short – long enough to reflect on its significance. An ABC news poll released in January concluded that (for the first time) a small majority, or 52 percent, of all Americans have come to the conclusion that President Donald Trump “ held racist views.”
Prior polls recorded less extreme numbers. The shift may be related to the latest Trump verbal gaff (which isn’t really a gaff given that he habitually uses racist language) in which he disdained the idea of accepting immigrants from what he deemed as “shithole” countries, such as Haiti, while promoting the idea of more immigrants from Norway.
Trump — before his presidency began — called Mexican immigrants a group of “rapists.” He has sided with violent Neo-Nazi extremists in Charlottesville and praised Confederate monuments, without simultaneously decrying the evils of slavery. He has tweeted that Puerto Rican victims of Hurricane Maria “want everything done for them.”
Trump’s put downs reflect his overall worldview. It’s a worldview in which people of color are less than. It’s a worldview in which whites must be protected from black and brown people who are their fellow Americans.
He has shown a distinct bias towards quickly holding people of color up for shame. Whites on the other hand– even when they belong to KKK groups at Charlottesville – aren’t necessarily racist in Trump’s world view.
Trump’s most recent gaff occurred during a discussion of immigration issues. A fellow Republican at the meeting, SC Congressman Lindsey Graham, reportedly told Trump that diversity in America is a strength, not a weakness.
It’s ironic Trump would like more immigration from countries like Norway when nations such as Norway provide their citizens with healthcare, a living wage and numerous other social benefits. Why would they want to come here?
Trump himself doesn’t support enhanced social benefits for American citizens. His statement can’t even generously be understood to mean that Norwegians make better immigrants because they enjoy better social services – they’re just “better.” The logic is consistent with his other racist views. They’re better because they’re white.
The percentage of African Americans who feel that Trump is a racist has consistently been a whopping majority. Now 52 percent of Americans (finally) see clearly.
Statisticians say the shift occurred among white Democratic voters. I suppose that all things considered this is a good sign – if sadly belated. It suggests that more white Americans have conceded a realization that has been all too real to black and brown Americans. They have begun to appreciate the impact this presidency is having on people of color, immigrants, the very poor and LGTQB people.
I still wonder how far their empathy will go.
I wonder if more Americans will ask themselves how hard it must be for black and brown parents to raise children.
What do you tell a young person about this president, who sits in an office that is supposed to be an exemplar of the values of democracy? Can they imagine the awkwardness of having to explain that the President of the United States should be, but by many standards simply isn’t, a good man?
If a 16-year-old remarked at the dinner table that Haiti was a “shithole,” he should rightfully be reprimanded. He might be sent from the table. He should definitely be told to apologize. He should be instructed to read books to educate himself on the effects of poverty, hunger, and deprivation in underprivileged places.
Yet the words of the President of the United States indicate that he behaves like a juvenile bigot.
I do wonder this about the white Americans who have recently changed their minds about the president: What took so long? They have lingered too long in a state of denial, both about the president, and the deep legacy of racism.
I hope they can take another lesson.
It’s a lesson on how to live with racism, in time like these. Just as Black Americans, and other people of color do, they must confront it.