The Lingering, Personal Effects Of Trump's Racism If You're Not White
A while ago, I wrote about the things people of colour hear in Australia.
But it could have been written for America or the UK -- any place where people of colour are minorities. I started it with a story of an old white man in a bar basically telling me I didn’t belong in his white upper middle class suburb because I was brown.
And as it happens, I’ve got stories like that from growing up in America too! Being called the n-word, being chased around the neighbourhood by white boys shouting “Taco Bell!”… so many cherished memories.
Most people of colour have had these kinds of experiences to different degrees of intensity. It’s not new or even particularly interesting. It’s what happens. And the underlying message is that we don’t belong.
That’s the message Donald Trump delivered when he told four Congresswomen -- Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna S. Pressley -- to go back to the countries they came from.
He doubled down on that message and, for the first time in over 100 years, the US House of representatives voted to condemn the words of the President of the United States. They determined that his recent tweets were “racist comments that have legitimized increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.”
It was a stirring and seemingly heartfelt rebuke... that fell almost completely along party lines. Only four Republicans voted for it. To them, party loyalty mattered more than making it known that in America, a nation built on immigration, that kind of rhetoric is not acceptable -- especially when coming from the president.
So half the country -- technically 42 percent of eligible voters; that's roughly where Trump's approval rating is -- sent the message that it's okay for people to say things like "Go back to where you came from". And it's especially okay for the president to say it.
Then Trump doubled WAY down, inspiring "Send her back!" chants at a rally in North Carolina.
There are lots of reasons we're told to dismiss this new low in American discourse, this dark episode of iniquity...
1. Trump didn’t mention race anywhere in those tweets. He’s not racist. That’s not racist. You're racist. And you're lying.
It’s amazing that people still hold on to this perspective. Yes, he didn’t literally say, “I believe the white race is superior to all others” (at least not in public... yet). But it’s not the 30s anymore. Culture has evolved and so has racism. And we’re at the point where invoking a classic bit –- one of the racist greatest hits, really -- like “Go back to where you came from” is horrific, whether three out of the four women were born in the US or not.
Unless you're this maniac:
2. They’re just more racist ravings from an unhinged conman.
Trump insists he doesn't have "a racist bone in his body" (whatever that means), but he has also insisted the first black president couldn’t have been born in the US and investigated his birth certificate.
He reportedly called non-white countries “shitholes”. (He denied it, but no one believed him.)
He targeted black football players protesting police violence as “sons of bitches” and suggested they leave the country.
He said an American judge with Mexican heritage couldn’t be impartial because of his ethnic background. ("He's a Mexican. We're building a wall between here and Mexico.")
He suggested Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists.
He didn't rent to black people and got sued for discrimination in the 70s.
This is just a drop in the racism bucket for this guy. It's not surprising or shocking.
3. It's brilliant political strategy. He’s pitting the country against the far left, trying to distract us from the REAL damage he’s doing to the country with a radical white nationalist agenda. Stay focussed on 2020.
You're not supposed to let Trump's crazy tweets get to you. Forget censure. Forget impeachment. Don't take the bait -- it's what he wants. You're supposed to keep your eyes on the 2020 election prize and do whatever is necessary to make sure he's voted out of office.
But even as his racist taunts become less surprising, they become harder to shake. When he was running in 2015 and 2016, they seemed like the brain hemorrhages of an unelectable sociopath -- even Republicans were calling him out, deriding his blatant racism.
But now that the party has fallen in line behind him, Trump's racism has become implicitly institutionalised in party messaging and in policies that produce kids in cages and the Muslim ban.
It's a part of America -- a black mark on the government of a country that has decided I don't belong. And it's deeply disturbing.
So, yes, I’m still surprised that the President of the United States –- an office Americans are taught from a young age to revere -- talks and thinks this way in 2019.
And I’m shocked that such a large portion of the country’s representatives are fine with it –- they might even prefer it. And if they don't, they’re too scared of Trump to say anything about it (until they retire and suddenly find some courage).
And I’m very unsettled that 30 to 40 percent of eligible American voters are likely to vote for him again in 2020.
I guess I’m a snowflake, but it is overwhelming to hear what so many of my fellow Americans think of me and my family and people of colour in general. They cheer for this. They want the culture war. They love that they can now say all the racist "non-PC" stuff they’ve been thinking all this time. That Trump made it okay.
"No matter what the president says,” Ocasio-Cortez said, speaking to the children of America. “This country belongs to you. And it belongs to everyone.”
This is haunting, terrifying to think that this is how we must now speak to our children about What The President Said.
And it’s not just Americans who should be haunted. Everyone should be. This is the so-called "leader of the free world”.
I once asked a couple of Australian colleagues with a passion for American culture if they, in fact, felt American. One colleague said they wouldn’t put it in those words exactly and the other colleague said “yes” immediately.
When the American president, who is meant to represent the country's ideals, embraces bigotry and seeks to divide people along racial lines, the world needs to reject him. The world that still consumes Friends reruns, that obsessively uses Silicon Valley social media products and that eagerly laps up the latest superhero movie –- this world needs to step up and say this isn’t the America we signed up for.
Because this is just the beginning. Even when Trump leaves office, the man will be gone, but not the damage to the country and the party that enabled it.
And some actual leader will have a serious job to do -- inspiring people, healing divides, working congenially with allies (not just the countries led by authoritarians), not purposefully, hatefully alienating huge portions of the global population, not making brown people feel like they don't belong, not aggressively making a complete joke of the country.
All those things we used to take for granted.
Featured Image: Getty