This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. And it is making me even more reflective of what it means to be black at this moment in this country.
It is unavoidable in America when you are black or brown that you have to deal with racism. It’s built into the economic structure. It’s sewn into the social fabric by the stereotypes that surround minority members daily.
The partial optimist in me – like King – still hopes the nation is gradually becoming more aware of its biases – more cognizant of history and social privilege.
But frankly, the era of Trump has been outright depressing. It’s been a bleak period of constant reflection over how the country could have elected a leader who displays his biases shamelessly.
I ran across a headline that stopped me short recently. 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 have been related to yet another Trump verbal gaff (which isn’t really a gaff given that he habitually uses racist language).
Trump — before his presidency began — called Mexican immigrants “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 minorities are less than. It’s a worldview in which whites must be protected from “the others” who are their fellow black and brown Americans. It’s a white supremacist world view.
He has shown a distinct bias towards quickly holding minorities up for shame and approbation. To Trump, it seems that whites on the other hand– even when they belong to KKK groups at Charlottesville – aren’t necessarily racist.
Trump’s most recent gaff occurred during a discussion of immigration issues a few weeks back. Trump disdained the idea of accepting immigrants from “shithole” countries, such as Haiti, while he applauded the idea of more immigrants from Norway.
A fellow Republican at the meeting, SC representative Lindsey Graham, reportedly told Trump that diversity in America is a strength, not a weakness.
Trump furthermore doesn’t factor into his equation that nations such as Norway provide their citizens with healthcare, a living wage and numerous other social benefits. 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 shifts 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. They have begun to appreciate the impact this presidency is having on minorities, and the very poor.
I still wonder how far their empathy will go.
I wonder if more Americans will ask themselves how hard it must be for minority parent to raise children. What do you tell a young person about the President who 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 good man?
If a sixteen year old remarked at the dinner table that Haiti and Haitians were “shitholes,” he should rightfully be reprimanded. He might be sent away 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 President of the United States behaves like a very, very, very ill-mannered delinquent, a juvenile bigot, and he behaves with impunity.
I finally must wonder this about the white Americans who have recently changed their minds about the president _ – frankly, I wonder what took them 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 times like these. Just as Black Americans, and minority Americans do, they must confront it.