On Pride and Prejudice (No, Not That Pride and Prejudice)
Someone linked a “gotcha” article on Facebook today, reveling in the fact that Donald Trump has a women, a gay man, and a black man involved in his campaign/presidency and that this is going to make progressives lose their minds because it’s proof that Trump isn’t sexist, racist, and homophobic.
Why does this come across as evidence of that particular conclusion? I think it’s because when we first learn about these ideas in school, it’s always in the same context — Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights movement, etc. Our nine-year-old selves ask the teacher — “But why didn’t they let her sit there on that bus?” and the teacher answers in a manner totally appropriate to a nine-year-old: “Because they didn’t like black people — they were racist” or “They thought black people were worse than white people — they were racist” or some approximation of that idea.
That’s a perfectly fine way to start thinking about this idea when you’re a small child. The problem is, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice do not simply flow from this deep-seated hatred of a particular kind of people. That is certainly also racism, but it is not the only, single, and definitive definition of racism. It’s a starter-version. It gets you into the idea. It’s like a kid’s chemistry set. They get a basic introduction to the idea of chemistry and it’s even an important starting place. But if an adult came to you and say they wanted to talk about chemistry, and then they got out a chemistry set for a 10 year old, you’d be pretty skeptical. I think the way most people think about racism (and sexism, etc.) is the same way they thought about it when they were 9 or 10 years old. I consider this a failure in our educational system, but whatever the reason, we need to put this to rest.
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
(Corinthians 1, chapter 13, verse 11, no duh).
So let’s put on our big-girl and big-boy pants and talk about this like adults.
I want to start with a premise that I hope is conciliatory: Donald Trump does not believe, in his heart of hearts, that any group of people is inherently worse than any other group.
Is is true? I don’t know. I don’t know his heart or his mind. But let’s take it as our premise anyway, because I think it’s a fair place to start.
If that’s true can he still be racist? Let’s talk it through.
For the sake of making this easier to read, I will use the word “racism” throughout when talking in general racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and so forth. Otherwise, I will use specific terms where appropriate.
Racism exists when we promote those forces in society — personal or institutional — which contribute to a unequal or hostile environment for people of a particular race, particularly because they are a member of that race. Racism exists even when we do these things unintentionally.
When Donald Trump says he wants to build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it, he is at the very least creating an atmosphere of hostility for Mexicans in the United States. If they are here legally, they are just as likely to bear the brunt of that hostility as if they are here without documentation. And it isn’t just Mexicans who are going to face that — it’s any one people are likely to perceive as “looking Mexican” regardless of their nationality. When he does this, he is being racist.
When Donald Trump admits to sexual assault and says “grab ’em by the pussy”, even in a private conversation, even if we grant that really wasn’t admission of sexual assault and was just a particularly aggressive version of “locker-room talk”, he is creating a world in which it is easier to do those things. When those words are broadcast all over the news for a week and his campaign manager seeks to normalize them by calling them “locker-room talk”, she is normalizing sexual assault. She is making it harder for women to come forward when they are assaulted. She is promoting, whether or not she means to, a world where men can treat women like objects without repercussion. Both Trump and Conway were being sexist (and surely misogynistic).
When Donald Trump mocks a disabled reporter and the people at the rally laugh, he is dehumanizing disabled people. He is making is easy to dismiss them because of their disability.
When Donald Trump gets an endorsement from the KKK, and does not immediately denounce them in the harshest and most unequivocal of ways, he is legitimizing them as an organization and their ideology. Perhaps its merely politics. Perhaps Trump hates the KKK and wishes they would disappear off the face of the Earth. But his (lack of) action matters. It is not just about belief. It is not just about personal feeling.
When Donald Trump says he is going to target specifically Muslims for an immigration ban he is telling the rest of the country that no Muslim can be trusted.
When Donald Trump chooses Mike Pence as his running mate, a man who is on record as believing in “conversation therapy” for gay people and going as far as to try to divert funds from HIV prevention to that very destructive and heinous practice, he is pushing back against the tide of progress for which gay people and their allies have fought desperately. When he picks a man who publicly called for an amendment to the constitution that would make gay marriage illegal and opposed repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he is attacking gay people and their right to be equal citizens of the United States.
And that is to say nothing of the way Trump’s actual proposed policies will disproportionately hurt those groups in a very real, very material way.
These actions are racist, they are sexist, and they are homophobic. And remember, I started with the premise that Donald Trump does not internally think less of these people in any kind of fundamental way. After the previous statements, I’m willing to hold on to that premise. And yet, he is racist, he is sexist, and he is homophobic anyway.
The final piece of the puzzle: none of this is breathed into a vacuum. Our society has not completely shed its past. We have not transcended racism and sexism, as I think is trivially obvious. Many of our institutions are still implicitly biased towards white people, and often times straight, white men. The degree to which we have made progress, and the progress has been in many cases truly impressive and extraordinary, should not blind us to the fact that such problems run deep and that it is incredibly easy to further entrench them even when we don’t mean to.
When those of us on the left seem to be in a panic about Donald Trump it is because he has spent the last 15 months promoting policies, words, and an agenda that tells us he is going to create a world that is going to be a disaster for all of those people. That’s why it comes as no surprise to us when we see the nightmare that was Day 1 in Trump’s America.
Donald Trump ran his campaign on appealing to the white working class, and while he did appeal to their legitimately troublesome economic situation at times, he also appealed to their whiteness and desire for social dominance, in no small part by showing them his willingness to prioritize their interests over everyone else’s. It doesn’t matter that Kellyanne Conway is a woman or that Ben Carson is black. Equality is not measured in cabinet positions or board members or CEOs. It is something more than that.
The thing is, all of us can reinforce discriminatory systems and embolden truly terrible, violent people even when we don’t mean to. I can. You can. The degree to which we fight against prevailing forces of racism in ourselves and in our society is the degree to which we can be proud of ourselves. It simply is not sufficient to believe people are equal. That is an important baseline, but by itself it means very little. The evidence is unavoidable that Donald Trump already has made life much worse for vulnerable people by emboldening some of the worst in our society. His policies would only hurt people more. It is my sincere worry that Donald Trump, regardless of his motives, has and will continue to make this country far more hostile to people who are already vulnerable in our society. No amount of minorities in cabinet positions undo that harm.
If we want to get this right, we have to stop thinking about this problem the way we thought of it as children. We have to commit ourselves to introspection. We have to recognize when we contribute to those forces which hurt the vulnerable and try our best to change and we have to fight against those who would help one group only at the expense of another. To this point, Donald Trump has been a disaster. Donald Trump has earned our scorn and our panic at his election because we’ve seen this all before and know where it goes.
So is Donald Trump racist? Yes. I’m afraid to say he is. It’s time to put away childish things. It’s time to oppose the racism he stands for.
This article was originally posted on www.tenminutehistory.com