When a dog whistle becomes a siren
Trump’s racism isn’t new. It’s the White House response that’s cause for alarm.
Yesterday I read about U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest racist tirade, in which he referred to Haiti, El Salvador, and countries in Africa as “shitholes”, and asked why we can’t have immigrants from Norway instead. That Trump would harbor these views, and state them out loud in a closed meeting, is nothing new or surprising. It’s pretty safe to say that the overwhelming majority of black folks who have been paying attention have known that Trump is an unrepentant racist for quite some time.
What was different about this occasion was that the official White House statement that soon followed not only did not deny Trump’s choice of words, but backed them up, stating that Trump “will always fight for the American people” by “welcoming those who can contribute to our society, grow our economy and assimilate into our great nation.” The clear message was that white immigrants are more capable of contributing to this country than black ones. This was not a “dog-whistle”, coded message to Trump’s base; this was a loud, unmistakable declaration of solidarity with white supremacists. Whenever I hear a White House spokesperson referring to “the American people”, I know they aren’t talking about black folks.
I state “black folks” here specifically rather than “people of color”, because I’ve seen a tendency for some to use non-black people of color as a defense against being called out as racist. The spokesperson delivering this statement was Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah, whose name I had to look up as I can’t keep track of the revolving-door staff of the Trump White House. Not to be confused with Obama administration official Rajiv Shah, Raj Shah took Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ place last September, after she took over Sean Spicer’s position as Press Secretary.
In any case, Shah is an Indian American. I know nothing about his personality other than the fact that he willingly accepted a job working as a spokesperson for Donald Trump. This makes him complicit in supporting and promoting Trump’s racism, which is primarily directed at black and Latinx people — though of course anyone who looks like they might possibly be Muslim is also a potential target for Trump and his supporters.
Every member of Trump’s staff, and every person who voted for him, regardless of the reason, is also complicit in his racism. I like to say “judge the actions, not the person”, but when a person demonstrates certain qualities or tendencies repeatedly, throughout their lifetime, it is fair and reasonable to label them accordingly. Trump doesn’t just say racist things occasionally; he is an unrepentant, shining example of white supremacy.
Being a racist, however, is not an impeachable offense. It is not, by itself, evidence of incompetence or stupidity. Plenty of well-read, educated people — who don’t feel the need to tweet about how “like, really smart” they are— harbor the same views as Trump, and are happy to have a representative who wants to go back to the good old days, before uppity blacks and dirty Mexicans stained their great white nation. Of course, if they actually understood history, Trump’s supporters would see that this country, stolen from indigenous people of color to begin with, would be nothing without the labor (enslaved or woefully underpaid) of brown folks.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the United States was founded by and for the benefit of straight white cisgender Christian men. White supremacy is baked into our fabric. Electing Barack Obama didn’t change that; the cover photo for this story is of a protest against racist police violence that occurred during the Obama administration, in the heavily Democratic city of San Francisco.
Electing Oprah Winfrey wouldn’t abolish white supremacy either, though I’m annoyed at certain progressives saying that she shouldn’t run; that’s entirely her decision. Of course, being a billionaire buys her the privilege of press coverage that most black progressives (like Cynthia McKinney, who was the Green Party presidential candidate in 2008) could never afford. But if Oprah does run for president, no one, regardless of race or gender, is obligated to vote for her.
I’m more and more convinced that the only solution is revolution. But I refuse to take up arms or otherwise support acts of violence. I don’t have the answers here, and I’m skeptical of those who claim they do, having been disappointed by many people I considered heroes. I just feel that reforming our government within the capitalist two-party system currently in place is impossible.
This morning on Twitter, Trump denied he used “shithole” language to describe Haiti, but I don’t believe him. Even if he didn’t have a long history of lying, the several tweets he sent yesterday after the news broke made no such denial or apology. Like his obviously forced second response after condoning blatant and fatally violent white supremacy in Charlottesville, someone must have convinced him to cover up for his racist outburst.
It’s disgusting to watch the spectacle of Trump signing a declaration to honor Martin Luther King Jr. — whose radical legacy has been whitewashed in an attempt to keep uppity black folks from overthrowing the system— on this weekend honoring his birth. But that’s just par for the course in White America. They’re just not even trying to hide it anymore.