Trump’s Racist Campaign is Stressing Out People of Color
A few weeks ago, I noticed a dark cloud of anxiety hanging over me for no apparent reason. For days, I tried in vain to discover the source of the uneasiness. One day, I looked up just as the news aired yet another story about Donald Trump. At that moment, it hit me: Listening to Trump hurl one racial insult after another for the past year had taken a toll on my psyche.
Granted, with all of its plot twists and the general nastiness, the 2016 election has been more stressful than usual for all voters. However, the election is particularly stressful for people of color because racial insults have been a critical part of Trump’s campaign.
The psychological term for the racial indignities that people of color experience every day is microaggressions. According to the leading study on the topic by Dr. Derald Wing Sue, “Racial microaggressions are brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults towards people of color.”
One might think that only overt racism — such as a direct verbal insult or physical attack — would cause trauma, but this is not the case. In fact, per Dr. Sue, “Although microgressions may be seemingly innocuous and insignificant . . . this contemporary form of racism is many times over more problematic, damaging, and injurious to people of color than overt racist acts.” When faced with a microagression, people of color may feel anger, stress, self-doubt, frustration, or isolation. Also, over time, microaggressions can accumulate, “sapping the psychic and spiritual energy of recipients.”
Trump’s campaign is a perfect case study in racial aggression as his entire campaign has basically been one continuous insult to voters of color.
Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” clearly has racist undertones. Trump started his campaign by declaring that undocumented Mexican immigrants were drug dealers and rapists. He has also stated repeatedly that he wants to halt the immigration of Muslims into the country. He tweeted a graphic that falsely claimed that 81% of whites are killed by African Americans. He refused to immediately reject an endorsement from the KKK leader David Duke. He argued that a judge could not give him a fair hearing because of his Mexican heritage. He repeatedly mocks Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Native heritage by calling her “Pocahontas.” Trump is basically the most racially insensitive candidate in recent memory.
Even though Trump’s words have done more than enough to create racial anxiety, his comments are not the most stressful part of this campaign.
The first major stressor is the inability to escape Trump. Thanks to the twenty-four hour news cycle, Trump’s racist comments are constantly televised. If you turn the channel, you’ll see his insulting ads. (Don’t turn on the radio, because there are ads there, too.) Even if you decide to unplug by running errands, every Trump bumper sticker and every “Make America Great Again” hat sends a clear message people of color — “I’m with the guy who thinks you don’t matter.” The constant reminders of Trump in so many settings make what might otherwise be a minor annoyance into a potentially stressful situation.
The second major stressor is knowing that as wildly racist as Trump is, he could still win. A Trump victory is not likely, but it is possible. As long as a Trump presidency is possible, people of color will be anxious because a Trump presidency would jeopardize decades of racial progress. Moreover, Trump’s success is a reminder that there are millions of Americans who would be thrilled to see people of color dumped on the other side of a wall or once again — metaphorically or literally — shoved to the back of the bus. Knowing that there are so many whites — friends, co-workers, bosses, acquaintances — who either eagerly anticipate or do not care about the reversal of fifty years of racial progress is distressing to say the least.
The final and most unpleasant stressor is the threat of violence that Trump represents. There is a great fear among people of color that Trump’s microaggressions could inspire his followers to engage in actual physical aggression. From the beginning, Trump rallies have been characterized by violence, much of it directed at people of color. Already, Latino men have been attacked and Black churches have been burned in Trump’s name. White supremacists are promising to start a race war if Trump loses. A former congressman has tweeted that he has his musket ready should Secretary Clinton prevail.
So, in this election, people of color are in a uniquely uncomfortable position. If our preferred candidate loses, we will be subjected to a type of racial ugliness not seen in this country for generations. But, if she wins, there could be violent retaliation against us for “rigging” the election.
It’s hard to remain perfectly calm in the face of such a dark reality.
Let me be clear: After surviving slavery, genocide, the Trail of Tears, internment camps, lynchings, segregation, discrimination and other attacks on our rights and dignity, people of color are not fragile flowers. We are made of very strong stuff. We’ve survived Trump’s campaign and, if necessary, I am certain that we will survive a Trump presidency. But I am equally certain that it would be far better for our mental and physical health if we can avoid that reality.