The Election Made me Empathize with Racists (For a Moment)
And then I realized that while racism is hate, not all hate is race-based.
I stayed up late to watch election results. My mood worsened with every progressing minute. And when President-elect Trump walked on stage to celebrate his victory something strange happened to me. I felt knots in my stomach and tension in my shoulders. I couldn’t stop my foot from tapping. My jaw was locked and I think my eyes even began to water. The word President preceding the name of Trump really set me off. It took me a minute to realize the strong emotion I felt: loathing, abhorrence, repugnance — I actually felt hate towards the idea of Trump as our President.
Horrible thoughts flooded my mind. I thought, Trump is a stammering, ignorant clown. What a deceiving, dangerous prick. A distrustful businessman and a complete, I mean ‘bigly’, unqualified joke. His family even contrasts what has been held up as the ideal American family.
And I asked, Can we fight this? Can we look into his background more and come up with a way to delegitimize his Presidency? If not, I thought, He is #NotMyPresident. I won’t dare address him as President. I mean, he will certainly run this nation into the ground.
I am not alone in my distaste. Thousands of people in cities across America have taken to the streets in anti-Trump protests.
And then it hit me. The visceral reaction I, and others, have had towards Trump securing the presidential nomination are probably the exact same reactions that many Barack Obama-haters felt when he was elected in 2008.
Those people truly hated Obama. They called him a clown, a minstrel. They thought he was deceitful and evil; they likened him to the anti-Christ. They called his wide nose and dark lips ugly. They claimed his brief time in congress wasn’t enough to qualify him for the job. They targeted his family for being unfit for the White House. They used his parents’ broken union to discredit his background. They created the birther movement and tried for years to delegitimize his Presidency. They called his Presidency the worst thing to happen to the United States. They didn’t address him as President; he was just Obama.
So at that moment, as I sat in my living room glued to Trump on the TV screen, I knew what those folks felt. For a moment, I empathized with racists.
But it was just for a fleeting moment. Although I empathized with the Obama-haters because I experienced the same feelings, thoughts, and attitudes they did post-election, I realized the root of our reactions were vastly different. My hatred for Trump is not because he is a white man (for instance, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, I believed that a white man was very qualified to be our next President). No, the anti-Trump collective are not judging Trump because of his race, we are judging him because of the content of his character.
This is in contrast with the race-based hate that was at the very core of many Obama critics. When we dissect the claims thrown against Obama (as I do below) they fall short and we are left with racism as an explanation. That is not just hatred. That is racism.
- They said Obama was ugly. Yet, Obama himself is often considered one of our most handsome presidents. Racism explains this by setting European beauty as the standard and devaluing wide-set noses and big lips.
- They said Obama was a foreign criminal. Yet, the birther movement still didn’t end even after Obama produced his birth certificate. Racism explains this by affording privilege to white immigrants and considering black and brown folks as automatic outsiders and threats.
- They said the Obamas were unfit for the White House and that Michelle was a disgrace. Yet, the Obamas will leave office without having a sex scandal. Michelle exudes grace and aptitude as an Ivy-league graduate, fashion icon, and an important advocate for health and wellness. Racism explains this when people buy into the stereotype that black women are too loud, too angry, and too un-ladylike, and believe that black families are dysfunctional.
- They said Obama was unqualified to be President. Yet, his intelligence, community organizing background, and experience in the Illinois and U.S. Senate more than qualified him for the job. Audit studies on racial discrimination have shown that similarly qualified or even criminal white men are more likely to get a job than a black man without a criminal record.
In contrast to the underlying racism that Obama-haters concealed, our collective loathing towards Trump is not race-based. It is based on true facts about him, things that he has said, and his involvement in many scandals.
- Our hatred for Trump stems in part because of his racism. He is the one who said the blacks have nothing. He is also spouts xenophobic views, such as insinuating that Mexicans are rapists and a bunch of bad men. And we cannot forget his rampant Islamaphobia.
- Trump has proven to be a misogynist by spewing crude, demeaning and violent views towards women. He also considers mothers an inconvenience to businesses, and even faces charges of sexual assault.
- Trump does often stammer and studies of his speeches confirm that he relies on bravado more than eloquence.
- The Trumps contradict the previously set expectations of a First Family by being only the second divorced president and the first to have had multiple marriages. His wife is accused of plagiarism and might have worked illegally in the U.S.
- Trump sets the precedent for being the most unqualified; he has never held any form of political office or served in the military — a first for a U.S. President.
So while all racism is hate, not all hate is race-based. I empathized with racists for a moment, and then I went back to hating the idea of having an unqualified, unappealing, racist, sexist, man as President-elect.