On Racism and Bigotry: Put Up Or Shut Up
“In a democracy, the majority of the citizens is capable of exercising the most cruel oppressions upon the minority.”- Edmund Burke
There is much consternation going on right now with many Trump supporters because they are upset at being labeled, “racists” and “bigots.” I’ve read a few dozen, “I supported Trump and I am not a racist/bigot” posts from friends and family. Every single one of them misses the larger, more important point about why so many people are upset and concerned right now. Are all these people, even my friends and family, racists and bigots? Maybe. Perhaps, to some level. I would hope not, but I don’t know what is in their heart-of-hearts. I don’t know what their motivations or intentions were for supporting Trump. All I have to go on is what they do say, what they don’t say, who they stand with, and who they don’t stand with. In a lot of cases, their reassurances they aren’t a racist/bigot, are not all that reassuring.
Telling me you’ve done a lot of soul-searching and you’ve come to the conclusion you aren’t a racist/bigot, isn’t very reassuring. If you ask the most ardent racist in a Klan meeting if they are racist, they’ll say, “No.” They’ll say, “No,” and honestly believe it. Being a racist is a bad thing. It is something that just about every single person in society things is wrong. Yet, it exists quite a bit at varying levels in society. How is this possible? People don’t believe they are racists/bigots, even when they are because people don’t view themselves as being bad people. Pretty much everyone thinks and wants to believe they are good. Since there are a lot of racist/bigoted behaviors going on, even more now that Trump’s been elected, there is a serious disconnect between what people believe about themselves and what is really the case. This is why someone’s self-analysis about whether they are/aren’t a racist/bigot is not very reliable or reassuring.
Telling me that the real racists/bigots are not that prevalent in society because the number of Klan, white supremacist, white nationalist..groups are not that many, doesn’t address the issue of whether or not an individual is racist/bigoted. You can really like Taylor Swift, know all her songs by heart, buy all her albums, go to her concerts…and not be a member of her fan club. Being a member of the Klan makes someone a racist/bigot. However, just because someone isn’t a member of the Klan doesn’t make them not a racist/bigot. To put it in logic parlance: All Klan members are racist/bigots but not all racist/bigots are Klan members. Granny might not be a member of the Klan or be a subscriber to Stormfront, but if she gets upset because “the blacks moved in down the street” or because “a couple of lesbians bought the house next door,” she is a racist/bigot. Racism and bigotry aren’t about what group you belong to. Racism and bigotry are about what you believe, what you say, what you do towards people who are not like you. Trying to make racism and bigotry not that widespread because the number of groups that openly, actively profess it is not that many completely misrepresents the issue and problem. If the only opposition to blacks was from white supremacist groups, there wouldn’t be voter suppression in predominantly black voting districts. There wouldn’t have been redlining. There wouldn’t have been Jim Crow. These things existed/exist because of both broad acceptance and tacit approval from a lot of people who don’t belong to extremist groups. During Hitler’s reign of power in Germany, only 850,000 out of 66 million Germans were members of the Nazi Party. A little more than 1% of Germans were Nazis, but when we talk about Germans during WWII, you don’t say, “They aren’t anti-Semitic. Only a small portion of the country are Nazis.” The reason we don’t say this is because the problem wasn’t so much the horrible beliefs of the 1%, it was the tacit approval, agreement, and support of a lot of the other 99%. I have a problem with white supremacist groups, but I have a bigger problem with people who agree with a lot of what they believe. Just because you don’t agree with the methods of the Klan and aren’t a member doesn’t mean you don’t agree with some of their beliefs. Beliefs that are rooted in racism and bigotry.
Okay, let’s say, for argument sake, you aren’t a member of a white supremacist group and tell me you don’t subscribe to any of their beliefs. Great. So far so good. Now, what if you both support and vote for the same candidate? What am I suppose to think now? Does supporting the same person as the Klan (or any other white supremacist group) mean you believe what they do? Perhaps. At worst it means you and the Klan are simpatico. At best it means some of your beliefs, your motivations, your attitudes and the Klan’s overlap. If this doesn’t give you pause and lead to some serious soul-searching, it should. From an outside perspective, if you support the same person the Klan does, I know your views overlap. I just don’t know how much. Telling me you aren’t a racist/bigot when you and the Klan’s views overlap is not very reassuring. Am I supposed to believe the Klan’s “economic anxieties” are rooted in rational arguments and data and your overlap with them on this issue is somehow separate from their racist views? I can’t because it isn’t. Their “economic fears” are rooted in, steeped in racist attitudes and beliefs. Their economic plight isn’t because they are mostly undereducated white men but because blacks/immigrants have taken their jobs and because the government is spending their hard-earned, white tax dollars on minorities. Supporting the same person as the Klan might not mean you support the Klan but it sure as hell means you aren’t standing up against them. At the very least you are giving them your tacit approval.
Don’t try and “both sides” this with me either. There are no examples you can give where hate-filled, fear-mongering, racist, bigoted groups on the left exist to any level as those on the right nor have progressives stood in support of candidates they do.
“I voted for Donald Trump because of his economic policies, not because of his views towards Mexicans, women, Muslims, immigrants…” This would be a good argument if his views towards these groups were not inherently linked to his economic policies. You can’t campaign on a nationalist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant platform blaming others for the economic plight of white working class America and neatly and cleanly separate the economic parts from the racist/bigot parts. It cannot be done. When you buy the one, you buy the other and no amount of telling me, “But I don’t agree with his views towards the groups he’s denigrated,” somehow magically makes the inherent link disappear. All this tells me is you either don’t see the link or you are willing to overlook it. I’m not a big fan of ignorance, especially with regards to racism/bigotry and I’m even less of a fan of people who can look it right in the face and say, “Meh.” If you want to have a discussion about a specific policy, I will gladly have that discussion. It the policy is tied to racism and bigotry, you cannot pretend it doesn’t exist or talk about the policy sans the racism and bigotry because then you are not dealing with reality.
What I’ve seen recently from my Trump supporting friends and family is more an effort trying to convince others they are not racists/bigots and very little time recognizing why some people might think they are and even less time worrying about and standing up against the words and actions of Trump, his surrogates, and other supporters. Whether or not you personally are a racist/bigot on some level isn’t really worth my time to suss out. Again, I can’t get into your mind and see what lies in its darker corners. What I can do. What I will do is look to see who stand up against racism and bigotry, who sits idly by, and who gives cover for it. Actions are the only things by which I can judge whether or not you are a racist/bigot. This doesn’t just go for Trump supporters, this goes to a lot of people I know on the left who opted out of the election for one ridiculous reason or another. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care what your political affiliation, I don’t care what your religious affiliation if you don’t stand up against racism/bigotry, you are on the side of the racists/bigots. I know this might sound harsh and too cut-and-dried a position to take but it has to be done. The single greatest failure in American history was giving wiggle room and moral cover for the Confederacy after the Civil War. Instead of eradicating the beliefs and attitudes behind slavery and sedition, America allowed the South to retain their culture and honor. We allowed them to push the idea the War was about “states rights” not about racism. We allowed them to cloak their racist/seditious views behind “cultural heritage.” We allowed them to still display the flag that represented their racism and treason. We let them pretend that Confederate soldiers were good, honorable, Christians. The result of not having a cut-and-dried approach to these treasonous racists was seventy years of Jim Crow. Because white Northern America didn’t want to hurt the feelings of white Southern America, millions of blacks suffered and died. From an ethical point-of-view, I cannot think of a single action outside the Civil War itself that led to more pain and suffering caused by immoral beliefs than the failure of Reconstruction. This is why there is no leeway when it comes to racism and bigotry. This is why I hold people accountable not just for their actions but their inactions. When you don’t stand up against racism/bigotry, you are lending support.
How does all this apply to the election of Donald Trump? On the right, a lot of people willingly voted for or willfully ignored the racism and bigotry not only from his campaign speeches and policies but personal choices of who he would align himself with. If Trump’s campaign speeches and policies were not enough of a red flag, his actions spoke louder than his words. When it comes to anti-LGBT bigotry, it is hard to find a politician more so than Trump’s selection to be his VP, Mike Pence. When it came time to get a new campaign manager, he could have selected any of a dozen, highly qualified, highly regarded individuals. Instead, he chose the CEO of the most popular, anti-Semitic, conspiracy websites, Steve Bannon from Breitbart. Once elected, Trump could have easily distanced himself from Bannon and his white nationalism. Instead, he tapped him to be Chief Strategy Officer in his administration. These are just some of the people who Trump has surrounded himself with. You can talk about this specific policy or that specific policy all you want, but the people close to Trump are deeply bigoted and racist. Then there’s the support of groups like Stormfront, the KKK, Alex Jones, and every single major white supremacist, white nationalist group out there. They aren’t supporting him because of his tax plan. They are supporting him because of his racist/bigoted talk and promises. No amount of linguistic or mental gymnastics can make it so you can disassociate Trump and all these.
The real problem which is being intentionally ignored by some and denied by others is how all the racism, bigotry, and hate, all the blatantly white supremacists and anti-gay bigots around Trump have been and are being normalized. Steve Bannon isn’t described as a white supremacist, he’s a “provocateur.” Mike Pence isn’t described as an anti-gay bigot, he’s a “concerned Christian.” This should be very concerning to everyone who claims to not be a racist or bigot. When you normalize these kinds of behaviors among those in power, this is how a little over 98.8% of Germans allow Nazism. Racism and bigotry are problems. Racism and bigotry in power are dangerous. I’m not equating Donald Trump and his supporters with Nazis so don’t Goodwin’s Law me. I’m saying when racism and bigotry are normalized and have control of the political and legal systems, very bad things happen to very good people. I’ve already seen many Republicans, the media, and even a lot of Democrats start the normalization process of racism and bigotry. This scares the hell out of me and makes me very concerned for the groups who have been marginalized and demonized by Trump and his supporters.
A lot of my liberal friends tell me I need to not be so angry, so mean, so hateful. I need to understand those I disagree with and “find some common ground” from which to work towards peace and understanding. No, I don’t. Sorry, I don’t Kumbaya when it comes to racism and bigotry. No amount of online group therapy is going to get me to be okay with people not just willing to do physical, legal, and economic harm to others but do it will glee. I cannot comprehend a situation where I’ll ever be okay with people mistreating others, period. I will never be able to rationalize the powerful punching down on the powerless. I’m not intellectually or morally constructed to do this.
I had a philosophy professor in grad school who had been hounded by Joseph McCarthy and the FBI because he was a vocal opponent to McCarthy’s witch hunts. He was threatened by the FBI. His wife was threatened. His office was bugged and ransacked multiple times. The FBI demanded the president of the university fire him (luckily, the president at the time had some cajones and said, “Absolutely not!”) I asked him one day why he did what he did and if he ever regrets it. He told me he never regretted a thing and the reason he felt compelled to speak out against McCarthy and his supporters was because of what he termed, “The Silence of the Professors.” He told me in the 1930s, professors in Germany were held in very high esteem. Their opinions had a very special place among the German people. When Hitler started his rise to power, most of the professors in Germany were very worried about his rhetoric, his methods, and his policies but they didn’t speak out. They kept silent. After the War, a lot of these same professors publicly rued the fact they didn’t step up when they had the chance. My professor told me he never forgot this and swore he would never be in the same position where he had to apologize for horrible things being done because, in part, he didn’t use his position and speak out against it. It is a lesson I took to heart and told myself I would live up to to the best of my ability. This is why I feel the need to speak out more now than ever before. I’m watching racism and bigotry being normalized and put into power. I’m watching a good chunk of the country really okay with this. I’m watching another good chunk play along because they don’t want to come across as “mean” or “angry.” The pox on both of them!.
If you are a Republican and you tell me you are not a racist or a bigot, then I’m going to expect you to stand up against members of your party and policies that are. Being silent isn’t going to cut it. So far, a lot of you have failed this basic test. If you are a progressive, you have a lot to atone for. When the groups you proudly say are members of your Big Tent, who are the ones who you claim to care about and defend needed you the most, you failed to stand up for them when they needed it the most. We live in the most powerful, greatest economy in the world but when it comes to helping those who need it the most, protecting the defenseless, making sure everyone has equal opportunities, we as a country SUCK and suck royally. This is both a moral and cultural failure. We can either make it better or a whole lot worse. Right now, the scales are heavily tipped to a whole lot worse. It is going to take a concerted effort to move the scales back in favor of justice and equality. I am going to do everything I can. I will encourage and support anyone who wants to help. I will not tolerate for a second anyone who chooses the other side or who remains silent. If you tell me you aren’t a racist or a bigot, the time has come to put up or shut up.
“All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”-Edmund Burke