The Election of 2016: An Education in American Racism
Like most of you, I was shocked with the election results. Election night, my stomach turned with the almost immediate realization that Hillary wasn't winning this thing. For the next few days and sleepless nights, I struggled to come to grips with fundamental questions about what I thought I knew about my country.
- For all the division and rancor, for the institutionalized racism and vast economic inequality, wasn't there at least some modicum of decency that would preclude people with any sense of goodness about themselves to vote for a blatant xenophobic racist?
- How could 53% of white women voted for a misogynist who brags about sexual assault and has acted like the skeevy guy you ran from your whole life?
- Wasn't it just eight years before that I was jubilant in the Obama victory which seemed like a rebuke of pre-emptive war and a small step of progress towards ending racism?
Hillary was not a candidate I was excited about given her embrace of neoliberal economics and overly hawkish foreign policy, but Good Lord. Compared to the alternative of a Trump Presidency, this seemed like a no brainer. People aren't stupid generally. This isn't about intelligence, it is about hardened hearts. People vote against their interest when fears and prejudices are played upon in ways that reject others humanity.
For all my personal reckoning about this election, I am still a person of tremendous privilege. In comparison, some of my black friends say to me, "I'm scared. Half of the country literally hates me." Undocumented mothers share their fears of being ripped from their children at any moment. Indeed, many parents have been. In the days leading up to election, my brother, who came out about 7 years ago, was door knocking for HRC and a couple of Trump guys drove by yelling "Go Trump, you Faggot!" There have been racial shootings. The displays of anti-Semitism in the blooming of swastikas and the making of bomb threats to Jewish institutions strikes a unsettling fear into our society. In a new turn for my white self, I fear what my Latinos kids now face as other Latino kids are being yelled at "Build the Wall" and "go home". We've seen similar hate against an Asian American kids and certainly seen a good deal of scorn and hate directed at Muslims.
America. In 2017. Racism. Xenophobia. Antisemitism. Islamophobia. Misogyny. Homophobia.
Yes, economics of white working class folks is a huge set of issues that must be addressed. But don't fool yourself, racism never went away and remains one of the major drivers of political activity including voting. Dehumanizing others is again en vogue. Trump has brought lots of ugliness out of the woodwork and into the open. Education and economic dislocation are real issues but how do you get a working class white person to vote against their own economic interest? Gin up racism and xenophobia. Talk about those immigrants taking your jobs. Get tough on those black protesters. Speak English! Ban Muslims because they might be terrorists. Terrorists! This old playbook has been around a long time. We thought we might just be past some of this because we had a black President. Stupid of us.
Turning this around in any sense will be difficult, especially with another round of supply side (tax cuts for the rich) economic policy that actually created much of the inequality in the first place. We are going to have to do two things at once: engage white working folks in a way that takes their legitimate economic concerns seriously while addressing and not tolerating hate. We will need to reset the economic discourse through economic education measures that build support for unionization, living wages, universal health care and tuition free college. We also need to hold folks accountable for dehumanizing someone based on their sexual orientation, race, religion, gender or country of origin. Yes, I want your vote. But I’m not going to tolerate hatred and dehumanization in any form in order to get that vote.
More to come...
#racialjustice #racism #election #xenophobia #misogyny #sexism #islamophobia #homophobia #antisemitism