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I Was Wrong about Racism in America

Image courtesy of The Atlantic
This kind of stuff should just be history

I've been arguing for many, many years now that the days of overt racism in America are over. In my heart of hearts, I believed that the vast majority of the American public--over 95%--are not full-on, hate-mongering racists who think ethnicity or skin color are important factors in determining another person's value to society. Sure, I've long admitted that racism still exists in a few dark shadows of the country, places where the National Alliance and the Ku Klux Klan still hold sway, but these are becoming increasingly fringe ideals. Twenty-First Century America could be a post-racial society if only we stopped trying to divide each other with identity politics, class warfare, cryptic dog whistle assumptions, and political grievance-mongering, I posited. I fervently argued that instances of true racism were on a steady decline, that the fact they get so much media attention is indicative of how exceptionally rare they are.

Unfortunately, this carefully nurtured world view has been shattered.

Aaron McNamara
I'm not so sure anymore if this guy's an outlier or if he's representative of something bigger

It started pretty gradually for me. Ferguson was a big part of it, maybe just because it happened so literally close to home. I genuinely don't think the officer, Darren Wilson, did anything inherently wrong in that now infamous shooting of Michael Brown, but the facts on the ground are clear that there is an institutional problem in modern law enforcement that looks and smells an awful lot like racism. It starts with ridiculous quotas that lead police officers to focus their attention on areas they believe to be high in crime (namely, poor communities, which also happen to be filled more with minorities than affluent white people). Add to this the increasing militarization of the police, the death of the beat cop who interfaces with the community on a daily basis instead of driving around with the windows up, and a culture of resentment and blame within the very minority communities we should be lifting up, and it's no wonder so many people think the police force is filled with institutional racism. It probably is.

But still, we've come a long way from the society that used to blame minorities for our cultural and economic ills, right? When liberal talking heads get on cable "news" shows and tell us that there is a thinly-veiled side to the Republican Party that only disagrees with President Obama because he's black, they're just exaggerating fringe racism for the sake of political demagoguery, right?

Donald Trump
Being willing to vote for an obvious racist means you might also be one

Enter Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president this year. Here is a man who said Japanese internment camps during World War II were probably a good idea, a man who blames illegal immigrants from Mexico for most of our country's problems (and who famously called them rapists and murderers), and a man who has recently been going on about the fact that it is impossible for an American judge of Mexican heritage to treat him fairly in a court of law. When questioned about the blatant racial overtones of his campaign, he deflects, says he loves Mexico, and then tweets pictures of himself eating a taco salad from his New York skyscraper to prove it. This is a man who tried really hard not to condemn the support of David Duke, taking just long enough for the swastika-tatted types to think he was offering them a wink of encouragement before releasing forced statements against them.

I could laugh off Trump as a fringe candidate nobody could possibly take seriously, if only he weren't a major presidential candidate who is now leading in most polls. His favorability rating among those polled is in the the high thirties or low forties. That's a whole lot of people who are apparently willing to look past his unequivocable and unapologetic racism. Indeed, the biggest part of his platform is building a wall between America and Mexico (dare we call it an iron curtain?), kicking out all the illegal Mexicans, and "making America great again." The racism couldn't be any clearer if he were talking about Jews.

Racist Trump Quote #47
Not that he hasn't had plenty to say about the Jews as well

Even by the lowest outlying polls, roughly one out of three Americans supports Donald Trump. One out of three.

What this proves to me is that overt racism, far from being the social stigma and cultural anachronism I believed it to be, is alive, well, and thriving in the streets of this country. It makes me ashamed of America, ashamed of how much of the conservative movement has allowed it to happen, and utterly disillusioned about how far we've come since segregation and George Wallace. I thought Martin Luther King's dream was utterly within reach and nearly already achieved, but now I have to admit I was completely wrong.

So while I still think its views on economics and aggressive legislative social intervention are woefully misguided, I no longer believe that the left's constant accusations of racism against the right are without merit. Maybe more Republicans opposed Obama because of his skin color than I thought. They certainly couldn't have opposed him for his political naïveté, abuse of power, demagoguery, or lack of honesty, because now they're voting for a man who is precisely the same, only he's white and recently decided to put an "R" next to his name.


-e. magill 6/14/2016

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