“50 Years of Electoral College Maps: How the U.S. Turned Red and Blue” The New York Times, The Upshot, August 22, 2016
“…Race was the major reason the South flipped (from majority Democrat to Republican). Exit polling suggests that no Democratic presidential nominee has won 51 percent of white voters since 1964.
In 2005, Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, apologized for the Southern strategy: “Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican chairman to tell you we were wrong.”
African Americans worry Trump has awoken a
resentment that won’t go away
The Washington Post, September 2, 2016
“JACKSON, Miss. — The man who might be president came to this city last week and Priscilla Sterling could barely stomach that he was still in the race, much less in her home town. When she saw the clips on television, she saw throngs of white people wearing “Build That Wall” T-shirts in a state where the Confederate emblem is still etched into its flag.
With them came Donald Trump, with his latest campaign chief, this one with ties to the white nationalist movement, pitching voters on a newfound notion that he could be a savior for African American communities. All of it together — the rallies and rhetoric, the echoes of oppression — rekindled fears for Sterling that Trump was excavating the racist vestiges of the Old South.”
Race and racism is thick in the atmosphere, so ever-present the only way not to notice would be to wear an oxygen mask and rose-colored goggles. It is a good thing. The only people who haven’t always been so aware of it are white people.
Most of the middle and upper class white people I know do not talk about race and racism except when fostering it with jokes and subtle slights. It is not polite to confront one another when we make racists statements or imply racist ideas. Instead, we tsk tsk the fat-bellied rednecks in trucks with gun racks as ignorant white trash for being blatant racists and going overboard. It is a mark of our classism, as a matter of fact, that we look down our noses and sniff at their stupidity and insignificance, as in, “Who really would believe such things?”
As of mid-August, according to Pew Research, here are some groups of “likely voters” with a majority supporting or leaning toward Donald Trump:
50-64 year olds
65+ year olds
White Evangelical Protestants
Overall, 37% of likely voters were leaning toward or supporting outright, Donald Trump. Not all of those millions of people lean that way because of overtly racist views, but few of them can rationally deny that Trump and his campaign have exploited racism in the effort to attract voters. Tolerating overt or subliminal race baiting as a means toward an end, however, is to engage in racist behavior. All of those people supporting Trump are engaged in a racist maneuver whether or not they support the racist rhetoric and policies he promotes.
But it is not enough to simply point a finger at those people. We, the other white people, need to look at one another and talk out loud about race.
We need to talk out loud with one another so that we can better hear the subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice in our own thinking, and see where we support and undergird racism in our institutions and communities with our own economic and civic behavior.
Confronting racism and the painful work of extricating it from our civic life is not a black and white (or red, yellow, and brown) conversation only; it is also a conversation that must take place among white people as well.
We will never see all the ways that racism is engrained in the culture and in our own thinking without a multi-racial conversation, but we will not be able to normalize the conversation – instead of normalizing racism – without White people talking openly and honestly with one another, and challenging one another to change.
People with power never just give it away; it has to be taken. The election of Barack Obama as President was a significant step in that process though at the time it felt to many liberal whites like largesse. Trump is a backlash, and one that rips the veneer off our self-satisfied liberal notions. It actually allows us to talk about race, bone on bone without any illusion regarding the pervasiveness of racism and prejudice around us and within us.
We, white people, need to talk openly with one another about how we use our power – the resources of our lives – to maintain racial segregation, inflict class bias, and protect ethnocentricity to our own advantages. With our eyes and our minds acutely open, we can become more trustworthy collaborators in solidarity with those who seek justice and equity, and engage more effectively as agents of subversion.
Becky Michelfelder says
Cam, Thanks for this. I think lately I’ve hit some sort of turning point in this conversation which is to move from anger to just regularly pointing out or making note of how people like me are the recipients of the benefits of enslaving others. Like the other day I found myself in the middle of a funeral sermon going off script to make a connection between the decedent’s love of rocks and the fact that the church building we sat in was constructed of stones from deconstructed stone fences made of stones cleared from the local fields 100+ years ago by slaves (owned by the ancestors of some of our members still sitting in the pews). Just acknowledging this and related situations, for me, has become a non-inflammatory way of educating people about their own reality and honoring and bearing witness to the truth of our heritage of slavery. Remembering the local history, even intellectually, seems for me now a place to start. I haven’t figured out exactly how shame fits into all of this but it certainly causes us to want to forget the truth of our origins.
Cam Miller says
Thanks for the story and perspective. Observation and naming what we see is primary, I agree. It needed be, and probably doesn’t help, to be hostile or angry. Shame about what past generations did strikes me as more of a social strategy than honest personal emotion – we all carry plenty of shame just for our own sins of commission and omission. Keep talking! Thanks.