Why We Absolutely Must Keep Talking About Racism

Some people are worried about the health of our democracy. They have good reason. 

When the president has made himself an enemy of the free press, uses his influence to meddle with the policies of sports leagues, boasts that he's willing to use executive power to pardon himself for his crimes, and praises authoritarian strongmen around the world, we should be concerned. Those actions are anti-democratic.

And in this historic moment, it's easy to think of racism as some tangental to all of that--important, but we have bigger problems to discuss than race. Right?

Wrong.

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A friend of the president recently summarized the operating principle of the Trump administration saying "There’s the Obama Doctrine, and the ‘F*ck Obama’ Doctrine. We’re the ‘F*ck Obama’ Doctrine.”

The fact that this regime and its allies can summarize itself by an epithet and a black man's name tells you that our historic moment is decidedly racial.

One could argue that this administration's obsession with undoing the legacy of America's first black president has nothing to do with race--maybe Obama was just a bad president. Maybe. But that wouldn't explain why after Trump equivocated on the Charlottesville riots, called historically black nations "shit holes," consistently denigrates migrants as "bad hombres" and "animals," virulently opposes black protests, and built his platform on a slogan used by the Ku Klux Klan ("America First!"), his approval rating is going up.

America's history often shows the type of pattern we're seeing now, racist progress following racial progress: slavery followed by reconstruction followed by Jim Crow, followed by Civil Rights reform followed by a reversal of those reforms under Nixon. Obama's election was hailed as the advent of a post-racial society, only to be followed by a man who excites the likes of David Duke and emboldens the rank and file of America's overt racists.

So this moment of racist progress is not unique. After a season where it seems like ground is gained toward racial justice, there is also a groundswell of racial resentment, seeking to undo those gains. This cycle shows that events like Emancipation, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights Movement constitute unwelcome disruptions to the status quo. America always clamors for "order" after such events--and American order is racial hierarchy. 

A profound understanding of our context must concede that racism made Donald Trump president. Social research has  confirmed that Trump voters were motivated by racial resentment and anxiety about losing social status more than anything else.

All arguments about this moment in history must begin on that foundation of truth: that America has gambled with its standing in the global community, risked the threat of nuclear war, and put herself at the whim of an unqualified, despotic narcissist all for the chance to be white again.

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Those who say they're concerned that our democracy is sick, should be interested in a clear diagnosis of the problem. Well, the problem goes all the way to the inception of this country: it's racism. Racism has been this nation's sickness, undermining our great democratic creeds with anti-democratic practices, for centuries. 

The most consistent threat to democracy in this country is not coming from outside of our borders, but from within. America has been making land grabs for centuries, breaking of up families since the slave trade, calling non-white people "animals" and "criminals" since before the inception of this country, brutalizing black people since before the Civil War. Racism has long been at the root of America's deep tradition of anti-democratic practices, and has always seemed to be the grounds to justify America's capricious relationship to her own values.

That is why we must keep talking about racism: because racism is essential to understanding this historic moment. And if what we're seeing doesn't make clear how serious our condition is, I don't know what will.

The question is, do we even want to be made well?

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Further Reading:

NBC News: 'Research proves that when intolerant white people fear democracy may benefit marginalized people, they abandon their commitment to democracy.'

The Atlantic: Research proves whites supported Trump because of racial anxiety