In 2017, racism not only won the day. It won the year.
That’s my takeaway from a 12-month span that saw America inaugurate a president who ran on a hate-filled platform that denigrated and demeaned anyone who was not a white male. Some would say that another -ism — sexism — was the watchword for 2017. But I would argue that the much-needed #MeToo movement, which finally began the process of rightly punishing sexual predators, was the mirror we needed. It showed us that while sexism will be punished going forward, racism will remain the status quo.
For those who doubt the veracity of that statement, I offer you the four biggest moments in racism from the year 2017.
1. The inauguration of Donald Trump
The January ceremony was the crowning achievement of a candidate who replaced the veiled racism of past presidential hopefuls with the overt bigotry of a man who doesn’t give a damn.
Trump understood the racial resentment that many Americans harbored after eight years under Barack Obama, America’s first black president, and Trump used it to his advantage. Having benefited from five years of peddling the racist lie that Obama was born in Kenya and therefore unqualified to be president, Trump repeatedly returned to the well of racism.
Trump asserted that undocumented Mexican immigrants were rapists and criminals. Trump proposed that Muslims — most of whom are black and brown — should be banned from the United States. Trump said a judge presiding over a lawsuit against Trump’s company could not rule fairly because of the judge’s Mexican heritage, prompting House Speaker Paul Ryan to say, “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”
But Ryan still backed Trump for president, as did the vast majority of the GOP. That’s what led to the inauguration of Donald Trump, and paved the way for the normalization of racism.
2. The travel ban
In January, shortly after his inauguration, Trump penned an executive order that he said was focused on keeping America safe from terrorists. But many, including myself, saw it as an attempt to implement Trump’s ban on Muslims entering the country.
The ban initially applied to travelers from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. It also permanently banned refugees from Syria.
For those keeping score, these countries are primarily composed of black and brown people. And none of these countries is Chechnya, home to the white Muslims who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing. After various court battles over the ban, the Trump administration fashioned a third version that included North Korea and Venezuela — two non-Muslim countries. The Supreme Court then allowed the travel ban to be implemented while court challenges continue.
That, my friends, tells everyone who’s watching that in the eyes of America, terrorists are only black and brown people who practice certain religions. They’re not white guys who shoot hundreds of people from a hotel room in Las Vegas.
3. The rise of the (In)justice Department
Nothing says racism like a Justice Department decision to “review” consent decrees calling on police departments to change their patterns of abusing black people.
But in April, Jeff Sessions, the former Alabama senator who is now the U.S. attorney general, saw no problem with essentially shelving the Justice Department agreements made with 14 abusive police departments under the Obama administration. At the time, Sessions told a conservative radio host that consent decrees can “reduce the morale of the police officers.”
That’s an interesting viewpoint. Here’s mine: Nothing lowers morale more than being shot dead by a police officer because your skin color was perceived as a threat.
When thousands of neo-Nazis and white supremacists gathered to protest the removal of a Confederate monument from a liberal college town in Virginia, it was the culmination of Donald Trump’s quest to normalize racism. Can you imagine a large-scale march of white supremacists taking place in 2007, or 1997? How about 1987? Neither can I.
Nor can I imagine the president of the United States saying both sides are to blame when violence erupts from such a march, yet that’s what Donald Trump said in 2017 — the year that race relations went backward.
Trump said anti-racism protesters were partly to blame for the Charlottesville violence even after 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed. She died when reputed neo-Nazi sympathizer James Fields, 20, allegedly drove his car into a crowd of anti-racism protesters. Fields was subsequently charged with first-degree murder in Heyer’s death.
The fact that Heyer was a white woman is significant, because her willingness to stand up against white supremacists tells an irrefutable truth: Not everyone is a racist.
And that fact, more than anything else I saw in 2017, gives me hope. It tells me that perhaps things can change as America drags the heavy weight of racism into a new year.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM.