I’m concerned that our president is only now being denounced as a racist.
It’s not that Donald Trump doesn’t deserve that label. It’s just that those currently criticizing Trump’s racist tendencies have spent too much time in denial.
We should not have needed numerous sources accusing Trump of calling African countries shitholes to determine he is a racist. Trump’s history of racism is long and well-documented. But so is America’s. That’s why it’s so galling to watch politicians ranging from former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to Democratic Virginia Sen. Mark Warner denounce Trump’s comments as un-American.
In truth, Trump’s racism is profoundly American, because America is a racist country.
Racism built America’s wealth through brutal African enslavement. Racism supported the subjugation of black sharecroppers after the Civil War. Racism drove home the Jim Crow laws designed to create a permanent black underclass. Racism was enforced through state-sanctioned violence carried out by lynch mobs and police.
That is the true history of race in America, and in some ways, not much has changed. If we are ready to face that truth as a country united for justice, we can move forward. But if America continues to paint racism as a figment of black peoples’ fertile imaginations, our country will never change.
It’s not enough for white people of goodwill to cluck their tongues and point to Trump as the vile racist bogeyman. In truth, that is an exercise in self-delusion. It allows liberals to tell themselves that while they don’t work, play, talk, live, or consort with black or brown people, at least they don’t call African countries shitholes. At least they don’t try to ban Muslims. At least they don’t call Mexicans drug dealers and rapists. At least they’re not racist.
I’m sorry, my liberal friends. Pointing out the racism of others while standing silent and complicit on the sidelines is not good enough.
If you listened as racist acquaintances repeated Trump’s vile rhetoric, and said nothing for fear of being excluded from the country club, you’re part of the problem. If you watched as racist neighbors planted Trump signs in their yard, and held your tongue as they rationalized their support of his bizarre policy ideas, you’re part of the problem. If you cocooned yourselves with like-minded friends as the Trump wave swept through your community, you’re part of the problem.
If you haven’t spoken up until now, at a time when it is popular and expedient to call Trump a racist, you are part of the problem.
But Trump’s ascension to the White House isn’t just about the silence of white America. It’s also about the frustration of black America.
While we faced voter-suppression tactics in states like Indiana and Michigan, blacks still managed to vote in big numbers during the presidential campaign. But too many of my “woke” black brothers and sisters stayed home, buying into the Russian-Republican rhetoric that said Hillary Clinton was the lesser of two evils. Others among us pushed third-party candidates we knew had no hope of winning. And in each of those scenarios, blacks gambled that we might help push Trump into the White House. Worst of all, we did so knowing Trump was a racist.
That was inexcusable.
Still, if Donald Trump has shown us anything, he has shown us that every American — no matter our race — has a role to play in making change. Perhaps more important, Trump has acted as a mirror for the American people, and he has shown us who we are.
We are polished politicians like Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake, who criticized Trump to sell a book, even as he voted in support of Trump’s tax cut for the wealthy.
We are complacent white voters whose sympathy for black and brown Americans does not typically translate into action.
We are disgruntled people of color who are straining to reach up from the ladder’s bottom rung.
But as flawed as we are as a people, Americans must overcome our weaknesses and find our collective strength.
Otherwise, we should stop calling Trump’s racism un-American, because if we aren’t willing to fight against it, racism will remain America’s greatest shame.
Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM.