Our country has a deep, gaping, abyss of a racial wound, though many white people have tried to pretend it’s not there. Remember the naïve, wishful claims being spouted after President Obama’s election, that America was a “post-racial” society and our country had transcended its racially problematic history? Many white people proudly declared racism a thing of the past: affirmative action, no longer needed because everyone has the same opportunities; housing discrimination, not happening anymore, it’s all about bootstraps, work ethic, and effort; Jim Crow, long over, the mass incarceration of black people merely reflecting a breakdown in the black family unit, rather than institutional racism. These fallacies, and countless others, have been so damaging to the real healing and work our country absolutely must do.
But now, since Trump’s election, a huge spotlight is shining down on the blatant racism behind all of the implicitly racist rationalizations. So, this Thanksgiving, in a desperate effort to find a political silver lining, I am grateful that Trump has lifted the veil of our country’s tremendous whitewash effort of pretending racism is a thing of the past. Now, maybe we will actually get to work on this issue.
Modern day racism in our country is often more subtle than it has been historically. Redlining in the housing market has made it difficult for African Americans to buy homes and destroyed the investment value of homes in concentrated black areas. Black people face institutional racism throughout the criminal justice system, from being stopped by the police more often, to being prosecuted more frequently and more harshly than white counterparts, to facing higher sentences than white counterparts for the same offenses. Employment discrimination continues to thrive on unconscious racial bias (as well as intentional racism). Election discrimination is alive and well thanks to fake claims about voter fraud and “remedies” that make it harder for disenfranchised groups to vote. These types of racist actions are insidious, and often even those falling victim don’t recognize the larger context that makes their individual treatment so unfair.
But now, with Trump’s election, the racism plaguing our society is unmistakable. There is nothing subtle about graffiti slogans like “make America white again.” There is nothing subtle about Trump appointing Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist and senior counselor, a man who spews white supremacist views and argued, “Let the grassroots turn on the hate because that’s the ONLY thing that will make them do their duty.” There is nothing subtle about appointing Jeff Sessions, a man who jokes about supporting the KKK and disparages the Voting Rights Act and the NAACP, as Attorney General, the official in charge of enforcing our nation’s civil rights laws. The organization Color of Change describes it thusly: “Donald Trump has begun forming a cabinet- the likes of which we have only seen hidden behind white hoods.”
The racially troubling chasms we are seeing now are real, and they have been here all along (notwithstanding white, liberal shock at the election results). It’s only been white people who thought racism was gone. The question that remains is what do we do with this lifted veil? Prize winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates, in a thorough and powerful essay that I highly recommend, discusses: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.” May now be our moment of reckoning.