I am a witness to the secrets of a tight-knit community in Trump country that perhaps best tell the story of his appeal. Spoiler: Yes, it’s the racism.
Black people are blamed for every evil in our world here in Trump country. This isn’t a one-off. This isn’t an emotional reaction to a few racist comments. This also isn’t a smug lecture about the ugly racism of the other.
The “elites” urge liberals to stop talking about racism — in a way that only people who are privileged enough to not suffer racism could.
Very few, if any, of these folks actually live in a rural, small country town in Trump country Pennsylvania like I currently do, or have lived in the South where I learned first hand about the “War of Northern Aggression.” These communities don’t speak to outsiders like they do their own kind, they know how they are portrayed by the media. These are not stupid people; but they are raised up, as they say, on a steady diet of racism. There are pockets all through the Midwest that feel like a slice of the South.
And so comes the most difficult and heart-breaking part of this. These are not stupid people and they are not usually bad people, any more than any other community has bad people. I am obviously not referring to violent white supremacists, but to the average every day Trump supporter, many of whom are hard-working, ethical, kind, smart, good parents and good people. Not poor. The Trump voters I typically talk to are definitely comfortably middle class. But poisoned by weaponized racism.
Fox News and the Right wing blogosphere maintain a steady diet of demonization of black people and liberals for a reason. Predominantly white people of privilege in government and the media have decided that we aren’t allowed to name this as hate speech let alone racism, but it should not go unnoticed that these people are perpetrating the racism of exclusion while giving screaming racism a wide, undisturbed berth.
For all of the excuses we hear made for Trump voters, we do not hear the same excuses for people of color.
We do not hear a constant “Oh, sure, they are taking voting rights away from white people and conspiring to use hate speech as a political weapon of terror that is sometimes turned into actual acts of terrorism, but we need to understand the black person.”
No. No one is saying that, but they are saying that about Trump voters.
And to me, as a witness to the soul-crushing racism that is so alive here it is the first topic of any causal conversation among their own “tribe,” the problem is not mean liberals who are calling this out.
The problem is not Trump voters.
The problem in part is those of us who allow and enable a mainstream media and government comprised of mostly privileged white people to normalize the dangerous, deadly demonization of black people that is evidenced by our incarceration rates, police brutality against black people, our not-blind-at-all-criminal-justice-system, and the ongoing plight of the refugees from our country’s horrific abuse, both during slavery and after when we again found a way to use black people’s plights as a way to exploit them for cheap labor.
It is so easy to blame Hillary Clinton and liberals for naming it. It is not so easy to face the fact that even as we claim we are allies, we are complicit every day.
The only racism we can do anything about exists here, in our communities, in our world, in ourselves. Every time we witness racism and don’t admit that’s what it is, we are enabling this ongoing injustice and scapegoating.
Sure, the academics who blame liberals for calling out racism understand, or think they understand, the economic discomfort behind some racism. But that is only one part of it. What is missing is the realization that racism is a way of life.
Racism is a way of life here in Trump country. It is that enmeshed in the culture. It is not one thread in the weave, but the main color.
Racism is the only cover the Republican Party has for their policies that hurt their own base.
We are part of the problem –the people who still won’t listen, don’t hear, and who value our scientific analysis of Trump voters more than even the experiences of articulate, ethical, high standing black people, let alone the majority of black people who do not have a seat at the table.
Why do we try so hard to understand the Trump voters while tamping down any mention of racism? If you hear someone try to pivot when racism comes up, ask yourself why. Why can’t we have a moment to discuss racism without some expert concern trolling us, silencing us, shaming us?
Why is racism so threatening to the entire structure of elite, from academia to the highest seats in government?
This won’t get better unless we participate actively in healing and we can’t heal until we listen and refuse to pivot when it’s uncomfortable. It is easier for us as a nation to reach out to refugees from other violent countries than to face the decedents of our own brutal violence. The Right accuses liberals of “white guilt” as a way to mock even cursory attempts at empathy – but really, where is the white personal responsibility? How many of us know how slavery happened and why, and what happened after the civil war? How many of us see a poor black person the same way we see the poor descendant of a refugee from any other county?
It’s not so simple as economic anxiety anymore. Maybe it never was. Conservatives have an entire lifestyle built on the myth of the evil black person and the evil, lying liberals who are guilt-tripped into pushing the rest of the country into giving freebies to black people. This is so pervasive that it is shared with me casually by people whose names I do not know, because they see my Nordic white coloring as a sign that I am one of them.
This is institutionalized, weaponized racism.
Why can’t we hear how ridiculous it is for privileged white people and a handful of people of color to tell a group who has no seat at the table that they need to be quiet and we need to listen to white racists more?
One excuse being offered is that liberals need to stop talking about racism because they will drive the Trump supporter deeper into their camp. Here’s a newsflash: Trump supporters are not being controlled by liberals and white people are responsible for their own actions, just like people of color are. They hate liberals and black people because both groups are being demonized 24 hours a day by Right wing media. But liberals are not a minority facing the same systemic injustices that black people in America face every day.
If you are saying that liberals need to stop talking about racism or you think that is the predominant message that needs to be heard, you are part of the problem. There is a cancer in our country and ignoring it won’t fix the problem. The only thing we should be focused on is how can we be better allies, how can we kindly but firmly say a unified no to ingrained resentment of black people as a way of life.
Trump country is a world where faith, duty, and service are symbolized by Confederate flags and the cross. It’s also a place glued together by an entrenched, unshakable belief that elite liberals (the Right’s boogeymen) don’t care about white people’s lives and there is no act of kindness or empathy that can undo the 24 hour brainwashing by Right wing media.
The secret problem of Trump country is that decent people have been weaponized into unwitting messengers of division.
Silencing talk of racism won’t help, it will only harm our country more. If we want to address the destruction eating away at the fabric of our nation, we need to address the roots of division that are the Republican Get Out the Vote strategy and the Right wing media’s messengers of division. That means the media needs to stop enabling and elevating hate speech.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.