The year after my son was born, my husband had a wonderful job opportunity in Charlottesville, Virginia so we moved our life and newborn to this lovely location for a few years. We bought a little house that I adored in a suburb outside of “city limits” and settled into the gracious living the place is famous for; a bustling university town full of culture, diversity and history. It was a happy place for us, now full of good memories.
We were moving from Durham, North Carolina, another diverse university community and before that New York City and Los Angeles. I mention this because on top of the privilege our college-educated, white, Christian heterosexuality affords us, we also existed in quite a convincing progressive bubble. From our vantage point we were seeing integrated, thriving communities and we proudly voted for President Obama in Virginia in 2008, the year the state “turned blue” after backing the Republican candidate in the previous 10 elections.
We felt smugly satisfied and comfortable about the country we were raising our child in. We listened to ***people*** rail against our first black President, even going so far as to ludicrously claim he was not a U.S. citizen, with contempt. We gleefully believed the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage meant that for once and for all the LGBT community had won not only the cultural but legal war to be accepted and equal.
We shook our heads at Mitt Romney’s elitist bombast about the 47% in 2012 and cringed when Jeb Bush gave the impotent response “stuff happens” when questioned about gun control during the 2016 election cycle. When ***Donald Trump*** threw his hat into the ring, we simply perceived him as one more clown coming out of the tiny car. A foolish and somewhat amusing spectacle.
There was not a chance, in the world in which we thought we existed, that ANY of the clowns could get a convincing majority to vote them into the highest office in the land; we voted Bernie in the primaries and Hillary in the election and arrogantly felt we had done right by our boy.
But then it was November 9, 2016. And we crashed full speed into the wall that was our folly and blind naiveté. And we mourned our beautiful, pure-hearted son coming of age in the home of the racist xenophobe, land of the p*ssy grabber. I will never be able to apologize to him enough for not doing more to prevent this from happening.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 917 hate groups operating across the U.S. and in the 34 days following the election 1,094 “bias incidents” were sparked by Trump’s victory; our publisher, Shareen Mansfield, was herself the target of one of these. Since then, the violence has continued unabated; a few highly publicized incidents include another in Kansas, when two Indian immigrants were shot by a white man who confronted them about their legal status. In Portland, Oregon, two young men were killed protecting a woman from an anti-Muslim extremist.
But did you know that just over a week ago, on August 5th, a mosque in Minneapolis was bombed during morning prayers? Thankfully no one was injured, but the lack of reporting on this story shows how quickly we are becoming inured to the steady stream of hate crimes. Then, this past weekend, Charlottesville happened.
A full two days later, the racist, sexist xenophobe we consciously elected as leader of the free world condemned racism as “evil”. I’d love to make a joke here, but the time when we can play this guy for laughs is behind us. Because when we look at him, we are looking into a mirror of sorts; we can say all of the “right” things but that won’t change the truth of our situation.
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, that of Pontius Pilate. For those of you not familiar, Pilate was the unlucky prefect remembered mainly for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. In all four gospels that tell his tale, he is depicted as unwilling to convict and condemn the Christian messiah; but I was always struck by the fact that his main concern seemed to be that he not be blamed for the death of Jesus Christ. Ultimately he is convinced by the mob to order the execution.
I think privileged white America has become a lot like this beleaguered man. We have become less concerned with actually doing the right thing and more concerned with washing our hands, as Pontius Pilate infamously did, of any guilt in the many, many horrifying incidents we have been witnessing. Donald Trump himself made quite a show of condemning racism on Monday without ever acknowledging the fact that he was complicit in the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville.
As is everyone, myself included, who has used his rise to power as an exercise in eye-rolling instead of activism. Like Pilate, we gave in to the angry mob; like Pilate, we declared ourselves blameless because we could see no guilt in those being persecuted. We say all the “right” things, but it doesn’t change the truth of the situation.
Less than 24 hours after condemning racism as “evil”, Trump defended the white supremacists, claiming some of them were “very fine people” and attacked the anti-hate protesters as “violent”. I will not comment other than to say watch this video of them chanting “Jews will not replace us” and “white lives matter” and tell me it does not make you feel like those “very fine people” have punched you squarely in the gut.
“Racism is evil” we shout, but then we think that personally not being racist is a “solution”… I am NOT the problem. Donald Trump is the problem, ignorance is the problem, those “very fine” people are the problem! We are so busy declaring ourselves not the problem that we have forgotten that the main issue is that there IS a problem (many) and we desperately need to actively seek out the solution (many).
“Racism is evil” said the man who wants to build a wall to keep Mexican “rapists” and “murderers” out of our country and ban Muslims. But what we are failing to give credence to is the fact that some (many) Trump supporters do believe Mexicans and Muslims are a problem, so what he is offering them are concrete sounding solutions. Meanwhile our “solution” is to huffily declare that the “deplorables” instantly unlearn the intolerance many of them have been assiduously trained into from the cradle.
In all humility it is time for white America to look in the mirror and say: I am the problem. Yes, no matter what side of the chasm you are on. The first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one. Am I racist? Am I enabling racism? Am I DISMISSING racism? Do I believe the ways in which I am intolerant are harmless?
In all humility it is time to admit that Donald Trump is the Frankenstein monster we ALL brought to life, whether with our own fear-born hatred or complacent arrogance. His reign of terror will not end until we take responsibility for it. We can no longer wash our hands of it.
Hello, we are white America, and we have a problem. We are equal opportunity haters; we hate Republicans or Democrats or foreigners or our neighbors or taxes or religion or technology or inconvenience with equal passion and aplomb. We have convinced ourselves that OUR personal preference trumps the common good and have dug in our heels about the fact that YOUR belief system, sexual orientation, religion and skin color has to be as wholly right by me as my very complicated Starbucks’ drink order.
This is OUR world and we insist it and others comply with our demands. Nay, our WHIMS. This is white America: please ME entirely or you don’t deserve to exist.
Can any of us honestly wash our hands of this?