The other day I posted a story on Facebook about a woman in Des Moines who attempted to run someone over because she thought they were Hispanic. The woman was also shown in a video from that same evening hurling racial epithets at a black man in a convenience store. My post included a reprimand to Trump supporters saying that there is some accountability they have to take because of the president’s divisive racial rhetoric. That post offended some people. Some deeply. They felt that I was calling them racists, as well. Or they felt that I was wrong in associating Trump with racism and were disappointed in me for being divisive with my own statement (and was a hypocrite for doing so).
Offending anyone is never my intention. Offense leads to nothing but digging deeper trenches that divide our positions. At the same time, we cannot be so moderate that our positions have no relevance. And sometimes offense is an inevitable result. Allow me to clarify this- I am not calling anyone I know a racist. We wouldn’t be friends if you were. What I am talking about is systemic racism that we participate in.
Systemic means that there are advantages and disadvantages in our lives that are predicated on the color of our skin; things that may be invisible to our consciousness, but influence how we navigate our lives. Things that are unjust because they were pre-determined according to our birth.
An African-American friend of mine once asked in a forum (I am paraphrasing from memory): “Does a couple get tense when you pass them in an alley? They do when I pass them.” He further clarified: “If a white couple and a black couple, equally qualified, apply for the same apartment, who usually gets it? Want to see the studies? I drive a Mercedes. Do you know how many times I’ve been stopped for doing nothing? These things may seem fairly benign, but believe me, it accumulates, it builds, it creates a different view of justice.”
And those are not the only issues. Put profiling into the mix. Put into the mix the disproportionate response to a black man being arrested compared to a white man. Toss in the alarming statistics of young, black men being killed in that response. These are the realities of systemic racism. The election of Donald Trump has seen a significant rise in these incidents.
White supremacists are stepping out of the shadows. Racists (like this woman) have felt vindicated by rhetoric that castigates Mexicans (“They aren’t sending their best”). What the President does (and alarmingly so before he was president) is categorize and stereotype Mexicans, (the) Blacks, “Indians” (his word), Jews (he wants those people “wearing the funny hats” to count his money). He discriminates by race (even if he means to flatter).
The President’s heated rhetoric regarding the border “crisis” has fanned those who do view immigrants as inferior and has given them voice. The border issue is essentially the same as it’s ever been, but not until Donald Trump has it been the leading issue with the most draconian solutions, and that, to a genuine racist, is more than a dog whistle, it is a call to arms. That is why we are seeing a rise in crimes against racial and religious minorities.
I have not called anyone who reads my posts a racist. Anyone who reads my posts already know that I do not consider Donald Trump a moral or wise leader. They should already know I believe he is corrupt, always has been, that he is a narcissist, a master manipulator, and a charlatan who has tapped into the worst of the American story of nationalism; the part of the story that contains racism, greed, and injustice. Where I have ruffled feathers (and where this addendum will certainly not unruffle many) is that I believe a white, theocratic, betrayal of the grand vision of America has taken its populist nationalism into the White House. And to support the standard bearer of that movement demands taking some responsibility when it leads to exclusion of minorities.
I am a father and I observe my kids navigating this world in a time of expanding consciousness. They face challenges I didn’t have to, but they are also uniquely equipped to understand and accept many things I didn’t have to. They are genuinely disturbed by the example of a president who bully-Tweets, is a braggart, and shows no tolerance for disagreement. The messages they had received from pre-school and since, have been the opposite of the behavior of the President of the United States. They aren’t confused, but it challenges their trust. That, in turn, tarnishes their experience of life and that is where I draw the line.
As parents, teachers, voters, representatives, business leaders, and community activists our responsibility is to live up to the best ideal we can to illustrate for the next generation what genuine leadership looks like.
Many people don’t see Donald Trump as I do and I will never persuade them otherwise. My markers for leadership, however, are not forged by partisanship, but by behavior. NO one will ever convince me that a man who insults a woman’s looks on national television, who degrades his opponents by mocking their physical nature, or by boasting of his own prowess, or who diminishes the office of the President with illiterate, late night Tweets about a television show’s ratings, or to elevate his own, or who makes dehumanizing comments about ethnic groups or nations of origin, is worthy of my praise.
I once heard that John Wayne Gacy opined before he was electrocuted that “No one ever talks about all the good things I did.” They didn’t matter, did they? Not compared to the bad things he did. This situation we have in our country today with a man I consider a demagogue; an admirer of fascists, who is without knowledge of (or doesn’t care about) Constitutional law and the history of this nation as we fought to improve our understanding of freedom and justice, is a national crisis. And when there is tangible evidence of how this demagoguery has manifested as violent injustice- I am going to call attention to it.
Again, it is not with the intention of offending anyone, but it is without apologies that I will continue to call out such danger.