When Racism Festers

Screenshot from the  Simpsons .

Screenshot from the Simpsons.

Last night Donald Trump cruised to an easy victory in my home state, the ostensibly liberal Massachusetts. The Super Tuesday results caused some of my conservative friends, who have been in a heightened state of concern, to panic. While it seems clear to me that Trump’s rise is the natural apotheosis of stoking fear on the far right, moderate Republicans are justifiably disgusted at the direction of their party.

While I appreciate Republicans who publicly challenge Trump and his supporters, I’m tired of hearing that his rise is inexplicable. It is abundantly clear that a cocktail of racism, xenophobia, and fear is at the heart of Trump’s appeal. Maya Angelou said:


"When someone shows you who they are, believe them."


Trump has demonstrated that he is both a racist and a bigot. It’s not more complicated than that. His ascendancy doesn’t mean that everyone who supports him is a racist, as he is exploiting legitimate economic concerns by scapegoating outsiders. But his popularity absolutely does mean that the political party he commands is a safe place for unvarnished bigotry. The party's back-up plan, Ted Cruz, celebrated his victories last night at a sports bar owned by a racist radio host. Trump's popularity, and the moderate GOP response to his rise, reminds me of an old episode of the Simpsons, wherein a Fox news helicopter flies over the cartoon’s fictionalized America, emblazoned with this tongue-in-cheek slogan:


Not Racist, but #1 with Racists.


The Republican Party, particularly its more moderate members, must reckon with the fact that it is about to nominate an open bigot to be its presidential candidate in 2016. Unfortunately, the Republican Party is not the only place in America where we coddle racism.  As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues in Racism Without Racists, racism is so deeply embedded in American culture that it persists even without outward acts of bigotry. It is institutionalized in mandatory minimum sentencing, media bias, subconscious assumptions about people of color, and low academic expectations for Black children. It’s in the air we breathe. It’s in the water we drink.

"The main problem nowadays is not the folks with the hoods,” Bonilla-Silva argues, “but the folks dressed in suits."


And yet, Donald Trump hemmed and hawed even when he was asked to repudiate the folks with the hoods. Trump did not hesitate to say that Mexicans were rapists, or advocate for banning Muslims from the United States. He did, however, take some time to consider whether he ought to condemn David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. Three days after equivocating on whether to repudiate the support of white supremacists, he easily won Republican primaries in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Virginia.

As W. Kamau Bell said last year, it’s time for White people to “come get your boy.” Donald Trump is not just a problem for Republicans, he’s a problem for America. Beating him is not just the responsibility of moderates in his own party, it is the responsibility of all White people.


Trump is what happens when racism is allowed to fester.


If the political right spent half the time policing racism as it spends denouncing political correctness, perhaps we wouldn’t be staring down the barrel of a Trump presidency. But alas, there is no such thing as passive anti-racism. Beverly Tatum argues that passive anti-racism is like standing still on a conveyor belt; unless White people actively walk away from racist behavior, they will be carried along with the racist tide. Combating racism must be active, persistent, and unequivocal. I believe that there is room for an anti-racist, free-market, conservative party in American politics. Unfortunately, that’s not the Republican Party in 2016. In the meantime, the festering boil of racism continues to feed the Trump candidacy. Bigotry is not a glitch of his popularity; unfortunately, it seems to be a feature.