Don't whitewash the racism underlying Donald Trump's election
Even if he turns out to be a moderate, he still ran on a bigoted platform.
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I’m trained as a political scientist. I’m taught to analyse, to understand the underlying causes and drivers for things that happen around the world. My field of study focused on Middle Eastern and South Asian politics and security; plenty of disinformation existed in the public, but it was something I learned to cut through in order to comprehend what was happening.
Whether people cared enough to understand what would happen, rationality was how we cut through a crazy world. I always try my best to leave emotion out of it.
In the upcoming days and weeks (perhaps even months), I’m sure we’ll see a plethora of articles discussing an alphabet soup of topics related to the US election: the rebellion against elites, failure of the political establishment, the role of the media, could Bernie Sanders have beaten Donald Trump, consequences of a Trump presidency.
Today I can’t write like an analyst. I can’t write from a dispassionate, analytical voice when so many of my friends, family, and loved ones (as well as myself) are asking “what’s going to happen to us?”. I can’t write while minorities in this country are being attacked by the extremists who were empowered by Trump.
I can’t write as a researcher when the country I was born in, raised in, whose holiday’s I celebrate, whose history I learn, whose citizens are my neighbours and community members, no longer feels like home to me. I can only write as an American whose countrymen have sent a loud and clear message. People like me, people of colour, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and LGBTQ communities are expendable.
Whether many or most of Trump's supporters are bigoted or not is a moot point. On Tuesday, they voted for a bigot. Even if he turns out to be a moderate, he still ran on a bigoted platform. He didn’t disguise it through dog whistling, he didn’t use code words, he fully embraced racist, sexist, homophobic rhetoric. Trump’s rhetoric and tactics deliberately borrowed from the toolbox of white supremacists.
When Trump first announced his candidacy with the declaration that Mexicans in America are bringing drugs, crime, and rapists, my stomach sank. I knew people for whom this would resonate with. I grew up in Wisconsin, outside of the main cities of Milwaukee and Madison.
Growing up, I heard and experienced some of the worst racism that was replicated during this year’s election. Plenty of people I knew denigrated Latinos, Muslims, and people of colour. Shortly afterwards, when Trump announced plans for a Muslim ban, I knew he was going to win the Republican nomination.
Some of my other PoC friends suggested that he would win the presidency. I disagreed, not because I didn’t think we lived in a country that was willing to support, or at minimum, overlook, the overt racism and sexism of the Trump campaign.A rather large plurality voted for this man. (Photo: Reuters)
Rather, it was because I truly thought Trump was too much of a temperamental reality TV star. If Trump was much more charismatic and controlled with the exact same beliefs, it seemed more likely he would have won. But there was no way that Trump would win, right? I was wrong.
We can talk all we want about the frustration of “white voters”. It was the only community that had a majority or plurality of people that voted for Trump. It’s the same group of people whose “frustration” or anger so much of the news coverage has focused on.
Despite a sizable minority of white Americans that voted against Trump after seeing the horrifying rhetoric and policy proposals, it seems that justifying their frustration forgives everything else. This narrative conveniently leaves out the frustrated people around the country.
Frustrated African Americans, frustrated Asian Americans, frustrated women, but somehow the frustration of one subset of America is forgivable, even if it damns all other Americans.
The fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote marginally should not be taken as some satisfaction that this was not a popular decision. Trump still won. He only lost the popular vote by a matter of hundreds of thousands, not millions or anything that suggests this couldn’t happen again.
A rather large plurality voted for this man. With the election of Trump, some journalists are trying not to engage in normalising Trump’s discourse. Rather than acknowledging the role of racism, they try to argue that it's something else. They ignore it, or try to minimize it.
Race is a separate factor to them. What they fail to understand is that race is an underlying factor. It affects everything. For a country where racism has played a significant role in creating policies and inequalities in education, economic disparity, how they are perceived, where they can live, budgetary disbursement, the health system, the criminal justice system, employment, environment, and even service provision; despite all this, racism to these journalists is still not important (and this doesn’t even cover the role of sexism in the country).
Yet, this is a country which during independence declared African Americans as 3/5ths of a white man, whose expansion was dependent on the near extermination of the land’s indigenous people. Even so, race seemingly has little to nothing to do with this, according to these journalists. The same journalists who failed to predict or even understand what Trump was tapping into.
This is my country and my home. I’m not leaving, and I’m sure not going to let the election stop me. If anything, this is waking up all sections of the marginalised communities to act. American history is full examples of our country putting up obstacles to put a stop to progress, as well as triumphs of people overcoming them.
To borrow a common Martin Luther King Jr quote, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. We will continue to work for equality of all Americans, continue working for a just society. On the path to equality, opponents will put up mountains to stop us. All we’re going to do is break out the climbing gear and overcome that too.
The fact is at the end of the day, under the guise of frustration with the political system, my countrymen determined that the lives of people of colour, women, LGBTQ people, the people of various religious minorities - whether Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu, and others - could be sacrificed.
We can talk all we want about why people here or there voted, whether it was because of frustration or disillusionment with the political establishment. We can talk all we want about how certain communities voted for policies they perceived to be in their self-interest.
At the end of the day in an election that had incredibly little policy and was heavy on racist/sexist/xenophobic rhetoric, my countrymen and neighbours were fine with a bigot. They were fine with marginalising millions of their citizens; people like me and my family, people like my friends and loved ones across the country.
There is simply no whitewashing this.