The recent vote of the House to condemn Trump’s tweets underscores the deep political and racial divide that exist in the United States. Many Americans find it appalling that there is even confusion and believe his tweets to be blatantly racist. Yet Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated that the President’s remarks were not racist, and most Republicans saw nothing wrong with his remarks. New polling even suggests that Republicans actually like Trump more, following these tweets.
What is clear from this controversy is that we, as Americans, do not have a shared understanding of the definition of racism. We live segregated lives and are deeply divided along political lines. Relying on politicians and the media to unravel racial dynamics does not serve us well. Fully understanding racism requires deep understanding of history and the social sciences, and a lot of multiracial living, which most of us do not engage in. So, here are ten points for understanding racism offered with the hope of changing the narrative even ever so slightly:
- It can be overt and intentional as in white supremacist groups who advocate for and work to eliminate people of color. Think Charlottesville.
- It can be covert and intentional as in redlining, gerrymandering, housing segregation, confederate statues, and symbols—a criminal justice system where Black and Brown men have a greater chance of going to prison than their white counterparts committing the same crimes.
- It can be overt and unintentional as in racial jokes and racially offensive Halloween costumes.
- It can be in modern forms such as in racial slurs, hiring practices, discriminatory selling of goods, services and business practices. Think Starbucks incidents.
- It can be passive tolerance of others who espouse discriminatory beliefs or practice. Think Republicans who did not vote to condemn Trump’s racist remarks.
- It can be policies and practices designed to keep the status quo of whites in control and in dominance. Think voter suppression and how immigration laws are being tailored.
- It can be denying racism, because it is not your lived experience. Think Mitch McConnell stating that Trump isn’t racist. It’s like someone punches you and then they tell you it didn’t hurt you. The person next to you, who saw you get punched, agrees with the puncher that it didn’t hurt. You, on the other hand, experience the pain. After the growing list of definitive racist remarks and behaviors by this President, if you still believe he is not racist, you obviously are not the target of his racism or you have no empathy for those who are affected by racism. Examine your social privilege.
- It is determined not by intentions but rather by its impact. People of color experience real fear and consequences as a result of this President’s words, actions, and behaviors. It affects the quality of our daily lives. Telling women of color to “go back to the country they came from” is different than saying “if you don’t like America, leave.” Trump certainly didn’t leave under Obama’s administration and he had lots of negative things to say about America then. No one said he “hated America” or told him to go back to Germany.
- It differs from personal negative prejudices or biases that we might hold toward certain groups. It is not just someone’s opinion. It is systematic, structural, and holds the power to interrupt, interfere with, and possibly destroy the quality of Black and Brown people’s lives. It is not just Trump’s remarks or his behaviors or nasty attitude toward people of color. It is the power he holds in the highest office to be able to make policies, practices, and set up conditions that adversely and disproportionately affect people of color. He is working to do that.
- Having friends of a different race, being married to someone who is an immigrant, hiring people of color aren’t proof that you are not racist. Recall that the principal author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson, had five Black children with enslaved Sally Hemings. Jefferson was publicly silent on issue of slavery and emancipation, yet his five children and Sally were slaves. Trump does have friends of color, is married to an immigrant, and has Ben Carson in his cabinet. He is still a racist.
About the Author
Deborah L. Plummer, PhD, is a practicing psychologist, university professor, chief diversity officer, and speaker on topics central to racial equality, inclusion, and mutual respect. She currently serves as vice chancellor and chief diversity officer at UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial Health Care, and she has written for Diversity Executive and the Boston Globe Magazine. Her books include Handbook of Diversity Management, Racing Across the Lines: Changing Race Relations Through Friendships, and Some of My Friends Are. . .: The Daunting Challenges and Untapped Benefits of Cross-Racial Friendships. Follow her on Twitter at @DebbiePlummer and visit her website.