By DONALD JONES
At Fenway Park when a young Kenyan woman sung the national anthem a middle aged white man remarked that she had “ni***d it up.” At American University, students woke up to find bananas and a noose hanging from a lamppost on campus. And most recently, Lebron James came home to find the N-word spray painted on his front gate. These are simply a few of the incidents cascading across our screens which suggest that open displays of racial hatred are on the rise.
Why is this happening? What explains this frightening pattern of unvarnished, unrepentant racial hate? Well elections have consequences. The shocking boldness of these incidents is directly related, I believe, to the election of Donald Trump. Trump did not create the boiling bot of racial animus on public display, but through his statements and policies he in effect took the lid off of the pot.
Thus in July 2013 Trump tweeted – quoting Bill O’Reilly- “Sadly, the overwhelming majority of violent crime … is committed by blacks and Hispanics.“ But according to the FBI, whites commit most violent crime. Doubling down on intolerance Trump began his campaign by calling for the building of a wall to keep out illegal Mexicans immigrants who were coming across the border to rape and kill. (But immigrant populations are generally more law abiding than their native born counterparts.) The stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics and “illegals” are all true Trump seemed to say.
America was already great. Trump in his appeal to make America great “again” was blowing a dog whistle for whites who believe that blacks and immigrants have made gains at the expense of whites. In the past there was a line between extreme racial views, which were kept backstage, in private, and the public stage of the mainstream. Trump openly disregarded the line making such views his brand.
Before Trump the conventional wisdom was that the us v. them narratives that populated Trump’s speeches would appeal only to low information voters, lower income, poorly educated folks. But statistics now show that Trump had the backing of whites of all education levels, and surprisingly the majority of white women. Affluent whites in the suburbs backed him as well. By electing Trump this signaled that political climate change had taken place.
In the past we imagined or hoped that the majority of people rejected racism. But many perceived that since Trump won it may now be the other way around. Trump’s victory in itself created a perception among many that racism was now acceptable. Trump deepened this perception in many ways. He brought in figures such as Ted Nugent – who once suggested Obama should suck on “my machine gun”- into the White House. He hired “Steve Bannon” for his cabinet whom Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi calls flat out a white supremacist. He enacted a “travel ban”
against seven Muslim countries; none of which included a country from which a terrorist attack had been launched.
And Trump has defended speakers like Milo Yiannopoulis, that Berkeley student’s protests as a Neo-Nazi. According to several sources, Milo calls Trump daddy.
But perhaps the defining statement Trump made were his comments on the Civil War. Without the Civil War blacks might still be slaves. But for Trump the Civil War was a mistake. Trump stated, “People don’t ask that question, but why was there the Civil War?
Why could that one not have been worked out?” For Trump slavery was not so wrong that Americans, read white Americans, needed to go to war against each other.
Those uttering racial epithets in public, and spray painting the N-word on Lebron James’ front gate are saying blacks are not welcome in positions of power in the U.S. Those making these statements have heard Trump’s dog whistle. They too are engaging in an act of moral secession. They do this, at least in part, because “If Trump is in office this is proof there are many who share my intolerant views.”
*Donald Jones is Professor of Law at the University of Miami. He is also the author of Dangerous Spaces: Beyond the Racial Profile.”