Will America Choose King’s Dream or Trump’s Nightmare
George Yancy / The New York Times
17 يناير 2018
Let’s come clean: President Trump is a white racist! Over the past few days, many have written, spoken and shouted this fact, but it needs repeating: President Trump is a white racist! Why repeat it? Because many have been under the grand illusion that America is a “post-racial” nation, a beautiful melting pot where racism is only sporadic, infrequent and expressed by those on the margins of an otherwise mainstream and “decent” America. That’s a lie; a blatant one at that. We must face a very horrible truth. And America is so cowardly when it comes to facing awful truths about itself.
So, as we celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, we must face the fact that we are at a moral crossroad. Will America courageously live out Dr. King’s dream or will it go down the road of bigotry and racist vitriol, preferring to live out Mr. Trump’s nightmare instead? In his autobiography, reflecting on the nonviolent uprising of the people of India, Dr. King wrote, “The way of acquiesce leads to moral and spiritual suicide.” Those of us who defiantly desire to live, and to live out Dr. King’s dream, to make it a reality, must not acquiesce now, precisely when his direst prophetic warning faces us head on.
On the night before he was murdered by a white man on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn., Dr. King wrote: “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.” Our current president, full of hatred and contempt for those children, is the terrifying embodiment of this prophecy.
We desperately need each other at this moment of moral crisis and malicious racist divisiveness. Will we raise our collective voices against Mr. Trump’s white racism and those who make excuses for it or submit and thereby self-destructively kill any chance of fully becoming our better selves? Dr. King also warned us that “there comes a time when silence is betrayal.” To honor Dr. King, we must not remain silent, we must not betray his legacy.
So many Americans suffer from the obsessive need to claim “innocence,” that is, to lie to ourselves. Yet such a lie is part of our moral undoing. While many will deny, continue to lie and claim our national “innocence,” I come bearing deeply troubling, but not surprising, news: White racism is now comfortably located within the Oval Office, right there at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, embodied in our 45th president, one who is, and I think many would agree, must agree, without any hesitation, a white racist. There are many who will resist this characterization, but Mr. Trump has desecrated the symbolic aspirations of America, exhumed forms of white supremacist discourse that so many would assume is spewed only by Ku Klux Klan.
Mr. Trump doesn’t need to march in Charlottesville, Va., carrying a tiki torch. He doesn’t need to shout the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil.” He doesn’t need to wear KKK regalia. He doesn’t need to publicly call some of us “niggers.” We already have enough evidence. We know the soul of this emperor. Like the little child in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, I refuse to lie and have no space for pretense: Mr. Trump is naked!
On Jan. 11, Mr. Trump, perturbed with lawmakers who suggested that America commit to restoring protections for immigrants from places like Haiti, El Salvador and African countries, is said to have asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” According to some present, Mr. Trump went on to suggest that the United States should consider bringing more people from places like Norway. Assuming that all of this is true, and as of this writing I have no reason to doubt it, we can’t run from this one. There is no spin that can obfuscate this.
Mr. Trump’s white supremacist base will become even more emboldened by his penchant to “speak his mind.” Leaders in the Republican Party may very well treat this as a “matter of the heart” (“We don’t know the president’s heart”), “poor phrasing” or comments “taken out of context.” Some of them, including the president himself, are now denying that he said what so many have confirmed he did.
The problem with lying, obfuscation and making excuses, though, is that one is often forced to tell more lies, cloud the truth, make more excuses. These words from Mr. Trump are a blight on this nation, a dagger in the very heart of what we claim to be “noble” about America, a verbal drone fired at our fragile democratic experiment. And if we are honest, we will agree that the national and international damage done by Mr. Trump’s recent white-racist virulence is a heavy moral price to pay, a profound moral tragedy. And for those who remain silent, you also stand accused.
With his latest display, Mr. Trump has pulled deeply from the white-racist imagination. “Shithole” refers either to a toilet or the anus. Then again, in Mr. Trump’s mouth, it could mean both. So, let’s get this right. Places like Haiti, El Salvador and African countries are indicative of places where feces are deposited or places from which feces are expelled. Either way, Haitians, Salvadorans and Africans function, in Mr. Trump’s white racist imaginary, as “dirt,” “crap,” that which “stinks,” is “foul” and “nasty,” that which causes us typically to recoil.
These are the people who bring with them “contamination,” (Haitians who “all have AIDS”) which functions as a trope for uncleanness, pollution, corruption. This supports Mr. Trump’s white nativist narrative regarding making America great again; it is to make America white, “pure,” “clean,” “unsullied” and “moral” again. It is not by accident that those who Mr. Trump prefers are from Norway. After all, for Mr. Trump, they are “pure,” “clean,” and “moral” — tropes for whiteness.
Mr. Trump could have taken this from a Nazi handbook. Nazi ideology embraced Nordicism, which held that whites in Northern Europe were “superior,” Übermenschen. Clearly, Mr. Trump, like Hitler, has a preference for Nordic types. This isn’t just ignorance on the president’s part; this is moral transgression of the highest order. As Dr. Ibram X. Kendi powerfully pointed out in The Times yesterday, Mr. Trump is clearly not the first racist president, but we should rise up now to demand forcefully that this ideology has no place in the Oval Office.
Then again, philosophically, Mr. Trump is not far-off from the anthropological “genius” of Immanuel Kant who, in “On the Different Races of Man,” held that the first race, which was obviously white, was “very blond (Northern Europe), of damp cold.” Unsurprisingly, Kant held that black people, because they are black, are stupid. These are the same black people whom Mr. Trump characterized by saying: “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good. You have no jobs. What the hell do you have to lose?” The answer is clear: Our souls to a racist.
Strange, isn’t it? From the “shithole” of Africa, human life evolved. I guess Mr. Trump knew this, though. After all, he is “a very stable genius.”
The sociologist Joel Kovel wrote that “aversion is the cardinal manifestation of modern American racism.” This is why we had de jure segregation. White people didn’t want to be “contaminated” by black bodies by mixing with “bad blood.” White people expressed an aversion toward those of us who were racialized as black. We were considered “dirt”; stuff that needed to be removed, kept in its place. Like a shithole, like feces. It is better to be flushed away, kept at a distance. White people refused to touch Black people unless it was on their white perverse terms. Like feces, we were expelled from white spaces, we were deemed “uncivilized” (meaning, not white). Mr. Kovel added: “Of all prejudiced-against people, none have suffered the appellation of filthiness so much as Negroes.”
Tragically enough, Kant, our towering philosopher of the Enlightenment, also held that “all Negroes stink.” As the scholar Jan Nederveen Pieterse notes, “It is no wonder then that soap became both a symbol and yardstick of civilization.” Dove advertisers should have known this history.
I fear for America; I fear for the soul of America. We are in the midst of a moral crisis, one that I fear we lack the spine to confront. In fact, it is one from which America may not recover. If this was the 1930s, I firmly believe that Hitler and his Nazi regime would approve of Mr. Trump’s white racist divisiveness and racist discourse. This is not pure speculation, especially as Nazi propaganda at the time, as argued by the German sociologist Stefan Kühl, deflected the horrible treatment of Jews by pointing to white America’s racist treatment of black people.
The point here is that white America was caught facing a moral quandary. The Nazis were saying that white America, in many ways, is like us. Hence, undergirding this critique of America is the implication that the Nazis approved of white America’s racist treatment of black people — you know, the ones taken from that “shithole” known as Africa.
If Americans are courageous enough, ethical enough, have a strong enough conscience, a broad sense of history, and refuse to play a dangerous and stupid game of selling their souls for party loyalty, then perhaps we are prepared to accept the truth that America has lost any moral standing that it once presumably possessed. We are certainly not “the light of the world.” We are not “that city that is set on a hill” that “cannot be hidden.” If Mr. Trump’s white supremacist behavior in the White House doesn’t get called out and stopped, then America needs to hide its face, run away in shame, and declare national and international moral forfeiture. The American people need to scream at the top of their voices, “America is morally bankrupt under Donald Trump.” America has made a Faustian deal, one that many politicians are too weak-willed and gutless to confront.
Mr. Trump continues to embolden white supremacists and unabashedly communicates to them that it is fine to be who they are. Recall that he saw an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides,” with “ blame on both sides” after white racist violence in Charlottesville last year. By that logic, there was blame on both sides when America fought against German fascism; there was blame on both sides when the American North fought against the American South; there was blame on both sides when America fought for its independence from Britain, when black people rebelled against American slavery, when Native Americans fought against their colonial decimation and when women fought and now fight against their attackers. Along these skewed lines, I’m sure that I, too, will be blamed for calling Mr. Trump a racist. Where do we draw the line? I have faith that many of us know where, but that the president has no idea. And that should scare the shit out of us all.