As I sat and watched Donald Trump justify white supremacy last Tuesday evening, I quietly cried. When he suggested that some of those who marched alongside neo-Nazis in the Charlottesville protest were “fine people,” I asked myself, how did we get here? I remember crying for a very different reason nine years ago when I watched the then President-elect Obama walk out onto the stage after he won the election. While I wasn’t naive enough to believe in that “now we’re post-racial because we have a black President” nonsense, I thought we certainly were past the acceptance of the neo-Nazi type of racism. But here we are in 2017, with people defending Nazis, white supremacy and anti-Semitism. And now we have major cable news pundits defending slavery. As a person of color, the Trump presidency has taught me that this country hates my very existence. It’s shown me there are people I know and love who have contributed to that very hate. And those very same people refuse to acknowledge and change it.
The Trump presidency is the calculated response to a successful black President and his policies. For eight years, under The Obama administration, the country shifted its focus. Initiatives to protect undocumented immigrants were pushed. With the passing of the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA), equal access and quality healthcare was established as a right. The discriminatory legislation Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. Marriage equality was established as the law of the land. We refused to conflate Islam with terrorism. And we declared that black lives matter. The heterosexual, white Christian man was no longer the focus of our policies and political discourse, and white Americans had had enough; they wanted their country back. The election of Donald Trump was supposed to restore racial and class hierarchies — restore white supremacy.
Throughout this country’s history, the federal government has had to step in to override discriminatory state laws disguised as “states’ rights.” But the reality is white supremacy is not a set of laws. It is a set of beliefs used systematically to oppress people of color. Because the system can operate regardless of intentions, white supremacy thrives when well-intentioned people who supposedly “don’t condone racism” refuse to call it out. Laws can influence society and shift a cultural direction. But laws can not change a system that has been so ingrained in our culture that we can’t even recognize when it’s in action.
As a person of color, the Trump presidency has taught me that this country hates my very existence.
Trump is an enabler of white supremacy, and as much as it hurts you to admit it, those who voted for him and still support him are too. We don’t want to talk about that because it means our family members, coworkers and friends enabled white supremacy. There were red flags. He showed us what he was during the campaign, so everyone who voted for him went in with their eyes wide open. They chose to ignore his insults and degradation of women. They chose to ignore his insults to Mexican-Americans and immigrants. They chose to ignore his history with African-Americans. They chose to ignore it all because ultimately, it wasn’t going to affect them. This is white supremacy. This is how it operates. But let’s be clear, white supremacy doesn’t have to look like those white nationalist we saw marching last weekend. It doesn’t have to look like Donald Trump. “You can participate in white supremacy without carrying a tiki torch for racism," writes Lauren Duca, breaking down how white people benefit from white supremacy without being neo-Nazis in her column on Teen Vogue. Rather than admit their complicity in a system that has dehumanized anyone who isn’t white, they have allowed a man with no political experience and the self-control of a toddler to be elected to the highest office of the land. And rather than take measures to remove him, they have allowed the most powerful person in this world to publically defend neo-Nazis and white supremacy.
Listen, it’s time for some tough love. If we’re actually going to dismantle a system that has existed before the founding of this country, we’re going to have to face ourselves and we’re going to have to face our families and friends. White people are going to have to draw some lines. White people created this system, therefore it is white people that should be on the frontlines of dismantling it. People of color can’t do it by ourselves. We’re going to have to admit that a stagnant economy is not why Trump was elected. We’re going to have to say to our parents who voted for this evil that no amount of tax breaks are worth denying another human being’s existence. And you’re going to have to take on white fragility.
White fragility, a term coined by social justice educator Dr. Robin DiAngelo, has become this country’s defense mechanism because white people are uncomfortable talking about racism. It helps white people lie to themselves and deflect. Colin Kaepernick was “unpatriotic” when he took a knee during the National Anthem. They refused to acknowledge his reasons were about race and police brutality. They say Confederate monuments in squares and parks are about “heritage” and “history.” White fragility helps them ignore the fact that these monuments were built during the Jim Crow era and in direct response to the civil rights movement — most likely a sign that they were meant to represent white supremacy in the South. We’re not saying they can’t be displayed in museums. But regardless of their service to the military, those Confederate soldiers fought for the continuation of slavery and shouldn’t be celebrated.
Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams, who is now running for Governor in Georgia, talked with Joy Reid on “All In With Chris” about her support for removing the Stone Mountain Memorial carving displaying Confederate soldiers. When asked what if this stance will negatively affect her run for Governor, Rep. Abrams responded with, “I don’t care....If we do things only when they’re popular, then we miss opportunities to do what’s right.” This is the stance all Americans must have when facing white supremacy. If you don’t condone bigotry and misogyny, you don’t go into a voting booth and vote for a candidate that perpetuates those very same ideals because it’s convenient for you financially. And If you don’t condone racism, you don’t remain silent while your government defends white supremacy. So the next time a family member says to you, “Just because I don’t say anything, doesn’t mean I approve of what Trump is doing.” Remind them of the powerful words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: “He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetuate it.”
Top photo: Alt-right members preparing to enter Emancipation Park during the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville; by Anthony Crider via Wikimedia Commons
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Jacy Topps is a New York-based writer and PR executive. She writes primarily about fashion, NYC, music, LGBT culture and wine. Her love for Lifetime movies is bordering on an obsession. When she’s not attending fashion events in NYC, you can find her sipping wine and binge watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @jacytopps.