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White Supremacy Carries More Than a Tiki Torch

Photo by kellybdc | CC BY 2.0

Our president has no trouble naming his enemies — CNN, Rosie O’Donnell, Nordstrom, immigrants, Muslims, the all-women version of Ghostbusters, etc. etc.

But when it comes to violent white supremacists, his passive streak is impossible to miss. When neo-Nazis and Klansmen incited a riot in Charlottesville, Trump famously blamed “many sides.”

Even after a belated statement finally condemning the racist perpetrators, Trump immediately backtracked. The very next day, he blamed the fictitious “alt-left” for the violence and insisted there were “many fine people” among the torch-bearing Confederates.

This was far too much even for many Republicans.

Senator Jeff Flake accused the president of “making excuses” for “acts of domestic terrorism.” John McCain insisted “there’s no moral equivalency between racists” and their opponents. Marco Rubio worried the president was resurrecting an “old evil,” while Texas Rep. Will Hurd called on Trump to apologize.

These Republicans (and many others) deserve credit for speaking out. But condemning Nazis is the lowest bar in the broader fight against white supremacy.

The fact is, the policy machinery of that supremacy — that is, the laws that systematically ensure negative outcomes for people of color — hums hot as ever. No hoods or flags required.

I wonder, for instance, whether these Republicans will also condemn their former Senate colleague Jeff Sessions. As Trump’s attorney general, Sessions is preparing an assault on affirmative action practices at universities as we speak.

Before that, Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to seek stiff mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, which is a major driver of the mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately locks up nonwhite Americans (“the new Jim Crow,” law professor Michelle Alexander calls it).

Sessions also looks likely to tear up federal reform plans for police departments with documented histories of brutality and racism.

What does his party have to say about that?

I wonder, too, whether they’ll call out Trump’s bogus panel on “voter fraud” led by Kris Kobach. Every study on the subject shows that “voter ID” laws and other restrictions do almost nothing to reduce in-person voter fraud. Makes sense: In-person fraud is virtually non-existent.

But these laws do have a proven effect in keeping African Americans, Latinos, and poor people away from the polls. That’s exactly why they’re still cropping up in GOP-controlled states all over the country.

And what will these Republicans say about the states — all 27 of them — who’ve passed laws preventing cities from raising their minimum wages? That directly lowers wages in jobs dominated by women and people of color, who lag far behind white men in both income and wealth.

Finally, will they speak out against the several states now considering laws that would let drivers run over protesters who block roadways?

Those roadway-blocking tactics were popularized by Black Lives Matter activists and supporters of indigenous pipeline resisters, so it’s little wonder who these lawmakers imagine being run over. Especially after a neo-Nazi rammed his car into the anti-racists gathered in Charlottesville.

I’m glad the Republicans now speaking out say they loathe white supremacy. Good.

But white supremacy is more than racist name-calling or flag-waving. Most days, it’s a mundane system that pits the law against our non-white neighbors — and laws don’t need anyone to “feel” racist for them to work. They can look perfectly colorblind on paper, but they’re not.

Republicans — and all of us — need to be every bit as ready to name the machinery of white supremacy as we are to condemn its nastiest supporters. Otherwise we’re just making excuses, too.

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