Many white Americans believe racism is about individual relationships: how they think about and treat individual persons of color. Here racism is individualized and interpersonalized, which obscures its historical, institutional and White-controlled dimensions including its power base. Black friends and acquaintances, no matter how genuine the relationships, may serve to cloud rather than clarify the white-controlled hierarchy of access to economic, political and legal power, with people of color at the bottom. Being non-racist means being colorblind. While we white people’s friendship with black persons may lead us to believe we are not racist, we were born into and indoctrinated by a white supremacist society, which unconsciously conditions our inherited white privilege.
Bringing about better relations between the races can overshadow and be a substitute for bringing equal access to all the races. Achieving better racial understanding may distract from creating full equality between the races. The more critical issue is not getting along better, but persons of color (and economically limited white persons) getting by better. The emphasis on improving individual racial relationships can serve to deny the realty of ingrained systemic economic, political and legal inequalities that may be called the racism of colorblind equality.
Enter President Donald Trump. He has a long history of racist behavior. The government lawsuits against him and his father for refusing to rent Trump-owned apartments to black persons. When a woman was raped in Central Park, Donald Trump took out expensive ads in prominent New York City newspapers, calling for the conviction of the five black and Latino young men charged with the crime and demanding that the death penalty be restored. The five spent several years in prison, were finally exonerated and released when another man admitted to the crime, and received a $40 million settlement – with Trump still insisting they were guilty. He could not emotionally afford to recognize being wrong.
President Trump ran his 2016 presidential campaign on the charge that President Barack Obama was not born in America , and got as much racist mileage as he could out of that falsehood. He also kept reminding his mostly white evangelical Christian base that Obama’s middle name was “Hussein.” He depreciated non-white immigrants by referring to them as from “shithole countries ” – and thus they were not welcomed here.
President Trump was especially colorblind in the final presidential debate with Democratic candidate Joe Biden. Trump said to the moderator, Kristen Welker, “I’m the least racism person in this room. “ He then said, “I can’t see the audience because it is dark, but I don’t care who is in the audience . . . I’m the least racist person in this room.” Sitting in from of him was moderator Ms. Welker, who is black. (“Trump to Black Debate Moderator Kristen Welker: ‘I’m the Least Racist Person in the Room,’ “ By Matt Wilstein, Senior Writer, DAIlYBEAST, Oct. 22, 2020)
If President Trump is “the least racist person,” then so are the members of his white evangelical Christian base. That is the message he is sending to his base, who, like him can then wrap their racism in denial. In Trump’s case, not being politically correct” and “telling it like it is” represent a fake honesty in which his racism is couched.
President Trump often says, “I’m the least racist person” — in the face of glaring contrary evidence. If he repeats this blatant lie often enough, people will begin to believe him. It is called “a law of propaganda.” “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.’” This law is “often attributed to Nazi Joseph Goebbels.” (“How liars create the ‘illusion of truth,’ “ By Tom Stafford, BBC Future, Oct. 26, 2020)
The “least racist” president reinforces his openness by parading his black friends for everyone to see. During the Republican National Convention, a reported “handful of the impeached president’s Black friends” were present “to deny his racist history and make a case for four more years.” Famed National Football League running back Herschel Walker kept the theme going by omitting all of Trump’s racially motivated transgressions to attempt to make a point that he had been friends with Trump for 37 years and he was unequivocally not a racist.” (“Trump’s ‘Black Friends’ Ask Community To Completely Ignore Racist History,” By Tasnya A. Christian, Essence, Aug. 25, 2020)
Not surprisingly, in July President Trump called Black Lives Matter a “symbol of Hate.” He was reacting to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio having the letters “Black Lives Matter” printed in large type on Fifth Avenue where Trump Tower is located. Fifth Avenue is where Trump said that he could shoot someone and still not lose any votes from his white evangelical Christian base. But painting Black Lives Matter on Fifth Avenue? That is “a symbol of hate.” According to Trump, getting away with shooting somebody is a demonstration of loyalty, not hate.
The effectiveness of the Black Lives Matter movement, in demonstrating against the unjust serial police killings of black persons, has led certain white people to create a counter slogan: “All Lives Matter.” All lives never mattered, seen in America’s continuing white-dominated hierarchy of access to economic, political and legal power. Being colorblind has always been the American way of making black persons disappear and remain invisible. The Black Lives Matter movement has undermined this colorblind dynamic.
Black Lives Matter is visible, vibrant, assertive, democracy-demanding, colorful. The first of its 13 “Guiding Principles” is called ‘UNAPOLOGETICALLY BLACK,’ which states, “We are unapologetically Black in our positioning in affirming that Black Lives Matter, we need not qualify our position. To love and desire freedom and justice for ourselves is a perquisite for wanting the same for others.” Regarding democratic diversity, Black Lives Matter states, “We acknowledge, recognize and celebrate differences and commonalities. We work vigorously for freedom and justice for Black people and, by extension, all people.” (“Guiding Principles — Black Lives Matte Los Angeles,” www.blmla.org)
The Black Lives Matter movement provides a critical lesson for everyone: democracy is colorful, not colorblind.
This article is dedicated to the late Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell, civil rights movement foot soldier who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., United Methodist minister, friend and colleague, who also provided a prophetic conscience for The United Methodist Church in its struggle to fully accept LGBTQ persons at its altar.