What--and exactly who--is a racist? Is he or she deplorable? It's a raging discussion that makes for great television and creates greater opportunities for spin--in other words, endless conversations that are distorted and concocted--but it is a discussion without definition. Without a basic agreement of the what and who of racism, the flaws and errors can not be called.
Good Racists Are Hard To Find
We all know racism exists, but none of us, it seems, have ever met a racist; certainly not Mike Pence, who, when asked by a reporter, refused to call Klan leader and white rights activist David Duke “deplorable.”
Certainly, Donald Trump can find no racists among Americans or his supporters. His prepared remarks while campaigning imply Americans being called racists is ugly politics. Hillary, he said, "ripped off her mask and revealed her true contempt for everyday Americans. Clinton revealed just how little she thinks of the hard-working men and women of America.” So “deplorable” is bad, but “contempt” is okay? Is a "hard-working" racist worthy to be praised? And don't you have to think a little before calling someone a racist? Isn't there a set of criteria they have to meet?
I think Hillary was right to throw down the gauntlet! Hers is a brave first-of-its-kind master stroke: hers is the first national campaign to directly challenge the rising tide of nativists/racists/sexists/xenophobes/Islamophobes hiding under the conservative banner and given prominence and roles of authority in Trump's campaign and messaging.
But we are left with the looming question: what—and exactly who—is a racist?
Look For Racism In Ideas and Acts
The answer forms itself in ideas and actions, in beliefs and practices. The evidence is found in the exercise of power and privilege. It is outlined in pattern and prevalence. Its legacy is found deeply buried in justice and freedom.
The short answer is a racist supports racism. He or she may be good parents, polite people, volunteers in youth sports leagues, members of the church, organizers of fund-raisers, "hard working" at any of the hundreds of activities and enterprises Americans participate in. Not all racists go to Klan meetings, tell racial jokes, or use racial slurs. Opposing undocumented residents doesn't make you racist (I would, however, question your empathy for humanity, your sense of caring and sharing, but Ayn Rand types, while pathetic, are not racists by default.) Despite the exemptions, racism is a big tent.
Its big tent covers hundreds of thousands of little pieces (and people!) whose functions are unknown to each other. Most racists have a detached view of racism as a system. Racism can be carried forth in ignorance and denied. How can it be defined?
A eureka moment occurs when racism is conceived as a system. It is an adaptable, easily modified system of artificial intelligence that adjusts to social and economic demands. It claims key elements of power and embeds its story in the social order. Its first definition is operational! How does it operate? Here are four examples.
Racism operates with a narrative of belief. During slavery, the enslaved who ran away were thought to have a mental illness. (Their pursuit of freedom had to be denied.) A favorite disease, created by a Georgia physician, was “drapetomonia,” a condition of great anxiety and lethargy that caused the enslaved to bolt from their duties and station. The cure: frequent whippings.
Racism operates with legal authority. During Reconstruction, racism upped the ante of violence as over 3,000 blacks were lynched and violence enforced a rigid social order. Later, African-American freedoms were restricted by segregation sanctioned by the Supreme Court in 1896, in the decision for Plessy v. Ferguson. State constitutions took away the right to vote and sharecropping, poverty, and unemployment shaped the political economy.
Racism operates through discrimination, bias, and stereotypes. During the civil rights movement, opponents of equal rights described Southern blacks as “content,” stirred up by “outside agitators.” Dr. King was a “communist.” Protesters wanted to destroy the “Southern way of life.”
Today, racism operates with the sanction of government authority. States have taken up the work of advancing and protecting white privilege. States are sanctioning racism. Despite the governor's promise, Flint does not have a single home the state has refitted—and it was the State that made the decision to poison the water, and then denied the evidence as a political grandstanding. The state protects police. Name the police official convicted of killing innocents; they are exonerated by "duty," "lawful fear," and "procedure."The institutional fingerprint of racism is written in innocent blood.
Is Every Bad Outcome For Blacks Racist?
Okay, two more points: arguments against racism argue single examples are exceptions; not all water is poisoned, not all police kill; Barack won the Presidency, blame him. These arguments fail to recognize that it only takes a few instances of violence, death, whipping, arrests, and stereotypes (“rapists and murders”) to maintain the system: the “exceptions” are the source of its continuance!
Mothers once looked at children who changed behavior because of what the look implied. Racism has its necessary examples of cruelty and threats that show its strength and limit challenges to its system of privileges and power.
The Three Point Guide To Identifying Racism
Finally, racism always has three basic elements in every one of its formations: a myth, a code word, and elaborate denials. Trump easily articulates its classic myths about individuals and communities; about ethnic personalities (lazy, violent, and out of control); his myths are loaded with code words (pick your favorites!). Where he excels in the practice of racism is in its main tactic: the practice of denial! Lying, his favorite pathology, found its political purpose in racism.
Racism's persistence depends on denial. Denial hides it, disguises it, deflects it, justifies it, asserts it—and allows it to be denied and applauded at the same time! Its new denial via Trump is to claim victim status.
So who and what is a racist? A person knowingly or unknowingly contributing to the goals of advancing the freedom and wealth of one group while limiting the freedom and wealth of another group, based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, sexual preference or gender. Racists are those who argue for the freedom to discriminate. Racists politicize black grief and call dead sons and daughters thugs. Racists claim power, never share power. They constrict opportunities by denying them. One group of racists believe they are genetically superior. Others openly seek a race war. Racists dwell in stereotypes.
Racists are Donald Trump and his avowed white supremacist supporters, those who unfurl the southern battle flag emblazoned with his name; those who kick, slap, and punch protesters; those who deliberately and maliciously used labels and slurs; those who believe in their own stupidity that they have more genetic intelligence than blacks.
Include those who passively accept racism by not weighing it as a factor in their vote and those who don't understand its sophisticated denials and accept its current victim blaming.
Yes, He Is
From a November 2014 twitter post, here's a clear example of Donald Trump's racism: “Sadly, because [sic] president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won't see another black president for generations!” He blantantly slammed ambitions—based on color! He took his assumption, factored in race, and made it a restriction on others by future association--a projection of racism!
Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won't see another black president for generations!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 25, 2014
And if you are offended by the mild description, “deplorable,” and find it unreasonable, you should check your beliefs and actions to see if you are racist. The Old South had a saying, “hit dog holler.” The Rastas say, “who the cap fit.” Racists vociferously deny their own perfect fit by simple silence and open outcry, by screaming profanity, insults and slurs while playing victim, denying what they praise.