Calling Out White Supremacy Comes With Consequences For Black Folks

The Trump presidency has shifted our national outrage and placed antiracists in our crosshairs.

In both the year preceding and the months following Donald Trump’s election, his most fervent detractors embraced a common theme: the romantics of “normal.”

The refrain was and continues to be that Trump’s bizarre, megalomaniacal obsessions and his defiance of political tradition “undermined our democratic norms” — and that given this, Trump’s reign “is not normal.” There is, in these notions, a subtle naïveté, which ignores the fact that the illiberalism accompanying a Trump presidency had already been met upon millions of black and brown Americans to some degree. Police violence had not waned, voter disenfranchisement persisted, and white males were largely granted blind deference prior to the 2016 election.

But the longing for normalcy speaks to a very real departure from presidential decorum under the current regime, and with very real impact. It is, for example, unique for a president to publicly defend neo-Nazis; or oafishly endorse police brutality; or boast about sexual assault; or claim Mexican immigrants are rapists, drug mules and violent thugs. And from a president whose message of ethnocentric nationalism captivated millions, these are performances with clear reverberations throughout our nation. They grant allowance to those wresting American identity for themselves at the expense of all others, and in response to people of this ilk, complicity breeds violence. 

On Monday afternoon, ESPN “SportsCenter” co-host Jemele Hill used her Twitter account to note that Trump is a white supremacist:

Her tweets were met with vitriol from Twitter users who deem such labels insults rather than provable identifiers. To these users, being called a racist or white supremacist is unseemly, even if the label is technically apt.

ESPN capitulated to this vitriol by offering an apology on Hill’s behalf:

There was, predictably, no explanation offered as to why Hill’s words were inappropriate, and much less, whether they were wrong.

L’Oreal’s first trans model, Munroe Bergdorf, endured a more stringent fate for her condemnation of white supremacy. After authoring a Facebook post concerning the insidiousness of racism, Bergdorf was fired by L’Oreal, which, unironically, deemed themselves champions of diversity in the immediate wake. 

It is noteworthy that outcry toward antiracists uniquely harms black people aiming to upend the practice of racism in ways their white ideological counterparts rarely experience.

When Detroit Pistons head coach Stan Van Gundy referred to Trump as “brazenly racist and misogynistic,” he eluded a clarion call for his firing.

When Steve Kerr, head coach of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, openly agreed with Van Gundy, the levers of power were not pulled to his demise.

When San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich addressed our “national sin,” the scourges of racism and white privilege, an animated horde did not force his ouster or earn him reprimand.

But just Wednesday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Hill’s remarks about Trump a “fireable offense” during a press briefing. And mere months prior, Trump himself implied pressure from his office would prevent Colin Kaepernick from ever earning an NFL job again after the quarterback protested police brutality.

These speak to a general disinclination among whites to accept the authority of black people, even with regard to matters like racism, which black people experience intimately and frequently. This is a tradition spanning far beyond the constraints of politics, however. A 2016 study, for example, used data provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to illustrate the disparity in drug prescriptions written for black and white emergency department patients. The data suggest a greater reluctance to provide medication for pained black patients, to which Keisha Ray, an assistant professor at Texas State University, offered a chilling attribution.

“Black patients are not afforded the luxury of being seen in EDs, physician offices, and clinics as just patients in need of help and healing,” Ray said. “Rather they are seen as less than human, drug seekers and overall exaggerators.”

These behaviors speak to the flippancy with which black plight is treated. They are not, in themselves, Trump creations. But the risk we run in bending to the will of an overtly white supremacist president bears similar results. Assuaging and coddling fragile white racism inevitably shifts the window through which we observe that racism, forcing us to see both the oppressors and the oppressed in a similar light.

The effect of this fear — of the refusal to allow clear and reasoned critique — is the seizure of tools that one may use to navigate and combat racism.

When people speak in a frightened tone about the normalization of Donald Trump, this is the precise phenomenon to which they speak. It is not merely normalization in a practical, political sense ― the permission, say, to have a Muslim ban or the expulsion of immigrants, or the allowance of police brutality, or the refusal to provide the president’s tax returns. Rather, it is the fear that his darkest views, and their espousal by those we know and love, immobilize us in condemning them as despicable. To condemn Trump, in many circles, amounts to condemning your mother, your father, your cousins, or your friends who support him. And similarly, if Trump is a white supremacist, so too are those who share his aims.

We should not share in this fear of scrutiny.

The effect of this fear — of the refusal to allow clear and reasoned critique — is the seizure of tools that one may use to navigate and combat racism.

It is as though one stands atop an eroding sandbar without a boat, the water infinite in the distance and a tide creeping nearer and nearer. And if we are to ― as ESPN, and L’Oreal, and other complicit bodies have ― silence those speaking out against racism, we must be willing to explain why confiscating their meager means for survival serves our national interest.

This article has been updated with Keisha Ray’s current title.