Back in the summer of ‘09, President Obama remarked that police in Cambridge, Massachusettes acted “stupidly” when they arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside of his own home. Despite the fact that the President clearly articulated why anyone would be angry if this were to happen to them, many (primarily on the right) hit the roof. They attacked the President and tried to paint him as somehow anti-law enforcement even though he was just rightfully pointing out that there is a history of Blacks and Latinos being disproportionately stopped by police. President Obama subsequently said he regretted stating that the officers acted stupidly, called it a “teachable moment” and even held a “beer summit” with Gates and Cambridge police officer Crowley. But that of course wasn’t nearly enough for many who still continue to portray him as anti-police till this day. I suppose there’s one simple explanation for all of this: a different set of rules apply to people of color than they do to Whites. All one has to do is take a look at Donald Trump and Mike Pence; they validate the notion that as White men you can pretty much make any kind of bigoted, racist, sexist or incendiary comment and then later just proclaim that it’s no longer your position (or your ticket’s position), and expect everyone to just move on. Well, we ain’t movin’.
Over the last few days, people everywhere have been parsing the newly surfaced video of Trump making lewd, repulsive comments about non-consensual kissing and groping of women – oh, and of course, how he could get away with such things because he’s a celebrity. He and his handlers have dismissed it as ‘locker room talk,’ and spun it as something he just simply uttered years ago but never acted upon. Or from Donald’s own mouth: “it’s just words.” While many in the GOP establishment have come out forcefully to condemn the comments and some have pulled back their endorsements, it’s basically too little, too late. He is already the nominee, he already secured millions of votes in the primary and most importantly perhaps, these same folks said and did nothing when he made xenophobic statements about religious and ethnic minorities.
When one Donald J. Trump burst onto the political scene last year to announce his candidacy for the highest office in the land, he did so while asserting that Mexicans were bringing drugs, they were bringing crime, they were rapists and “some” he assumed were “good people.” He repeatedly alluded to the fact that 11 million undocumented folks were going to be deported by stating things like “we have many illegals in the country and we have to get them out.” The rallying cry for his base has been to “build a wall,” as Trump has stated time and again himself and asserted that “Mexico will pay for it” (though he apparently failed to mention that to the Mexican President when he met with him). Trump has called for a ban on Muslims entering the country, then said it would apply to non-citizen Muslims, then to people who want to come here from countries with a supposed history of terrorism and then of course now there’s going to be ‘extreme vetting.’ The fact that the topic of a proposed ‘Muslim ban’ even made it to a Presidential debate stage is outrageous and unacceptable.
Each and every time Trump made a new disgusting proposal, uttered a dangerous concept or bordered on inciting a riot, news outlets, pundits and experts often dismissed it as pure politics. Granted, it was a smart strategy – getting people who were disengaged or never even involved in the political process energized and to the polls in record numbers by seizing on their fears of the unknown, their economic worries and their apprehension of a quickly diversifying America. But in the process, Trump’s rhetoric and venom has brought such ugliness to the surface, normalized hatred like Islamophobia on an entirely different level and left a society that will suffer from this campaign cycle long after Election Day.
Whenever people excused Trump’s suggestions or statements as just Trump being Trump, they failed us and simultaneously reinforced the notion of white male privilege. Can we imagine what would have happened if President Obama made disparaging comments about police or about Whites for example when he was running for office? Can we even pretend that this would remotely fly? Let’s be serious, the man can’t even make uplifting speeches about race relations and unification without being heavily criticized. The level of hypocrisy is astounding. Even his legitimacy as President has been called into question by none other than Trump himself. Demanding that a sitting President produce a copy of his birth certificate in order to prove that he is in fact ‘legit’, is yet again another example of white male privilege in full effect.
The media’s inability to effectively hold Trump accountable for his inflammatory words and abhorrent concepts goes far beyond a desire to amass ratings. Yes, newsrooms – especially cable newsrooms – are driven by a profit motive, but they also function based on who is represented in those newsrooms and who is not. Without an immigrant, a Latino, a Black, a Muslim, an Asian or Native American voice in a production meeting to speak up and say, “no, you need to press harder on this;” or “no, this is inexcusable period;” or “no, there’s not enough balance here;” or “no, we’re not going to give this wall-to-wall coverage;” Trump’s vile claims were allowed ample airtime (with many things going unchallenged), brought into the mainstream and thereby tacitly made acceptable. That in and of itself defines privilege and determines how certain narratives are shaped.
Does racism still exist in America? Absolutely. But what we’ll often find today isn’t as much of the overt racism as exhibited by those who call for a ban on a certain religious group, but the more subtle forms of discrimination that keep various segments of society out of specific power structures and areas of influence. And of course, the ability for some to make openly bigoted statements and get away with it virtually unscathed, while others merely highlight structural inequities and must apologize for it and hold beer summits.
Trump and his sidekick Pence (who would like us to believe the GOP nominee is just flawed and we should forgive and move on) confirm the notion that as a white male you can make any kind of unwarranted, racist or outlandish statement with no factual backing, then 6 months later claim that it’s no longer your position and never truly be held responsible – at least not in any real substantive way. Whereas marginalized groups and minority groups are required to denounce the actions and statements that they have nothing to do with. For example, whenever a horrific attack by a supposed Muslim terrorist takes place, all 1.6 billion Muslims across the planet must denounce and speak on it even though we had nothing to do with it. If someone marching against police brutality allegedly called cops pigs, or if violence broke out somewhere at a protest, the entire Black Lives Matter movement gets lumped in with the actions of a few in order to delegitimize their concerns and the movement itself. On the flipside, when a Dylann Roof, or a Robert Dear commits murder or attempts to blow something up, or when a Donald Trump makes an offensive claim, they are judged as individuals. People of color and religious minorities are not afforded the same benefit of the doubt. Yet another example of privilege.
For the Republican ticket to hold out the position that Trump no longer harbors the same views he did earlier and we should all just move on is a slap in the face to immigrants, Mexicans, Latinos, Blacks, Muslims, women and anyone else he demonized along the way to the top. As I’ve written and discussed extensively, hate crimes against Muslims or those perceived to be Muslim are at their highest level since right after the 9/11 attacks. There have been several studies correlating a direct link between a rise in hate crimes and this campaign cycle (the State University of California, San Bernardino even estimates that hate crimes against American Muslims were up 78% in 2015 alone).
That is not something we should just ‘move on from’. If we as a society truly want to live up to our principles and continue actually moving forward, then that requires all of us calling out bias, xenophobia – and privilege - wherever it may lurk and at the very least not giving it a national platform to prominence. Trump and Pence need to comprehend that no, we’re not just going to move on as if the vitriol was nothing and as if there weren’t real life consequences because of it. They must answer for everything, including the toxic environment we now find ourselves in.
In other words, think it’s time we all tell Trump and Pence to check their white male privilege at the door.