Racial and religious minorities have been living a nightmare of of hateful rhetoric; why did it take so long for Americans to wake up to its hurtful effects?
When Donald Trump first began his campaign for the presidency, many of us found him amusing. We laughed at his impractical policy ideas and his gaffes on national security and foreign relations. Media outlets like The Atlantic debated whether his campaign should be treated as “news” or “entertainment.”
The Huffington Post actually made the full leap when it announced that all coverage of Trump would be published in their entertainment section: “If you are interested in what the Donald has to say, you’ll find it next to stories on the Kardashians and The Bachelorette.”
At the time, no one thought he stood a chance to become the GOP’s presidential nominee. Here we are, though, more than a year later, and only weeks stand between now and the day when Mr. Trump could be elected to the Oval Office.
Some of us were never in on the joke. For more than a year now, racial and religious minorities have been asking their fellow Americans to stop treating Trump’s campaign as a sideshow and to recognize the serious threat his divisive discourse has on our society. Experts who study this negative impact have coined a new term to describe it – “The Trump Effect.”
The Trump Effect names the ways in which his anti-Muslim rhetoric is directly tied to a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Scholars have even shown that the Trump Effect ismaking our children more angry and less happy.A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that “the campaign is producing an alarming level of fear among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.
This has been happening for over a year, but it was only this week that public opinion had a breakthrough shift and really stopped treating Donald Trump’s campaign as a sideshow, dismissing his latest missteps as harmless entertainment. It took the release of tapes in which Mr. Trump speaks about women in vulgar and sexual terms and admits to sexual assault for some people to finally see the danger minorities have been seen and felt all along.
It was this moment -- more so than any other -- that compelled Americans to draw a line in the sand and condemn Donald Trump. The long list of Republican leaders who publicly denounced Mr. Trump following his lewd comments includes prominent figures such as Sen. John McCain and Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. Moreover, many evangelical leaders who have traditionally supported the GOP – including evangelical theologian Wayne Grudem – also renounced their support for Donald Trump this past week.
While many see these pronouncements as simple and obvious moral decisions, some Americans are asking a critical follow-up question. Considering the other offensive and divisive comments we have heard from Mr. Trump, what is unique about his comments that pushed so many Americans to over the edge?
Acknowledging the presence of racism and implicit bias might help us make sense of what is going on here. While Trump’s earlier offensive comments primarily targeted racial and religious minorities, the perceived targets of his most recent vulgar remarks are white women, a group that Americans have traditionally valued more than minority groups. For a clear example of this embedded history, remember Emmett Till, the 14-year old African American boy from Chicago who was lynched for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
Through the case of Till and in the case of what we’ve witnessed this past week, it is clear that we value the lives of white women more than other groups alienated by Trump’s campaign, including immigrants, people of color, and religious minorities. Whether we want to admit it or not, our society maintains a hierarchy that privileges whiteness over other racial and religious identities. This history and the fact that our nation only stopped overlooking Mr. Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric when he threatened the value of white women’s lives, show us plainly that in modern America, some lives still matter more than others.
Don’t get me wrong here. I am not saying that white lives don’t matter, nor am I saying that we should not be outraged by Trump’s vulgar, sexual remarks about women. I am simply trying to call attention to the fact that if we truly placed equal value on the lives of all people in this country, it would not have taken us so long to condemn Trump’s divisive speech. We would have been disgusted and outraged more than a year ago – and we never would have been just weeks away from electing a man like Mr. Trump as our Commander-in-Chief.
Racial and religious minorities have been living through the consequences of Trump’s hate speech for more than a year now. We have been calling on our fellow Americans to stop viewing Trump’s campaign as an amusing sideshow and to start treating him as a serious threat to our nation’s stability and security. On behalf of all minorities who have been waiting anxiously for this moment, I want to welcome you all and assure you that we are glad that so many of you are finally onboard.
It’s better late than never, and it’s a relief that we are finally treating Mr. Trump as the serious danger that he is. As the gap in the polls diminishes and as election day approaches, we no longer have the luxury of finding this election amusing. Too many of our lives are at stake.