It is confusing to listen to people who engage in racist behavior insist that they are not racist.
There are several definitions of racism that appear in dictionaries, but most of them state that racism is the belief that one race is superior to another. The definitions include that in racism, there is the belief that one’s social and personal traits are determined by one’s color. Racist thought includes the belief that the races should be kept separate.
Racism is not a “stand alone” condition. According to the late Rev. William Augustus Jones, “One’s theology (how I see God) determines one’s anthropology (how I see humans); and one’s anthropology then determines one’s sociology (how I order my society)” If Jones’ statement is to be accepted, it means that racist thought is theologically grounded, as many contend. What one believes about God is the starting point for racist behavior; with God as the ultimate judge, people who are racist see absolutely nothing wrong with the way they think. In fact, they feel justified.
The fact is, however, the way many people see God and thus, believe about their inherent superiority, bumps against the notion of a fair, just and equitable God, and keeps them unable to relate to or understand the cries of “racism” from those against whom they act and whom they oppress.
These people, including the president, categorically deny that they are racist. What “others” see as racist, racists see as normative. The president has said things which indicate his belief that his race is superior to others, and yet, he does not see anything wrong with it. His son and his friends say he “doesn’t have a racist bone in his body.” Indicating that Mexicans are rapists, casting doubt on a judge’s capacity to do his job because of his race, making, approving, or pushing for policies that oppress the rights of people of color –none of this is problematic for this president or many of his followers.
Something in his attitude and words resonates, however, with people who openly want America to be white; he connects with that group of people as strongly as he concerns people of color. There is a line of understanding about what the president is saying, and everyone knows it.
But many of them would not call it “racism.” Many believe that if they do not use the “n” word, if they have a couple of African American friends, if they “allow” their children to go to school with kids of color, then they are not racist.
When people say the president is not racist, the question arises, “what is their definition of racism?” Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he is not racist, and yet he is pushing policies that will suppress the right of people of color to vote. Politicians say they are not racist, yet they have engaged in gerrymandering legislative districts so as to give white people the advantage. Police officers say they are not racist, yet they stop, detain, arrest, imprison and kill far more people of color, especially black men, than they do whites.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary for the president, made a statement not long ago about the reason for street violence in Chicago is because “they don’t have any morals.”
In times of natural disaster, where there is not enough food and water for those who survive the storm, a black person stealing bread for his family will be said to be “looting,” while a white man doing the same thing will be said to be “trying to feed his family.” Racism kicks in all of the time, standing on a platform of moral superiority based on one’s skin color, and makes the distinction not only acceptable but unworthy of comment.
Nothing written here even begins to touch on the issue of power; long ago, I was taught that in order to be a true racist, one had to have the power to discriminate against and oppress others, especially economically. There are plenty of examples to support this belief. The most powerful statement as to the sad truth of how economics shades the whole discussion of racism is that made by Bryan Stevenson some time ago: “It is better to be rich and guilty than poor and innocent.” And white.
This president uses words, presents attitudes, and promotes and pushes for policies that offend and violate the sense of personal worth of people of color on nearly a daily basis. He says he is not racist. His friends and family say he is not racist. Being “nice” with his family is no indication of his feelings about people of color. There have been many racists in our history who have been wonderful fathers, mothers, and grandparents; they have been dutiful and loving and kind to their children. They should be. That’s what parents are supposed to be.
But being a nice, loving parent or grandparent cannot erase the hatred for other races that racists harbor in their hearts. What is in their hearts comes out, and in the case of public servants, that vile spirit permeates every action the public servant takes, hurting, demoralizing, and dehumanizing people in the process.
That is racism. The president is infected with it, whether he and his friends and family will admit it or not.