Opinion: Ripping the mask off genteel racism

By Daniel A. Brown
Posted 9/5/19

I suppose we should thank Donald Trump for something unprecedented. He has ripped the mask of genteel racism off the face of the Republican Party. Ever since Nixon's infamous 1968 "Southern …

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Opinion: Ripping the mask off genteel racism

Posted

I suppose we should thank Donald Trump for something unprecedented. He has ripped the mask of genteel racism off the face of the Republican Party. Ever since Nixon's infamous 1968 "Southern Strategy," in which the GOP courted Southern segregationists appalled by the Democratic embrace of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills, the former "Party of Lincoln" has utilized coded racist messages in every election since.

Recorded conversations of Nixon and Reagan include derogatory and vulgar references to people of color, both at home and abroad. Still, these coded dog whistles, such as references to "welfare queens" and Willy Horton, have been masked by a layer of gentility and false proclamations of serving all Americans, regardless of race.

Since he announced his candidacy in 2015, Donald Trump has blown this pervasive scam right out of the water. The Republican Party now faces the ignominy of being the party of white racism and white supremacy.

Examples of Donald Trump's bigotry against people of color go back decades, although these will be disregarded by his supporters who don't care or live in a world of ideological denial. Before his election, Trump earned notoriety by endorsing the loathsome "birther" movement, one of the ugliest episodes ever seen in this country, doubting the citizenship of then-President Barack Obama.

Before that, Trump hounded and vilified the "Central Park Five," a quintet of young black and Latino men who were falsely accused and convicted of an assault they had nothing to do with. Trump spent $85,000 in ads in the major New York City newspapers condemning them in advance of their trials and calling for the death penalty. Recently, he himself made headlines for refusing to apologize to the five victims. His 2016 campaign was launched and energized by characterizing Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

Since his election as president, one can lose track of Trump's racist outrages, whether it's his support for the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching in Charlottesville to his "Send them back" assaults on four American citizens who happen to be women of color; his crude, targeted remarks about Baltimore and African American activists and the horrific massacres by white nationalists which are inspired, in part, by his hateful rhetoric.

The group chants at his rallies remind me of the "Sieg Heils" of an earlier demagogue. And, as always, his Republicans enablers in Congress sit silent or protest lame excuses.

I'll say one thing for the old-time Southern segregationists of the civil rights era. They embraced white superiority and crowed it to the sky. The current Republicans are far too cowardly. They cower hushed whenever Trump makes some disgusting comment or incites his mob against people of color. Their silence is their way of enabling him and, in most cases, secretly agreeing with him.

When confronted, they and those who support Trump will complain that they have black friends and have nothing against black people. That's most likely true. But having black friends while endorsing a president who consistently attacks and insults them is the modern equivalent of the kindly slave master. There were slave owners in the antebellum South who treated their slaves well. But while doing so, they still perpetrated and sanctioned a brutal, evil system of oppression.

I've lived long enough to recognize that simple prejudice exists in all races, religions and nationalities. Prejudice and unconscious ignorance of those different than us are peculiar human traits. The difference is when that simple prejudice is used as a deliberate weapon to deny others their basic human rights.

And so it is with Donald Trump and the current Republican Party, a cadre of old, corrupt white men preserving their power while violating American principles of equality and fairness and, in some cases, American law.

Silence is no longer an option. It equals complicity. Either you stand with a party that has turned a blind but knowing eye to the racist betrayal of American citizens or you be brave and speak out against it. There is no middle ground.

Daniel A. Brown is an artist, writer and teacher living in Arroyo Seco.

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