Racism is Out in the Open

To me, it’s painfully ironic that this eve-of-the-election weekend is also the opening weekend for “Loving,” a film about Mildred and Richard Loving, a Virginia couple who, in 1958, were dragged out of their bed, arrested, and sentenced to a year in prison. Their crime? They got married. However, Richard was white and Mildred black, and that was against the laws of the not-so-long-ago day when women and men of different races were, in some states, forbidden to do so.

The actual charge: “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth.”

Their sentence was suspended on the condition they leave Virginia. They eventually took the case to the Supreme Court, where, in a unanimous decision, the justices struck down Virginia’s law. (We’ll let the point about the heavy hand of the state interfering with people’s private lives pass for the moment.) In his opinion, Chief Justice Warren specifically noted that laws like Virginia’s were obviously “designed to maintain White Supremacy.”

Despite the Court’s ruling, laws forbidding interracial marriage remained on the books for decades. Alabama was the last state to purge this racist concept from its state constitution . . . in 2000.

Irony is a term to describe an event that presents the opposite of what one might normally expect, and that is in full flower this year. The Loving’s case represented a triumph of love over hate, hate that was institutionalized in law. I happened to think that, in the 49 years since that decision was handed down, my country might have made more progress against hatred, and I say this as a man who grew up in the midst of it and who was not completely immune to it in his early years. See this post from March of last year if you want more details.

This election has proven me wrong. I certainly was not so naive as to think we’d banished racism, bigotry, misogyny, and other forms of hate, but I really did believe they were no longer the norm, and surely a national political campaign could not be driven by them, at least not obviously. But this election, more than any other I’ve seen, at least since 1968, is driven by hate, and by racism.

Donald Trump’s campaign began with a racist message, couched in anti-immigration language. All the familiar elements were there, including his claim that Mexico’s government was sending “rapists” and other criminals to the U.S. It’s a stock racist technique to emphasize rape, with the clear implication that brown or black men are going to force themselves on white women. He was still at it more recently, with the fear-mongering claim that Hillary Clinton was going to bring 600,000 Syrians into the Land of the Free.

In this, Trump is really only practicing a louder, coarser, and more obvious example of a core Republican strategy going back decades. As a young Republican in the late 60s, I vividly recall Nixon’s Southern Strategy (a direct appeal to white racists, in an attempt to blunt George Wallace’s appeal across the South). Then there was Reagan’s first campaign stop, in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where three young Civil Rights workers were murdered in 1964, and declaring his belief in “states’ rights.” And who can forget Bush the Elder’s Willie Horton ad? The Younger Bush’s administration made suppression of minority voters, in the name of stopping non-existent vote fraud, a priority, and a Republican-dominated Supreme Court gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Trump himself called for his supporters to watch polling places for fraud, by which he meant they should do whatever they could to intimidate minority voters. A federal just just slapped him down for that.

What was particularly horrifying to me was the gleeful sense of relief expressed by millions of Americans that their racism could now be voiced openly, encouraged by their candidate. “He says what we’ve all been thinking,” or words to that effect, marked many news stories on the subject of Trump’s appeal.

That hatred took another form, aimed at Hillary Clinton herself. I saw a recent poll that reported 51 percent of Trump voters surveyed were voting against Clinton, and the rhetoric, in the Trump campaign and among his supporters, has been far beyond mere criticism or disagreement with her policies. It’s been ugly, misogynist, and violent. There are threats on her life. So millions of Americans are willing to put a race-baiting, bigoted, lying sexual predator into the Oval Office to satisfy their hatred.

And they may well succeed.

I had this uncle who paid for a genealogical study of my family and found that we had a motto: finem respice, Latin for “consider the end.” By that, it means, think of the consequences of your actions.

The consequences, in this case, should be terrifying. There is already more than enough hate-spawned violence abroad in the land. Consider how that escalates if the president of the United States encourages it. If you are African-American, Hispanic, Muslim, or gay, Trump is working people who hate you and may commit violence against you into a froth. Now that it’s out in the open, after January 20th, it may be open season on you.



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