Film director Spike Lee, accepting an Academy Award recently, called on the country to reject hate in 2020. He did not name Donald Trump during his speech, although he did note Trump’s failure to denounce the neo Nazis unequivocally at a now infamous rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017.
Trump, always petulant and petty, replied via tweet, calling Lee’s statement a “racist hit” on the president, whom he claimed had done more for African Americans “than almost any other pres” [sic].
This is Trump’s version of the favorite “conservative” claim that anyone who brings up the problems of race and racism in the United States is “the real racist.” This is a typical, transparently absurd, “conservative” attempt to reverse the issue, along the lines of the notorious recommendation to accuse your opponent of you own worst fault. It is closely akin to the ridiculous exhortation from Republicans that African Americans should leave the “Democratic plantation.”
It is an annoying, frustrating paradox of racism in the United States that, although white Christians created “white supremacy” as a cheap excuse for enslaving African Americans in the 17th century and white people need to take the lead in eliminating the problem, still, because they understand it best and suffer from it most, usually African Americans are the people who bring the subject up. We can call this the Colin Kaepernick Rule. Mr. Kapernick is a professional football player who gained notoriety when he began kneeling during the national anthem before football games to protest the obvious, enormous problem of police violence against African Americans.
The “conservative” response to Kaepernick’s protest, again often coming from Trump, is again typically obtuse and stupid. The claim is that, by kneeling during the national anthem, Kaepernick somehow insults the flag and U.S. troops. Of course, this is rank nonsense, as most soldiers and veterans well know.
The problem with all of these claims, obvious to everyone but obtuse “conservatives,” is that they entail ignoring what African Americans say for and about themselves and their experiences and substitute what clueless white people think. African Americans are experts on racism. They’re the ones who die in gross disproportion at the hands of trigger happy cops. There is no white Trayvon Martin. There is no white Tamir Rice. There is no white Mike Brown. There is no white Sandra Bland.
Plenty of white people were quick to think up excuses that made the deaths of these black people reasonable — to white people. But refusing to acknowledge and listen to the perspective of black people is the essence of racism. It is the core problem. Slavery was obviously the most extreme, wholesale, violent refusal to listen to black people. Segregation was less extreme in important ways. Civil rights activists finally got the message across, at least partly and temporarily in the 1960s, but we have a bad habit of forgetting. It seems unlikely that Trump ever got the message and he was only too happy to gain the presidency by appealing to the rump of people in the United States, just numerous enough, who also never got it and don’t want to.
We know who the real racist is. It’s Donald Trump. And his followers.