• Michael Thompson

Does Supporting a Racist Make You Racist?

anti-Trump Rally - Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

I was the hoping that the answer was a resounding ‘No.’ Unfortunately, as I listen to family, friends, and acquaintances slide farther and farther from mainstream beliefs along with their continued defense of such remarks, it becomes harder and harder to accept any other conclusion. Not long ago, in fact until 2016, such comments as, “They can leave” were met with the obvious condemnation of scorn and ridicule. No one disputed, that when addressing women of color, that such speech was racist language. Thus it wasn’t part of the daily news cycle and it was not embraced as factual. Now, with support from the leader of the party, it has become the new norm. Even more problematic is the denial that such remarks were ever racist. These individuals, whom you have known your whole life, act incredulous to the notion that their words could be construed in such a way.

I hear it all the time. “Ooh. I must be racist because I support Trump,” in that sharp, sarcastic tone which can only mean one thing, they think it is beyond all possibility and probability that they have racist tendencies. They quickly play the ‘History Card.’ Everyone knows the ‘History Card’ which allows the offended person to utter the following statements in their defense - “You have known me my whole life I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” - “You know I can’t be racist, we hung out with everybody in school. What about all my black friends and co-workers.” - “My daughter-in-law is Mexican so how could I be racist.”

Ascertaining motives becomes even move convoluted when I knew of their past voting history. Originally, I am from Northeast Ohio (Youngstown specifically). It is an old steel-town whose best days are probably in the past. Unemployment is high, job-growth practically non-existent, and crime runs rampant. Normally the region is a Democratic stronghold, however, in 2016 that changed as the same people who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, had flipped and voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Did they start suddenly becoming racist? The answer is No, Donald Trump promised exactly the same as Democrats had been promising for years with no results, and it is part of the reason he won states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. His rallies were textbook as he guaranteed jobs, income growth, and lower crime. They were the same promises that the Democrats before him freely gave with no intention of ever having to deliver, and just as the Democrats before, he would be unable to produce results. Still, his straight-forward, boisterous personality resonated, and he was a chance they were willing to take.

Trump had a popular message that targeted immigrants, specifically Mexicans, for Ohioan's economic misfortune. It mattered little that Latino populations in the Midwest paled in comparison to their population sizes in Western and Southern states. He had created an enemy for the people to rally against. Acceptance of the message may have been not been racially motivated but the constant attacks warped sensibilities. It was a slippery slope to full-blown racism.

Initially, you tried to ignore it. They brought up valid points about their interactions with minorities. Sadly, you couldn’t shake the feeling that they were following a disturbing path. Their next comment became even more outlandish than the last, and yet you allowed them their excuses. Finally, it became impossible to ignore - ‘Racist’ was the only word that can be used to describe many of them. I understand that they think they are not racist, most people want nothing to do with that label, and yet, their rhetoric speaks otherwise.

Worse, how racist does my tepid response make me? I will admit, it is not easy to call out family and friends. Confrontation and disassociation are big steps. In many cases, these people have supported me in times when I needed them most, so often I ignore what my gut tells me to be true. I liken it to an infected wound left untreated, it gradually worsens until it kills you. I also do not want to alienate people solely because of opposing political views which are sometimes a fine line. For example, an issue like reparations is much more a political one than a racial one.

I am even more conflicted as to how I am supposed to address minorities that support Trump. It is not my place to tell an individual that they are supporting someone who does not have their best interests at heart. Also, I surely am referring to any minority as racist to their own people. So how should I respond to them? Are their political beliefs to only be handled within their community?

I used to think that Trump was more like Archie Bunker, a politically incorrect bigot but someone who wasn’t a danger. Now, I think that notion was short-sighted as I have no other word than racist to describe him. However, I still find myself giving many of his supporters the benefit of the doubt when I am not sure that I should. How much responsibility do I bear in deciding if someone is racist?

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