Over the past few days, I’ve been hearing two sentiments repeated among my liberal friends — most of them white.
“I’m disappointed. I knew there were racists and xenophobes. I just never thought it was a majority.”
“We should have listened more to the other side.”
The people espousing these ideas mean well, and I envy their optimism. Truly. I do not intend to condescend. My pessimism is not a virtue. Faith in humanity is never a bad thing.
But the frustration is that we have been told, time and time again, about this doom, this cataclysm, this sleeping giant of horrific xenophobia that exists outside of any single man. And many of us chose not to listen. It was not Trump’s fanatical brownshirts that we failed to listen to. It was people of color who have been warning for months, years about the vile, seedy underbelly of white America.
When people of color said Black Lives Matter, at once the most innocuous and the most radical statement one could imagine, we nodded and threw up our thumbs. And when our friends and neighbors said, “no no, ALL lives matter,” we sighed and shook our heads and walked away. We called it by its cute little euphemism, white privilege, and failed to see it for what it was: white supremacy.
People of color told us America continues to thrive on an ever-present system of racism. We vociferously agreed, yes, goddamn that fucking system, man! The system sucks! But people are good, in general! People are kind, people are generous, people love their neighbors.
The system is people. It’s not a nebulous, amorphous blob of artifacts from the Jim Crow era. It’s individuals making bigoted comments to their white coworkers. It’s individuals ignoring it because they don’t want to make waves. It’s individuals making the choice every single day to engage in white supremacy even at a micro level.
When Ruth Bader Fucking Ginsberg, progressive champion and hero of civil rights, called Colin Kaepernick stupid and disrespectful because he doesn’t want to celebrate a country that is literally murdering his brothers and sisters, we should have seen a problem.
White pundits and politicians, all of whom promised Donald Trump would never take the White House, are telling us that this election is about economic anxiety, even though the median Trump voter makes nearly twenty thousand dollars more than the median Clinton voter.
People of color, who are the only reason Trump failed to win the popular vote, are telling us this election was about something else entirely.
I don’t have the solution for electoral success going forward. But I know the first step. Listen.