|Hey, hey, kids! It's Donald and his anti-immigrant crew|
My good friend Jorge Moreno recently said, "White privilege is being able to say, nonchalantly, that Trump has no chance of becoming president." It was a very consciousness-raising comment for me to hear, and definitely one that has stuck. If you "look" like you belong in this country, then Trump's racist, xenophobic vitriol sounds as nasty as it is, but it doesn't really sink home when there's no risk of his policies becoming reality, thereby threatening your livelihood and life.
White privilege is being able to say, nonchalantly, that Trump has no chance of becoming president. #jorgeramos #nopersonisillegal— Jorge Moreno (@astroboy_moreno) August 26, 2015
Yes, Trump is a clown. But an uncomfortably large fraction of white Americans not only enjoy watching his clown show, but would be willing to have him lead our country (48% of white Americans view him favorably). This simple statistic should be screaming one obvious message to all of us, and it's not about Trump. It's about white America, and what white America really thinks about non-white Americans. I've seen other explanations for how such a large fraction of our country can mobilize behind such an ignorant, oafish, incurious man with zero foreign policy experience or cogent opinions about how to run our country (he considers a question from a conservative journalist about the names of the leaders of ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas a "gotcha question." You can't make this up!). But he does hate those "illegals" and he has big plans involving walls and mass deportations. White America apparently eats this up.
What's particularly galling is that Trump doesn't have to succeed to "win" on this issue. He's already affecting the lives of Latin@ and Hispanic people in our country, whether they are documented citizens, working here on green cards, or in the US without documentation (there are no "illegal" people. "Legal immigrant" status is a social construct, and a recent one at that. All people [should] have the legal right to pursue life, liberty and happiness). How does Trump's racism affect real people? His endorsement of systemic racism provides encouragement, fuel and cover for overt, interpersonal racism. Here's an eye-opening article on this topic from Tina Vasquez writing for The Guardian. An excerpt:
I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 29 of my 30 years. As a light-skinned, biracial Latina in one of the most diverse and Mexican-centric cities in the nation, I have never been asked the type of questions I’m now fielding from white people. I’m not the only one experiencing an uptick in seemingly out-of-the-blue racist exchanges. Latina journalist Aura Bogado recently tweeted about a strange interaction at a grocery store. My father recently told me a white neighbor he’s been friendly with since moving into the neighborhood 15 years ago, casually inquired about his citizenship status. As the days go on, I hear more of these kinds of stories from Latino friends and family members.
For an elegant, well-researched, yet depressing framework for understanding what's going down right now, and what has been going down since ~1960 when the Party of Lincoln collectively went on the warpath against people of color, check out Ian Haney Lopez's Dog Whistle Politics. I also recommend Aviva Chomsky's Undocumented (yup, she's the daughter of Noam and Carol Chomsky. h/t Jorge for the reco!), and Juan Gonzalez's Harvest of Empire (available in both book and movie format). But all that is contained in these resources is nicely summed up by Vasquez:
White Americans can argue Trump is the all-American underdog, the anti-PC, shoot-from-the-hip politician they’ve been waiting for; that their support stems from an appreciation for someone willing to stand up for everything that once made America “great.” Yes, Trump is unabashedly American – in the way that racism and xenophobia are as American as apple pie.