Last Friday, Donald Trump used his side gig—Republican nominee for president—to go back to what he’s actually qualified for—real estate—and hawk his new hotel. A few Medal of Honor recipients allowed themselves to be extras in his two-for-one informational, and one of them used the opportunity to address Hillary Clinton’s critique about a certain faction of Trump supporters. “Deplorables are also deployables,” the Vietnam veteran quipped. He did so with the widest smile on his face—just to let you know that he was pleased with himself.
Ever since Clinton uttered the phrase “basket of deplorables,” Trump’s most ardent supporters have tried to offer addenda to the claim: That they are “hardworking Americans.” They have families. And in this case, they have served their country. Fair enough. But you can be all those things and still be racist or, at the very least, be willing to support someone who is—which ultimately proves that when you get down to it, you’re not that committed to a belief in equality for all.
It is to be expected of them, but there’s also a noticeable contingent of others who have tried to take greater issue with charges of racism than with racism itself.
This would include Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who said of Clinton’s comment in a radio interview Thursday: “I think it was a wrong thing to say. I think that it ignores the very true concerns that we have about needing change in this country. I think that it was ill-advised."
Also included would be Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who instead of joining Clinton in a shared contempt of bigotry tried to argue a double standard. Meanwhile, she two-stepped right past criticism of the fact that her running mate referred to President Barack Obama as an “Uncle Tom.”
And, of course, there were white people in media, who felt compelled to explain racism, as if they actually have to face it.
At Vox, Dara Lind wrote: “There’s a satisfying moral clarity in being able to out-and-out call people deplorable for their racist views, but there simply isn’t a bright line between ‘racist’ and ‘not racist.’ There are quiet biases, and degrees of awareness, that even people who don’t support Donald Trump—even ‘hard-working Americans’—need to be aware of. And there is more to racism than what lies within people’s hearts.”
At New York magazine, Jesse Singal argued: “But there’s a difference between people’s subjective experiences and the terms we set for the big, ongoing national conversation about racism and for social justice. Within that conversation, viewing people who hold racist views as irredeemable, and describing their beliefs in terms of moral taint, just isn’t the best way forward.”
Funny enough, when citing his relatives who may hold racist views, Singal quickly blocked anyone—specifically those of darker hues—who challenged him on this notion. Yes, this is exactly how racial harmony is achieved. In any event, Business Insider’s Josh Barro echoed similar sentiments, tweeting, “I think if we're going to (reasonably) define racism quite broadly, then we have to think of it as a bad personal trait, not a horrible one. If most people are racist, and most people are not horrible, then many racists are not horrible.”
It’s easy for those who never have to be subjected to any variation of racism to make these arguments. None of them knows what it’s like to be stopped by a police officer and fear for your life. They haven’t the slightest clue about what it’s like to experience discrimination in terms of employment, banking and housing.
They’ll never have to contend with certain realities like the role that race plays in how black schoolchildren are disciplined. Just last week I had to hear about how my 8-year-old niece had been treated over a racist letter that she did not even write. As early as kindergarten, she asked her mother, “Why the kids with yellow hair are treated better than the ones with black hair?”
And yet, those of us who have to deal with racism are supposed to see the humanity of those who view us as less than. But the fact that racism is common doesn’t make it any less horrific and detrimental. Having racist relatives and friends doesn’t make their bigotry any less ugly. Racism doesn’t have to be a white hood. It has levels. It always has.
If you are racist, it speaks to an ugliness that lives within you. The same goes for anyone willing to lend his or her support to a racist. It doesn’t matter if it’s your meemaw, your bestie, your parents or the one who took your virginity. Or anyone else you can think of.
This isn’t about trying to floss “moral clarity.” It’s calling a thing a thing. Laziness is a bad personality trait. Racism is a much more defining quality, one that speaks to your central core, no matter the volume your prejudice is set at. People are dying because of racism, and there are white people trying to talk about racism in the context of how it's poor manners not to think highly of those with the ugliest of thoughts.
Instead of arguing for others to see racists more fully, that time would be better spent making the racist people in your life less of a boil on the butt of basic human decency. The fact that anyone who doesn’t have to grapple with racism would condescend and play pedant with those who do speaks to the benefits of being white. It also says as much about racists as it does them.
To hell with all of the above.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.