Whenever a word or phrase bursts into the cultural zeitgeist, instead of embracing it, I have a tendency to resist. I do not “unpack” things, I talk about them. I never worry about “optics,” even when I am concerned about how something appears. And whenever someone tells me “it is what it is,” I still want to know what it is. For some reason, those groupthink phrases induce a slight tinge of obstinate belligerence inside me, which is to say, they make me “feel some type of way.”
I’d like to say the same thing about the word “normalize.”
When I hear people say that Trump has “normalized” racism, I want to remind them that underfunding of black schools, disproportionate police shootings, black underemployment, wage inequality and the disparities in the criminal justice system were prevalent long before the caucasian electorate selected an alt-right, feral, howler monkey as the president of the United States of White America.
Yet, people will point to the recent Quinnipiac University Poll that shows 49 percent of Americans believe Trump is racist. They will recall how he equivocated about “both sides” of the white supremacist melee in Charlottesville, Va. They will point to the surge in videos of people wearing new-millennium Klan hoods (“Make America Great Again” caps) loudly imploring black and brown people to go back to (insert country of origin here). His administration’s policy on immigration, foreign travel and affirmative action leave no doubt that Trump is unquestionably a bigot.
But is he making white people more racist?
We’ve heard the bait-and-switch “normalizing” arguments before. Rap music normalized sexism and violence. Beyoncé normalized female sexuality, causing teen pregnancy. Black Lives Matter normalized hate against police officers. Video games, movies, abortion and the insidiously overwhelming number of doors in our educational institutions have normalized gun violence and created the recent uptick in school shootings.
We know better.
We aren’t dumb enough to believe that a stable teenager played Grand Theft Auto one afternoon and decided to go kill everyone in his social studies class. The Beyhive newsletter doesn’t tell 16-year-olds that condoms are evil. Contrary to what they say about the influence of rap music, even among people who listen to “Bodak Yellow,” the percentage of people who eschewed dancing in favor of making “money moves” is very low in the black community.
And, as far and Donald Trump is concerned, white people aren’t watching his press conferences and saying to themselves, “You know what? I was in favor of equality and justice, but after listening to Trump’s string of non-sequiturs, I think I might want to try this racism thing.”
America has always been this way.
There have always been employers who quietly tossed out resumes with black-sounding names. White nationalist organizations have been around for years. People have been whispering among themselves about Spanish-speaking immigrants, Muslims mosques and black people moving into their neighborhoods since time immemorial. The hate has always been embedded in their hearts and hidden behind their smiles. Political correctness and social decorum simply made outright racism unacceptable over time.
Then came Donald Trump.
Whether one agrees with it or not, it is impossible to ignore the fact that singular figures can sway the national consciousness. When Barack Obama emerged victorious in the 2008 election, black children around the country discussed how the first black president made them really believe they could truly be anything. According to my calculations, 73.2 percent of black women have a photograph of Barack and Michelle in their phones as an example of black love. They became role models for an entire segment of the population.
I don’t feel that hip-hop made men more misogynistic, but I think it is impossible to deny that ’90s rap normalized the use of sexist language toward women. I still believe that one penny of every dollar from the purchase of legalized marijuana should go to Snoop Dogg. I don’t know if he caused people to smoke more weed, but he normalized its use.
And, as much as I hate to say it, Donald Trump normalized racism.
Despite how you may feel about him, he is the biggest star and the most powerful man on the planet. He’s the Beyoncé of bigots. He’s the Michael Jordan of the alt-right. He’s Jigga for people who like to call black people “nigger.”
And while one can argue about whether Trump is the G.R.O.A.N. (Greatest Racist of All Nincompoops), it is impossible to argue his cultural influence on the national etiquette. MAGA hats are the wypipo’s version of Jordans, “Make America Great Again” is his Reasonable Doubt and his
klan campaign rallies are like the “On The Run” tour.
There are numerous studies that show Trump voters were motivated by racial resentment disguised as economic anxiety. They already carried the gene, Trump just made the symptoms more visible. White people haven’t become more racist, but when they can turn on their TV every day or see the leader of the free world calling people “animals,” referring to an “infestation” and talking about “shithole countries,” it becomes easy to act more racist. They see it in primetime on national television every day. They read about it on their Twitter feed.
Trump is the Pied Piper of racism. No, he’s not making white people more racist, but he’s bringing them out of the crevices. This is mostly because, according to my research, white people can’t cause racism. Only black people can do that. (You probably don’t know this, but a 2018 poll of my email and Twitter mentions shows that 37 percent of white people believe that people who talk about racism are worse than actual racists).
So don’t feel some type of way when someone yells the n-word in the checkout lane in Whole Foods. When you unpack it, it’s not Trump’s fault that white people are racist. But, according to the optics, it’s his fault that people are acting more racist. As someone once so eloquently explained about racism and the nuances of what is considered acceptable:
“It is what it is.” –No smart person, ever