White America, from Main Street to the nation’s capital, from our dinner tables to our textbooks, from the media to the religious pew, created Donald Trump. We must own him and everything he represents. He is a product of white supremacy, and each of us is not only complicit but also has benefited from a society that made his election possible.
We made him, so it’s our responsibility to resist him and his policies of white nationalism, misogyny and xenophobia. It is not enough to have voted against him; it is not enough to oppose his presidency. It is not enough to be horrified by him, wear safety pins and tweet #NotMyPresident. Claiming some identity as an ally is insufficient.
We must march with our feet, risk our futures and actively oppose the normalization of his presidency. We must be anti-racist. To be anti-racist is to be anti-Trump and his forthcoming regime of honest white nationalism.
Bryan Stevenson, reflecting on societal hypocrisy and a willingness to stand in judgment of others—especially those deemed undesirable and unworthy, those silenced and pushed to the margins of society—calls upon those with power and privilege to catch stones, to stand between those who “cast stones” and those who are daily injured by a politics of hate and violence.
“There is no such thing as being a Christian and not being a stone catcher,” he writes. “But that is exhausting. You’re not going to catch them all. And it hurts. If it doesn’t make you sad to have to do that, then you don’t understand what it means to be engaged in an act of faith. … But if you have the right relationship to it, it is less of a burden, finally, than a blessing. It makes you feel stronger.” To be anti-racist, to be an accomplice, requires being a stone catcher.
While an immediate threat to communities of color, LGBTQ communities, women, Jews, the environment, democracy and justice, Trump is nothing new. As recently noted by Wanda Sykes in front of a jeering crowd, “This is not the first time we've elected a racist, sexist, homophobic president. He ain’t the first one. He’s just the first confirmed one; that’s it.”
He is an extremist manifestation of the core ideology that is America. “Racism has existed as part of the United States from its foundation. The peculiar form of racial ideology that exists today in the US was born in the English colonies of the seventeenth century as part of a system of plantation slavery in the south that was integrated into the growth of capitalism on a world scale,” Bill Crane writes. “Racism, in the form of enslavement of Africans and their descendants and expropriation of American Indians has been encoded in the DNA of America since before independence, much as sugar is baked into a cake.” Trump follows a long tradition of whites who get rich and who secure power by peddling sugar to white America.
From enslavement to incarceration, from Jim Crow to redlining, from the Ku Klux Klan to extrajudicial murders, from the Trail of Tears to Standing Rock, from Operation Wetback to Operation Build the Wall, from internment to “enhanced vetting,” from COINTELPRO to Ferguson, Mo., the history of America is based on racial violence. The utility of racist fear in mobilizing whites to cast stones, to empower institutional lithobolos aimed for communities of color, is part and parcel of the history of the nation.
For white America, for those who sleep under the blankets of freedom, who experience the essence of America’s promises, the election of this #BigotInChief, who ran on a platform of racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, is not the America “we know.” For communities of color, his election; the appointment of white nationalists into positions of power; and the promises of stop and frisk, deportations and racial terror are yet further reminders of what the nation has been for centuries.
The question is, what will we do with that knowledge? What will do in the face of daily reports of his unfettered embrace of the politics of white supremacy? Will we sit idly by, congratulating ourselves for not voting for him, for not supporting him or just for not being racist? Or will we move beyond shock to actively oppose this continued history, to be stone catchers? Will we follow in the tradition of white accomplices who engaged in anti-racist work?
John Brown, the Grimké sisters and Levi Coffin didn’t just stand on the sidelines, telling the world, “We don’t own slaves” or “We didn’t vote for a president who supports slavery.” They actively challenged slavery and white supremacy from the Underground Railroad to Harpers Ferry. Lillian Eugenia Smith and Jessie Daniel Ames didn’t find peace in their white silence, citing their opposition to racial terrorism, but actively opposed people and policies that were contributing to lynchings throughout America.
Anne Braden and Jim Zwerg didn’t ignore the rocks that were Jim Crow because they didn’t draft segregation laws or enforce them with the violence of police batons and water hoses. Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and Viola Liuzzo didn’t sit back because they didn’t design disenfranchisement laws. Peter Norman didn’t walk away from the medal stand because he was not personally responsible for global apartheid, but instead stood side by side with Tommie Smith and John Carlos, catching stones hurled at his Olympic brethren.
It is not enough to say we aren't racist.
It is not enough to watch The Wire or listen to Jay Z.
It is not enough to don a Colin Kaepernick jersey or have friends of color.
It is not enough to support diversity initiatives or donate to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Simply not supporting Trump is not now, and nor will it ever be, enough.
Standing on the sidelines saying, "I am not racist" is standing on the wrong side of history; it is aiding and abetting racism, racial terror and white nationalism. Silence is violence; standing on the sidelines is complicity.
To march toward justice requires catching stones, irrespective of the pain and consequence. Not being racist and standing in silence neither protects those who are being brutalized by the daily barrage of state-sanctioned and state-thrown stones nor alters the reality that is producing this violence. It has to be about daily action.
Christopher Keelty, in “How to Easily Be a White Ally to Marginalized Communities,” offers specific choices that speak to an embrace of being anti-racist:
- Be intolerant of intolerance.
- Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives.
- Confront your racism and don’t be fragile.
- Use your privilege to support marginalized movements.
- Give your time and money.
- Be proactive about inclusion in your daily life.
- Avoid segregation.
- Do the work to be inclusive.
We must be anti-racist! We must ask ourselves daily, what am I doing to combat racism, to live and act as anti-racist? What am I doing to oppose every effort to normalize Trump and his white supremacist ideology?
This work requires challenging individual prejudices and institutional racism, whether at our dinner tables, our workplaces or 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. We must be accountable to marginalized and threatened communities and side with justice.
To march toward justice requires being about action and being an anti-racist.
David J. Leonard is an associate professor in the department of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University, Pullman.