Trump Card: White Denial, Racial Resentment and the Art of the Heel

There is no one in the world more creative than a white person trying to deny their racism, after having said or done something incredibly racist.

Whether it’s the Orange County California Republican activist who recently sent around the e-mail with the picture of the Obamas portrayed as chimpanzees, or the folks who show up to Tea Party rallies with signs picturing the president as an African witch doctor with a bone through his nose, no one ever wants to admit the obvious: that they are knuckle-dragging, pathetic bigots. In the case of the above-mentioned Republican activist, she relied on the old stand-by defense; namely, that she has black friends. Of course, she can’t name any of them, because she’s lying; and more to the point, this isn’t a defense to a charge of racism. It would be like a heterosexual man using sexist slurs in the workplace, or pinching female co-workers on the ass, and then insisting that he wasn’t sexist because after all, he has a wife.

It all reminds me of my senior year of college, when two crosses were burned on our campus. After the first, which was burned when a previously all-white fraternity had offered a bid to a black student, many whites denied that the act had been racist because it had only been a “two-foot cross.” After the second, the perpetrators insisted they had just been throwing wood randomly into a bonfire, when a few pieces “accidentally landed in a cross-like position.” Although the horizontal bar of the cross had an MLK Jr. Boulevard sign attached to it, that was just a coincidence, they insisted.

But the most recent award for a “White Man Doing Racist Shit and then Lying About it” has to go to Donald Trump. Although Trump insists that he is possibly the “least racist” person on the planet, and that he actually gets along good with “the blacks,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean, his actions suggest otherwise. Putting aside the testimony of a former colleague of Trump’s, who has noted that the Donald once said that laziness was a “trait in blacks” (an accusation Trump never denied at the time it was made), his recent rants indicate a definite willingness to push buttons of white racial anxiety and resentment for political gain.

First, Trump jumped on the birther bandwagon, suggesting that President Obama may not have been born in the U.S. This, despite the fact that state officials in Hawaii had long verified that he was born there, and the fact that the Honolulu newspaper had printed a birth announcement a few days after Obama was born. To believe the president wasn’t born there would require a belief that his mother had purposely concocted a conspiracy to place a phony birth announcement: an act that would have made no sense unless we believe that she somehow knew, even in 1961, that her son — her black son — was going to run for president one day and would need the cover of “natural born” citizenship. What makes birtherism racist is simple: it has been part of a larger narrative that has attempted to “other” Barack Obama, as a secret Muslim, a foreigner, an “anti-colonial” African (in Dinesh D’Souza’s terms), and as someone who doesn’t view America the way the rest of us (read: white people) do. No white president has ever had their citizenship questioned in this way, nor would they. To believe that he would have faced this kind of attack had his name been O’Malley instead of Obama, just because some whack-a-doodle fabricated a phony birth certificate suggesting that O’Malley had been born in Ireland, rather than, say, South Boston, is to believe in unicorns and pixie dust.

Now, with the birth certificate thing settled among remotely sane people, Trump has switched gears, casting doubt on Barack Obama’s academic performance and suggesting he didn’t deserve to get into the Ivy League schools he attended; namely, Columbia and Harvard Law. Although this plays directly into the long-running narrative so common on the white right for the past forty years, to the effect that black folks are getting things they don’t deserve because of racial favoritism, Trump insists it has nothing to do with race. Of course not. Neither could it possibly be about race that Trump would question Obama in this way, despite never having raised the issue of academic merit with any white president or politician, like, for instance, George W. Bush, who was a mediocre student (at best) in prep school and Yale, and actually bragged about his piss-poor performance to Yale students when he gave the commencement address there after becoming president.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Little Lord Fountleroy gave money to the McCain/Palin campaign, despite the fact that John McCain graduated sixth from the bottom of his class at the Naval Academy and was only admitted to Annapolis in the first place because his daddy was an admiral; and that Sarah Palin barely graduated at all, bouncing around at five schools before finally getting her degree. So for Trump to now pose as the protector of academic standards seems a bit disingenuous, to say the least, and by disingenuous I mean really, really racist.

By suggesting Obama might not have deserved to be in the Ivy League (despite that whole Magna Cum Laude thing at Harvard Law, which is not awarded, after all, by pulling names out of a hat), Trump has descended into the pit most commonly occupied by Pat Buchanan, who has never met a successful person of color who he thought earned their position. It isn’t that Trump is a racist in the classic sense. He might be, but that isn’t the point: it’s that he, like far too many white Americans seems to buy into a narrative that people of color are getting things for which they aren’t qualified: slots in good colleges, positions on the Supreme Court, or even the presidency itself. Rush Limbaugh, for instance, insists that Obama only won because he was black and that a combination of racially-motivated African Americans and guilt-ridden white liberals voted for him on that basis. It’s the political extension of what Rush said back in 2003, when he argued that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Donovan McNabb, wasn’t very talented, but got a free pass from the media because sportswriters were so desirous of seeing a black quarterback succeed. That a guy whose only physical exercise in 20 years had been washing down oxycontin with water would deign to weigh in on who was and was not a talented football player was precious to say the least.

This white resentment is the modern manifestation of racism: it isn’t necessarily the old-school bigotry to which the nation was accustomed back in the day; rather, it’s the kind that views black and brown folks as taking things that are rightfully ours, as whites. So the brown-skinned immigrants are taking “our” jobs; the black and brown welfare cheats are taking “our” tax dollars; the affirmative action beneficiaries are taking “our” kids’ slots at Princeton, or for that matter, the state university down the road. We are entitled to these things, says the narrative; we earned them. But they didn’t.

Never mind that according to a Century Foundation study from a few years back, for every student of color who benefitted at all from affirmative action at a selective college there are two whites with lower scores and grades than the average, but who were admitted anyway because of family connections or parental alumni status.

Never mind that even when job applicants are equally qualified in terms of experience and education, applicants with white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely than those with black-sounding names to get a callback for an interview.

Never mind that white male job applicants with criminal records are more likely to get called back for an interview than black men without one, even when all other qualifications are indistinguishable.

Never mind that African Americans with college degrees are twice as likely as their white counterparts to be out of work, Latinos with degrees about fifty percent more likely than comparable whites to be out of work, and Asian Americans with degrees about 35 percent more likely than similar whites to be unemployed.

Never mind that corporations run by white folks receive far more taxpayer largesse (in the form of subsidies and specialized tax breaks) than all poor folks combined, let alone the poor of color.

Never mind that General Electric paid less in taxes last year than undocumented immigrants, despite record profits.

And never mind that Richie Rich, who was set up in business by his father and inherited tens of millions of dollars from his daddy to help him build his own fortune, thinks he is somehow qualified to pontificate on the extent to which others may or may not have earned what they have — which really is the textbook definition of irony, and by irony, I mean balls.

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