From the Editor: The Whites' House

In Transition 122, (spring 2017)

by Alejandro de la Fuente

Perhaps the term most frequently used to describe the incoming administration of Donald J. Trump has been “uncertainty.” As a candidate, as reality TV buffoon, and as a public figure more generally, the man elected as the President of the United States has taken so many different sides, on so many issues, that it is virtually impossible to ascertain what he hopes to do while in office. It is not even clear that he understands those issues, or that he has the attention span needed to grasp their complexity.

It is equally doubtful whether Mr. Trump remembers what he has said, or whether that matters at all. The President seems to inhabit a parallel universe where basic rules of decency and elementary parameters of truth telling and fact checking do not apply. Anything goes: Megyn Kelly’s menstrual cycle. Carly Fiorina’s looks. Hillary Clinton’s marital life. The size of Senator Marco Rubio’s penis. The looks of and “beans” on Senator Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi. The alleged complicity of Senator Cruz’s father in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Senator John McCain’s blame for being captured prisoner during the Vietnam War. The National Enquirer as a credible source. In Trump’s world unemployment has never been higher, President Barack Obama founded the Islamic State, and Hillary Clinton started the “birther” movement. If it is cold in New York City, this conclusively shows that global warming is not real. He grabs pussy at will.

The new President is a bigot.

One thing, however, has been certain all along. The new President is a bigot.The openly misogynist, racist, and xenophobic language that he deployed during the campaign; the caricatures and denigrating language used to characterize “the blacks,” Hispanics, and Muslims; all reveal a deeply biased and prejudiced person who does not regard all humans as equals and who classifies them in groups of different worth. Upon entering office, Mr. Trump proceeded to temporarily halt immigration from several Muslim countries, eliminated the Spanish language from the White House website, and appointed a cabinet in which white males predominate in a proportion not seen since the days of Ronald Reagan.

It is fitting that the election of Donald Trump has been greeted by every racist fringe group out there—and there are many. Reflecting on Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again,” the official newspaper of the KKK noted that “what made America great in the first place” was the fact that this nation was founded as a “white Christian republic.” The KKK has organized public demonstrations to celebrate Trump’s election and former KKK grand wizard David Duke declared that voting against Trump was a betrayal of whites’ “heritage.” Shortly after the election, in the midst of Nazi “Hail Trump” salutes, the white supremacist National Policy Institute organized a meeting to celebrate the new administration. In the first ten days following Trump’s election, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a well-known nonprofit organization that tracks extremist movements in the United States, reported 900 “separate incidents of bias and violence against immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, women, LGBT people, Muslims, and Jews.”

As concerning as this is, however, it does not come even close to the sober realization that what propelled Trump to the presidency was the white vote. The unifying and most consistent commonality among Trump voters and supporters is whiteness. Whiteness trumped class. Whiteness trumped gender. Whiteness trumped decency and decorum. Whiteness is the common denominator behind Trump’s support. Trump won among white males. He won among white females. He won among non-college educated whites. He also won among college educated whites. Whites. Trump. The White House is now the whites’ house.

What does that tell us about this moment and about Americans’ perceptions of race and justice? Can we accept the argument, articulated by some white voters, that they supported Trump despite, not because of, racism or bigotry? In a column published in The New York Times (December 26, 2016), political analyst David Paul Kuhn disputed the notion that bigotry got Trump elected and cited polls showing that many white voters had critical views concerning Trump’s values and “decency.” According to the columnist, the “stereotyping of Trump voters is not only illiberal, it falsely presumes Mr. Trump won because of his worst comments about women and minorities rather than despite them.” Kuhn is missing the point. The argument is not about a causal relation between Trump’s racist diatribes and the white vote. The argument, rather, is that in order to vote for Trump, white voters had to be comfortable enough with his racist and xenophobic rhetoric to deem him electable. Doesn’t this unusually high degree of toleration for the racist rants of the candidate and his admirers qualify, at the very least, as a tacit endorsement of such ideologies? Is it possible to support Trump without being somewhat comfortable with this white nationalist crap? This is why many Americans feel that this vote represents an attack on them, as individuals—in many cases now, literally, as xenophobic violence is a very real threat to those who represent anything but white heteronormativity. When I walked into my freshman seminar the day after the election, three students were crying. They are the future of this country. How could so many fellow Americans do this to them, they asked?

Bigotry must not go unchallenged.

At Transition, we cannot ignore the vicious language and the racial fractures which persist in the United States, and which have been revealed and magnified by the Trump ascendency. Bigotry must not go unchallenged. For over fifty years, Transition has been a platform for the best critical thinking on race, colonialism, and justice in Africa and the Diaspora. We celebrate the intellectual and cultural achievements of those of African descent worldwide. The journal has fought against hatred and bigotry of various sorts and colors for decades. When the dreams of postcolonial Africa faded away under corrupt and dictatorial regimes and neocolonial interference, Transition raised its voice. The journal denounced not only the racism of the European expat community in East Africa, but also the violence against and expulsion of Asians in the region. Founding editor Rajat Neogy’s fierce defense of art and letters as tools of engaged citizenship landed him in jail.

As social media disseminates lies that become truths by sheer repetition and intellectual sloppiness, our voices matter and must continue to be heard. Transition provides a space for serious critical thinking on racial justice, a space for watchdog vigilance and protest through the written word, a space where better futures are written.

The pen is mighty. The written word is activism. That is why Transition was created in 1961. That is our mission. We invite your insight, your vision, your rallying cry. We call upon our community of activists, scholars, intellectuals, and concerned citizens to engage critically with this difficult now, so that we can write better tomorrows. Submit to Transition. Finding ourselves in this bad reality show, as one our contributors describes the Trump presidency, we cannot be mere spectators.

photo credits:

Donald Trump. Photo by Michael Vadon via Wikimedia Commons.
The White House, north side. Photo by Martin Falbisoner via Wikimedia Commons.


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