Two summers ago, I wrote about the subject of “racism,” and while that term continues to be a sensitive topic for discussion, I had to consider if I really wanted to approach this subject again. In light of the election of Donald Trump as the 45th President, and the fact that there have been over 700 instances where his supporters have physically and verbally attacked people of color especially Muslims, I have concluded this subject is worthy of an update. Racism and the “Jim Crow” era has returned more blatant than ever thanks to Donald Trump.
I do not wish to imply in this article that all white Americans are racist. On the contrary, most are loving American citizens who believe strongly in equality for all. In fact, President Obama would never have been elected to two terms if it were not for an estimated 43% of the white population that voted for him. However, I do wish to point out that small segment of white Americans who most notably voiced their hatred and racist remarks during many of the Trump campaign rallies, and such despicable behavior has continued and not adequately addressed by the President-elect Donald Trump.
According to Wikipedia, the exact definition of racism is controversial because there is little scholarly agreement about the meaning of the concept of “race” and because there is little agreement about what does and does not constitute discrimination. I belief that the definition of racism is simple—racism occurs when a person or a group of persons prohibits another person or group from exercising their civil rights. Racism is generally exhibited in one of two forms – subtle or blatant. Subtle racism occurs when the affected person or persons are not aware that they have become victims of racism. Blatant racism occurs publicly. Subtle racism existed for much of the twentieth Century, but once an African American President and an African American Attorney General became part of the highest political offices in the land, blatant racism emerged from perceived “remission.”
Much progress had been made in attempting to eliminate racism; however, there was a significant set-back caused by members of the Republican Party when President Obama was inaugurated as the first African American President and re-elected to a second term. We shouldn’t forget that a racist nucleus of mad white Americans had never supported racial equality. In fact, their political representatives voted against both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. The emergent Trump movement has exacerbated hatred and bigotry and has resulted in an overwhelming number of assaults on minorities, members of the LBG community, Muslins and others.
Speaking at the LGBT for Hillary Gala in New York City on Sept. 9, 2016, Clinton said that Trump’s supporters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic.” Trump said the remarks showed “her true contempt for everyday Americans.” This is what she said in context, “We are living in a volatile political environment. You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up. He has given voice to their websites that used to only have 11,000 people — now 11 million. He tweets and retweets their offensive hateful mean-spirited rhetoric. Now, some of those folks — they are irredeemable, but thankfully they are not America.”
The next day, after facing criticism from the Trump campaign and others, Clinton issued this statement: “Last night I was ‘grossly generalistic,’ and that’s never a good idea. I regret saying ‘half’ — that was wrong. But let’s be clear, what’s really ‘deplorable’ is that Donald Trump hired a major advocate for the so-called ‘alt-right’ movement to run his campaign and that David Duke and other white supremacists see him as a champion of their values. It’s deplorable that Trump has built his campaign largely on prejudice and paranoia and given a national platform to hateful views and voices, including by retweeting fringe bigots with a few dozen followers and spreading their message to 11 million people. It’s deplorable that he’s attacked a federal judge for his ‘Mexican heritage,’ bullied a Gold Star family because of their Muslim faith, and promoted the lie that our first black president is not a true American.”
Trump announced publicly that he was going to be the President for “all people” but his recent cabinet picks suggest otherwise. One of his first selections was Steve Bannon who was named chief strategist and Senior Counsel for President Trump. Bannon’s deep ties to the growing white nationalist movement which should be a major concern especially to people of color. Buried deep within Bannon’s profile is an account of him talking about his belief in the “genetic superiority” of certain people and his support for restricting voting rights to only property owners. Restricting voting to only property holders would take the country back centuries to its founding — when only white, male property holders could vote in most states. Today, such a restriction would disenfranchise huge numbers of people including students, people of color, young Americans, many city dwellers,
Former KKK wizard David Duke, for example, has been tweeting that Trump’s election and cabinet picks “are the first steps” toward “taking America back” — that is, taking America “back” from anyone who isn’t descended from fair-skinned Europeans. In white nationalist ideology, only white Americans have a true right to the country — and the rights that go along with citizenship like voting.
Bannon’s reflections on voting restrictions are a dog-whistle to white nationalists. The same goes for his reference to “genetic superiority,” a view that Donald Trump also has said he shares. Trump has consistently connected his success to his “good genes,” as ThinkProgress had reported. He’s said that his children “don’t need adversity” to build character or skills, because they share his good genetics. In an interview once, he went so far as to compare himself to a “racehorse” and discussing his “breeding” at length.
The belief in the genetic predisposition of qualities like intelligence are a hallmark of white nationalism and prominent white nationalist leaders ecstatic by Trump’s victory and with Bannon’s new high profile role as Trump’s chief strategist.
In addition to Bannon, Trump has also elevated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions for Attorney General, another white nationalist favorite because of his history of racism. Their history and words validate white nationalist ideas, as do some of Trump’s own. With validation from national leaders comes what Trump called “energy” — a public resurgence of white nationalist fervor.
After Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge in 1986, J. Gerald Hebert, an attorney with the Department of Justice, worked with Sessions. Hebert appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to testify about certain racial remarks that Session made. It was unusual for a career DOJ lawyer to testify about a judicial nominee’s character, and Hebert said at the time that he did so with “very mixed feelings,” telling senators he considered Sessions “a friend.” Hebert told them Sessions had “a tendency to pop off” and that he was “not a very sensitive person when it comes to race relations.” Hebert testified that Sessions had once relayed comments about a white lawyer being described as a race traitor, and that Sessions had responded by saying “he probably is.”
Sessions testified that he did not believe he had made such a remark, but his views changed as he reflected. “The best I could recall was that I said, well, he is not that popular around town; I have heard him referred to as a disgrace to his race,” Sessions said. He said he did not personally believe that the white civil rights attorney was a race traitor, and that he had respect for him.
Sessions testified that he enjoyed the “free flow of ideas” and liked to stir it up with Hebert when he was in town. “I like to discuss things. I am open: I like to discuss with liberals better than I do with conservatives,” Sessions said.
In describing one conversation with Hebert on civil rights, Sessions articulated his view that things were pretty great for minorities in the 1980s and that civil rights organizations were asking for too much.
“I made the comment that the fundamental legal barriers to minorities had been knocked down, and that in many areas blacks dominate the political area, and that when the civil rights organizations or the ACLU participate in asking for things beyond what they are justified in asking, they do more harm than good,” Sessions testified.
Sessions also called the American Civil Liberties Union and NAACP “communist-inspired,” Hebert testified.
Thomas Figures, a former assistant U.S. attorney and African American, backed up Hebert’s testimony about Sessions’ views. He told Congress that Sessions said the NAACP, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Operation Push and the National Council of Churches “were all un-American organizations teaching anti-American values.”
“I recall saying that civil rights organizations, when they demand more than is legitimate, it hurts their position,” Sessions testified.
Figures, who has passed on, also said that Sessions once warned him to “be careful what you say to white folks” after Figures told a white secretary that he found a comment she made offensive. Figures was the only black assistant U.S. attorney in the office.
“Had Mr. Sessions merely urged me to be careful what I say to ‘folks,’ that admonition would have been quite reasonable,” Figures said. “But that was not the language that he used. I realize, on the other hand, that Mr. Sessions’ remark may not have been premeditated. There was a period in our own lifetimes when blacks where regularly admonished to be particularly polite or deferential, and a remark of that sort may have just slipped out inadvertently.”
Figures also testified that Sessions and two others in the office referred to him as “boy.” Figures said he couldn’t say anything about it to Sessions because his position with him was “tentative.”
“I felt that if I had said anything or reacted in a manner in which thought appropriate, I thought I would be fired,” Figures said. “I had to guard my reaction to things, Senator, because I needed a job at the time… So I took a lot of things; I just kept it inside.”
Sessions “categorically” denied using the term “boy” to refer to Figures. “I have never used the word ‘boy’ to describe a black, nor would I tolerate it in my office,” Sessions testified.
Hebert said Figures’ testimony would be consistent with the views he believes Sessions holds.
“He demonstrated gross insensitivity to black people. So Tom Figures reporting that he had been called ‘boy’ by Jeff Sessions, that wouldn’t surprise me at all,” Hebert told HuffPost.
Figures also said that Sessions, during a “very spirited discussion” about one civil rights case, threw a file on the table and said, “I wish I could decline all of them.” Figures said it was clear the remark was made in anger, and noted that Sessions didn’t make him toss out all of the civil rights cases, even though he apparently wished that they’d disappear.
Sessions also remarked that he thought the KKK was OK until he found out they smoked marijuana, according to Figures. The statement was made in connection with the prosecution of a Klan member who had hanged a black man. In a 10 to 8 vote, Sessions’ nomination was ultimately defeated in June 1986, making him the first Reagan nominee the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected.
Senator Jeff Sessions, Trump’s designee for the highest legal office in the land, the Attorney General, would be in charge of the Civil Rights Division and expected to ensure that the rights of all persons regardless of race, creed or color, are preserved and aggressively enforced. “Just the thought of him overseeing the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division is frightening,” Hebert said. “He’s a mean-spirited individual.”
If Sessions was rejected in 1986 for a federal judge position because of his bigoted and racist comments, he should be rejected as Attorney General.