A racist? Who? Me?

No doubt, President Donald Trump’s comments about “shit hole” countries is racist.  Whether he said them or not is beside side the point.  There have been too many Trump tweets and comments with racist overtones to overlook them.  The president is certainly racist, and the evidence was there long before his vulgar comment last week about Haiti, Honduras, El Salvador and some African nations.  NewYork Times Columnist David Leonhardt has compiled a list of Trump’s more notable comments, all of which drip with racism.

Yet, the president has said several times, “I am not a racist. I am the least racist person you have ever interviewed.”  Perhaps it’s just Trump being Trump (he seems incapable to speak without exaggeration) and he might even believe it.

Certainly, Trump is not the first president who has used racist remarks, or may have even personally been racist. It is well-known that Presidents Washington and Jefferson owned slaves at the same time they were founding a nation based on the principle that “All men are created equal.”  The Great Emancipator himself, Abraham Lincoln, believed that Negroes deserved to be free, but that they were of a lesser people and should be returned to Africa.  President Woodrow Wilson was known to support the “Birth of a statue-of-liberty-new-york-ny-nyc-60121.jpegNation” movie that glorified racism.  President Harry Truman was known for his salty language and grew up in a racist environment and President Lyndon Johnson (whose language may have been even more salty) uttered the “n” word repeatedly.

Yet, there is a major difference between Donald Trump and the Presidents mentioned above.  They did not let whatever racism that was in their souls govern the actions they took on behalf of the nation; nor did they advertise their racism over and over again.  Instead, Lincoln freed the slaves, Wilson supported policies that helped the unfortunate of the nation, Truman desegregated the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard, and Johnson pushed through both the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts — perhaps the most far-reaching civil rights legislation since the Civil War.

In deep contrast, Trump uses racism to curry support among white Americans, to spread fear and to build divides among Americans that may never be healed.  His remarks, even more importantly, stir whatever racism may lurk in the souls of all of us.

Yes, we all are racist.  We can’t help it.  We weren’t born racist, of course, but we all grew up in environments that foster racism.  It’s universal.  I grew up during the Great Depression in a suburb that then was lily white and reportedly had an ordinance that banned “Negroes” from remaining in town from dusk to dawn.  I never went to school with students of other races.  I knew of only one Jew during my school years and later learned I was one of the few friends he had.  (Years later, I ran into him while shopping and he expressed his long gratitude to me for being his playmate in grade school. He  believed he had been shunned because of being Jewish. I was his friend — not to because I was especially moral — but because I had fun with him.)

Even after more than sixty years of civil rights advocacy, I find thoughts creeping into my head that could be considered racist, particularly when encountering a dreadlocked teen African-American boy and thinking he’s a thug.  Thankfully, my rational mind tells me otherwise, and I dismiss such negative thoughts about the boy.

Similarly, I learned that some of my black friends had resisted traveling into Milwaukee’s once all-white South Side because of their perceptions of all whites as being “honkies.”  For years, those fears were warranted, even though there were many South Side whites who would have been welcoming and friendly.

Yes, we are all racist.  What is important, however, is that we not let whatever latent racism exists within us become fueled by the thoughtless remarks from an unthinking President.  Some Americans, obviously, find that Trump’s dangerous remarks justify their own racism, making it right to act in ways that would injure or humiliate people who are “different” or of another color.

It’s right to denounce the President’s racist remarks and to remind ourselves how dangerous such remarks are to building a strong and just society.  We must also examine our own selves to assure that whatever racism may rest within us is forever buried. – Ken Germanson, Jan. 18, 2018.

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