I have seen a number of posts on social media urging people on the left not to write off everyone who elected Trump as racist or misogynistic. We need to connect with some of those people, we’re told, as their decisions were grounded in despair and disillusionment. I have some thoughts to share with those who would make such arguments. These thoughts come from a place of love, but please understand that I mean every word.
To me, there is no distinction between racism that is named as such, because it fits some obvious social mold, and the brand of racism practiced by those who are out for their own white selves, and simply don’t care if some of us live or die, whether refugees drown at sea or for lack of safer space, or whether Black people are gunned down by police with impunity in cities around the country. I understand they have their own frustrations, but they literally do not care what happens to us. They elected a man who made his disastrous intentions towards us very clear, and I reject any argument that such an act is not a racist decision.
The problem here isn’t that we need to narrow our notions of racism, in order to collectively build forward. It’s that we need to broaden those notions to encompass racism’s varied manifestations. Only then can we address the reality that white supremacy is both institutional and structural, and only then can we effectively tear down the pillars that support it. Trump voters acted in a racist manner, without question. For Black, Indigenous and other people of color who betrayed themselves and their own, this is a matter of internalized oppression, but for white people, this is all very simple: Their choices were either the product of an actively hateful mindset, or a set of values that have nothing to do with whether or not some of us survive.
Please remember, it wasn’t an entire populace that perpetrated the mass genocide of my people. The violence was dealt by some, and cosigned, either actively or passively, by many others, for the sake of their own economic and social superiority. Would we not call this racism?
If you are asking us to be gentle and indulge the complexities of such thinking, in this terrible moment, you are appealing to the wrong audience. If white people listened to people of color pleading for their lives or demanding justice, we wouldn’t be here. White people who want white Trump supporters to be reached and led in a different direction — which is surely possible in some instances — need to get their hands dirty (or dirtier). The language Native people like myself use, or that any oppressed people use, to describe the violent decisions Trump voters have made is not the problem.
The problem is that far too few people cared about what is about to be visited upon us, and pleading with the oppressor to care, or even demanding as much, has not gotten us where we need to go.
I will continue to challenge and combat racism in my work, but I am not in a position to hold the hand of those who actively perpetuate racism in white communities, and teach them to do better. That has always been work best suited to white people (and far more dangerous for us to even attempt), and historically, white leftists haven’t done nearly enough of it.
So I am asking now that when you say that we shouldn’t oversimplify, that you direct your pleas for bridge building to people who aren’t living on the margin’s edge. We don’t need to hear that right now, and shouldn’t have to.
Call a meeting of white allies and accomplices instead, or at least be specific about who you are arguing should be building bridges.