The U.S. 2016 Presidential Election will likely go down as one of, if not the most, divisive in history. I’ve observed and studied policies and laws that negatively impact disenfranchised groups but never have I seen a presidential candidate call Mexicans “rapists,” propose a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., brag about grabbing women without consent and call people with Black skin lazy.
When he won, I was deeply troubled. I’ve always known racism to be a real issue in North America but the way Trump fuelled the racist tendencies of some of his voters reminded me of historical conflicts that began with racist language. In the Rwandan Genocide, Hutu extremist groups set up radio stations urging people to “weed out the cockroaches” or kill Tutsis. In the opinion of a Holocaust survivor, Hitler rose to power, in part, by building a brand of saying what everyone thought but was too afraid to say – he too shared a mission of making his country “great again.”
When Trump won, everyone was talking about it. I sat down with a Trump supporter to listen to their opinions. In particular, he focused on Trump’s 10-point plan. He felt confident that Trump would increase jobs and bring back wealth to the country because he was a business man – he couldn’t care less for Trump’s racist remarks.
And I guess that’s the point when I was reminded of how individualistic we are. If you haven’t been seriously impacted by racism, then you have the luxury of not caring about the leader of the free world making such comments. You don’t have to worry about Trump’s “tough on crime” proposals that will disproportionally affect Black men. You don’t have to worry if you don’t wear a headscarf or if you’re not a Mexican-American. You have the luxury of focusing solely on economic policies.
Maybe Trump will bring positive economic changes to the U.S. but it doesn’t excuse or legitimize his racist rhetoric. He remains unaccountable for the factually incorrect statements that won him the presidency. The divisiveness of this election shows that race is still a very controversial issue.
One thing that I am committing to is welcoming one-on-one conversations about race without judging the person who brings up stereotypes and prejudices – as long as they come to the table with a willingness to listen and learn. While it makes me happy and comfortable to surround myself with like-minded people, not effectively engaging with people who disagree with me does a disservice to our community and propagates divisive institutions.
The Interaction Institute for Social Change is an organization that engages in conversations about race in the workplace and is calling for unity and dialogue after the US election. Check out their blog. Engaging in an open and respectful dialogue about race is one form of positive change that we can collectively participate in as a response to Trump’s racist rhetoric – I hope you’ll join me at the table.