Complicit

Brent Staples, editorial writer for The New York Times, has committed to Tweeting at intervals this same message:

I admire his resolve and wish that mainstream media would embrace his dictum—although I am not holding my breath.

On a much smaller scale, I have been as determined to hold to this: Supporting Donald Trump—and unequivocal racist and misogynist, to name just some of his bigotry—is racist and sexist.

Responses to my claim are often met with harsh denials, typically to the extreme. Recently on social media, I was chastised that it was ridiculous to call half of the U.S. racist—to which I noted only about 26% of eligible voters supported Trump, just 19% of the total population.

Racism denial, specifically the refusal to call any person “racist,” is nearly a national past-time in the U.S.

One factor in the denial is misunderstanding what racism is—a systemic dynamic about both race and power.

But another reason for racism denial, for the knee-jerk “I am not a racist,” is much more complex, I believe, because much of the racism that exists in the U.S. today is less about oafish racism, and more about implicit bias (holding racist beliefs at the unconscious level) and about our being complicit in systemic racism, either unaware or justifying the contradictions in our complicity and our stated beliefs.

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In 1971, my family moved from renting a house in Woodruff, South Carolina—a step up from my first childhood home in Enoree nearby—to the house my parents built on the first lot purchased at Three Pines Country Club.

Yes, this redneck lived from about age 10 and until just after college on a golf course.

My working-class parents scraped and worked themselves into ill health (notably my father) to make their American Dream come true—their own house and on a golf course at that.

I lived this life as most people do, completely uncritically and almost universally committed to the ideals stated and implied by our family of four achieving home ownership at something as seemingly elite as a country club.

But then there was the discord, unexamined then but nearly deafening now.

I grew up playing golf and basketball as my primary efforts at being an athlete. My golf life was spent mostly at Three Pines and other golf courses around the upstate of South Carolina, and then I played basketball on school-based teams.

As you may be able to guess, golf was an entirely white world, and basketball, often nearly all black—including my sophomore year of high school when I was the only white player along with 12 blacks on the B team.

But the reality beneath that is even more disturbing. Three Pines did not allow blacks to join the club or play on the course throughout my youth.

I worked and played golf among the members for many years—mostly very friendly people who were also close with my parents. My father was an avid golfer and my mother worked as the bookkeeper at the club for years.

Growing up in the South for me was often like this throughout my childhood and teen years because I was enculturated into the racist norms but often intellectually sensed I did not believe what most around me did about race. My basketball teammates and school classmates included blacks who were some of my closest friends; they were smart and gifted people who contradicted the ugliness of Southern racism.

The transition from being oblivious to the corrosive racism of my upbringing to awareness and then rejecting that racism was in part spurred by two events while working at Three Pines: a member marrying a Native American woman and a family from India joining the club.

The Native American woman and Indian family spurred numerous horrible incidences in which members charged into the clubhouse announcing that blacks were at the course and that needed to be addressed.

The ugliness beneath many people who I had believed to be perfectly good people was exposed—as well as the arbitrary nature in the U.S. of white racism toward blacks.

And here is something very important to emphasize: as an oblivious child, as a semi-aware teen, and as a young adult, I was complicit in the racism, and no claim that I was not a racist was credible.

Being complicit in racism is racism.

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I can say I am pro gay rights, that I reject and contest homophobia of all kinds. But doing business with Chick-fil-A, who actively supports anti-gay rights movements, makes me complicit in denying equal rights to gays.

I can say I believe in public schools, that I reject school choice and other policies that undermine public schools. But doing business with Walmart, since the Walton family funds significantly school choice and charter legislation, makes me complicit in undermining public schools.

I can say I am for safe working conditions and good worker pay. But doing business with Nike, who has a long and complex history with using sweatshops, makes me complicit with endangering and abusing workers.

And thus, you can say you are not racist. But supporting the racist language and policies of Trump makes you complicit in that racism.

In practice, then, the outcomes of being an oafish racist and being complicit in other people’s racism are no different.

I am mortified by my racist past, and I have spent many decades working to move beyond that blight on who I was.

But I also continue to struggle as I sit in line at Chick-fil-A to buy my granddaughter nuggets or purchase something from Nike or Under Armour, trying to rectify the discord between what I genuinely believe and the concurrent awareness that what I am doing contradict those beliefs.

In those moments “I am not…” is a lie, and that lie is part of being complicit.

Are Trump supporters often KKK members, neo-Nazis, and oafish racists shouting racial slurs in public forums? No, because we have reached at least the point in the U.S. where even when those beliefs remain, most people know they are not tolerated in the mainstream, or at least carry some consequences.

But Trump supporters are complicit in racism, and that really isn’t a distinction that makes any real difference.

Being complicit in racism is racism.

See Also

The Masters presents a phony, sanitized South, Thomas Hackett

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One thought on “Complicit

  1. Mr. Thomas, your notation that approximately 19% of the population actually voted for Trump reminded me of a quote attributed to Robert Kennedy: “One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.” No real correlation, of course, since those voters were at minimum in favor of Trump, but somehow it seems appropriate to classify those who support him as being “against everything”; everything sane, safe, supportive, open to anything outside an obtusely narrow world view.

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