There’s a strange and difficult question that has to be asked in the wake of Biden’s victory over Trump. Do the numbers really say what they appear to? Does half of America really support hate?
It seems too ugly to be true. So the way that pundits often put it is this. “Half of Americans can’t be racists!!” The idea here is simply a kind of populist appeal to mass numbers — half of a country can’t be bad people!! Alas, quite the opposite is true. A cursory check of history tells us how much so. More than half a country can be racists, bigots, full of hate, and so forth. How much so? Think about apartheid South Africa — how much of its white population was racist? Think about those Asian societies which are still caste societies today. The examples are endless. But the best one is America itself.
Think back in history not so long ago — less than one human lifetime. America was still a segregated country. And yet it was a democracy. More than half its population believed in the idea that blacks and whites should be kept separate. Was segregation racism? Of course it was. It is more or less the canonical example of racism.
Now think about the struggle for gay rights. It was only recently in human history that things like gay marriage or even being out became socially acceptable and legally protected. Until then, much more than half a society was bigoted and prejudiced.
Think about how long it took for women to win the vote. That was an example of more than half a society — at least among men, this time — being badly misogynist and sexist.
Think about those parts of the world which are theocracies today. More than half the population supports the idea of religious law, which is usually itself made up of some combination of bigotry, stupidity, and hate.
So a glance at history tells us the way pundits frame the question — asking incredulously “But half a country can’t be…bad people!!” — is wrong. Badly wrong. Sure, half a country can be all kinds of terrible things — and throughout history, it often has been. This line of thinking is easy to demolish — just a moment’s reflection tells us how badly mistaken it is. And it sheds light on the mistake it makes, too.
So. Is half of America…racist? Let’s examine the question objectively. Not to cast aspersions — but simply to examine reality. Half of America or thereabouts — just under half — supports all the following things, which occurred during the Trump years. Kids in cages in camps — of only the “wrong” ethnicity. “Family separations,” which seem to be a crime against humanity, against of the “wrong” ethnicity. Demonization and scapegoating. Brutality and violence. Institutional dehumanization — the state working to deny the personhood of certain ethnic groups.
If I supported all those things, or at l
Here, Ibram X Kendi’s way of thinking about racism comes in helpful. He says that not being a racist is about being anti-racist. That is, not just objecting to racism, in some abstract way, but being decisively against it. If we adopt that framework, then it should be easy to see that, for example, letting a President demonise minorities — and rationalising it away by saying, “Oh, he’s just talking crap” — badly fails the test of anti-racism.
If we look at reality, about half of America fell for the Big Lie. The one that fascism is based on — and always has been. Fascism, remember, in my telling of the story, isn’t just what the Nazis did to Weimar Germany. It is the America they studied, to model their race laws and hatred on. Fascism was born in America, in its centuries long genocide of Black people, in its annihilation of Natives, in its long, sordid history of hate.
The Big Lie that fascism — and racism is a kind of fascism — tells is this. Hated minorities are responsible for the woes of the majority. They bring impurity, corruption, filth, moral corrosion and social degeneration. The way back to “greatness” — which is what the majority, since they are pure and noble and true in blood, genetically superior — therefore is to annihilate or enslave minorities. The justification is that they are subhuman — less than persons. To cleanse them away is to purify a society in blood and virtue.
That was the story of America until 1971 — when segregation ended. White Americans don’t want to admit that — even liberal ones. But that is how illiberal white America is licensed to hate. Even the “good” white Americans don’t want to face the ugly truth of their country’s history. Until 1971 or so, it was the world’s biggest apartheid state. When I say that, they run away, trying to hide this fact under the rug. But hiding it that way only lets racism in America grow and fester. And not just racism — but all the other kinds of hate, too. Bigotry, prejudice, and so on.
Liberal white Americans need to understand a few things, therefore.
One, they are very much in the minority in their own social group, and yet they badly overestimate themselves. The majority of white Americans don’t just support hate — they support institutionalised hate, becoming the law of the land, the way society is run, its norms and values and codes and creeds. White liberals badly overestimate their numbers and cuase.
That is why, two, when we minorities point out painful truths to them, they ignore it.&nb
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