This One’s on Us, White People

I am white, but my husband and children are not. White people gave President Trump his first term. In the 2016 election, 70% of voters were white. Trump got 58% of these white votes, Clinton got 37%. This was a larger percentage than Blacks (8% Trump, 88% Clinton), Hispanics (29% Trump, 65% Clinton) and Asian-Americans (27% Trump, 65% Clinton). So I’m writing this to white people, because this one’s on us.

White Trump supporters brush off the President’s tweets, retweets (yes, they count!), hate speech and conspiracy theories. The poisonous rhetoric is even justified by Lara and Ivanka Trump as him “having fun” and “being real.” It doesn’t land that way if you’re the target.

In 2019, a white kid from an upper-middle class suburb of Dallas drove ten hours to the border town of El Paso to kill people who, by his own admission, looked “Mexican.” He praised Trump and his border wall online and railed against the Hispanic “invasion.” He ordered an AK-style gun and ammunition from overseas, which people will say is legal without questioning why, walked into a Walmart and killed twenty-three people who must have looked “Mexican” enough to him.

My children look Mexican. If yours did, would you fear for their safety after this mass shooting, as I did and still do? Would you at least hold President Trump accountable for the impact of his words? If you’re going to call him “the leader of the free world,” doesn’t that imply that his words kind of mean something? Just a little bit?

The ripple effects of Trump’s hate speech have made this country dangerous for non-whites. I could fill a book with real life examples, but would you read it? Or would you keep believing the same old narratives where whites built a “great” nation or the new ones where whites are now the victims? The rest of America is reexamining the past, breaking down old narratives, revealing the untold, hidden and complicated history of our nation. The information is out there. It’s not fake news, it’s facts and history. Yet too many choose ignorance on purpose. They believe Trump’s lies about who we are as a nation. He thinks we are too stupid to notice. He wants us so angry at our fellow Americans that we are distracted from his daily assaults on our system, our values and our people.

Are you one of the white Trump supporters who say it is all about pocketbook issues? If so, then at least be consistent. Trump’s mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic hurt the economy more than any tax cut helped it. The strategy to manage Covid-19 is clear as day: avoid mass gatherings (especially indoors), wear a mask, practice hand hygiene, socially distance, implement a comprehensive testing and tracing plan. This buys time for the science to catch up. There is another even more crucial element — buy-in from society. In places where this has worked, everyone must be on the same page. This is where political leadership is key. Bring the country together to fight a common, life-threatening enemy. The opportunity for leadership could not have been more obvious, or desperately needed. What did we get? Division, disinformation, death, and yes, an economy crippled due to his absence of leadership.

Are you a “law and order” Trump voter? I believe in responsible and fair law enforcement, but I can’t deny there is an edge to my encounters with law enforcement when I am with my non-white family that simply does not exist when I am alone. The summer after Trump’s election I took my mixed race nieces and children to a water park on eastern Long Island. It was a time of heightened surveillance on Long Island, which has a large Central American population. My niece had her head out the window as I drove. We were pulled over as part of a “random checkpoint.” The officers were on the passenger side, eyes fixed on my niece. She was all they could see when they pulled us over. As soon as they saw me, a white woman, they waved us on.

In the climate created by Trump’s anti-Muslim rants and Muslim ban, my husband was detained at a Long Island airport. He was taken away from me and our young children at the security gate; nobody told us why or where they took him. That time, being white didn’t help. In a fit of whiteness I asked my husband why he complied, why he didn’t protest. To me the whole thing was illogical — would a terrorist seriously bomb a plane to Florida with his wife and kids on board? “That would just make it worse,” he told me solemnly when he was back safe with us.

When I am alone, I am not under surveillance, not distrusted, not made to feel like this is not my country. I mouthed off to a police officer a few years ago. I was alone, rushing home from work. It was a lapse of judgment and I shouldn’t have done it. What happened as a result? Nothing. There was no escalation, no “Please step out of the car,” no consequence at all. That’s white privilege for you.

Trump wants you to be afraid of immigrants, but ignores all the ways immigrants make America “great.” The skyscrapers of New York City, the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad are just three examples of “great” American projects made possible by immigrant labor. Native born whites rejected this work as too dirty and back-breaking. America was built on open borders and cheap labor (and don’t forget the centuries of free labor under slavery).

What if Irish immigrants fleeing the Potato Famine in the 1840s were told that America was “full,” as Trump has said of today’s America? What if they were told they could not escape starvation until a single piece of paper took years to crawl through an outdated bureaucratic system controlled by an administration that sees asylum as a “scam” and questions why the U.S. is open to immigrants from “shithole countries” (again, Trump’s words)? Do you think these Irish immigrants would have waited, watching their families starve and die? Or would they have done whatever it took, even risked their own lives, to come to America? Sound familiar? Today’s immigrants aren’t different. We are.

Please do not think only of yourself in this election. Think of the country. I support some Republican policies and would vote for a Republican. But Trump is no Republican. If your status as a lifelong Republican keeps you from voting for Biden, consider this: how much worse can it really get for you under a Biden administration? Then think of those endangered by Trump’s policies. How much worse will it get for them if Trump wins again?

Come on, whites. We created this mess, we have to clean it up. Don’t be like the whites before you who acted out of fear and self interest only to give this country its most shameful chapters in history. You know what I’m talking about. You probably shake your head when these periods come up. You make yourself feel better by saying that wasn’t you, that wasn’t your time.

Well, guess what?

This is.

Allison Singh is a writer and lawyer. Follow her work at allisonsingh.com, ithappenedonli.com and americansinlove.com.

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