All Americans should listen to the words of Princeton University Professor Eddie Glaude on the topic of racism: “This is us.”
He was discussing the reality that no candidate could have appealed successfully to the worst in people unless they were ready to respond. Speaking on MSNBC, Glaude on Monday reminded all that racism and the notion of white supremacy is embedded in the American story, from initial genocide of Natives to slavery, from Jim Crow laws clear to tea party activists who portrayed President Barack Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose.
All of this came in response to the news that the El Paso shooter had targeted Mexicans because he believed they were “invading” the United States, phrases that echo the words of President Donald Trump, both on the campaign trail and in office.
Only by confronting our history — and perhaps facing such difficult truths is the good that will emerge from these dark times — can this country heal and live up to its founding ideals. Finally.
“What we know,” Glaude said, “is that this country has been playing politics for a long time on this hatred — we know this. So it’s easy for us to place it all on Donald Trump’s shoulders. It’s easy to place Pittsburgh on his shoulders. It’s easy for me to place Charlottesville on his shoulders. It’s easy to place El Paso on his shoulders.”
At that point, Glaude clapped his hands, as if to grab our attention, saying: “This is us!” To get past the ugliness, he continued, “we can’t blame it on [Trump]. He’s a manifestation of the ugliness that’s in us.”
Glaude is correct. This is us. But it does not have to be.
We must be honest. Donald Trump’s dog whistles — whether calling brown migrants an “invasion” or decrying Mexicans as “rapists” or “drug dealers” — should not have won him votes.
That this approach succeeded, and that Trump and his backers believe such appeals will win him a second term, says more about the voters of this nation than about the president. Too many Americans see people of color as a threat to what they view as the “real” America — and that USA is white. (We have a version of this in New Mexico, with some local Hispanos disdaining Mexican immigrants; this also is unacceptable.)
Make America Great Again, at its core, was about returning the country to a time when to be white was right and pesky minorities knew their place. Trump, with his coded and then more blatant appeals to racism, speaks that language. Even placing a portrait of Andrew Jackson — a virulent racist and Indian killer — in the Oval Office signals Trump’s sympathy for the worries of a certain group of white people.
Glaude is correct. If we do not confront the racist strains of our collective history, the United States will not move past this ugly moment successfully.
That’s one conversation we need to have. More immediately, there is the necessity of rooting out would-be terrorists among us, especially considering their access to deadly weapons. As the Washington Monthly magazine put it in a recent article, “We have a gun problem. We have a white supremacy problem. They are increasingly intertwined. We need to respond to each of them legislatively and culturally, without fear or intimidation.”
Law enforcement officers from the FBI to local police agencies have to investigate white terrorist groups as though they were chasing al-Qaida terror cells in the United States. How are these young men being radicalized to turn into killers who hate people of color? Surely our society can fight this evil.
In the end, Glaude’s message was one of hope. After all, we are the nation that fought a bloody war to end slavery and where people died to ensure voting rights and stop segregation. We are a country that has enshrined in its Bill of Rights equality for all people, expanding liberty and freedom in every era of our existence. We can demand better.
This may be us right now. But we can change. That’s the promise of the United States.