In the truest sense of the word, the election of Donald Trump has been a ‘revelation.’ And it’s important to understand what I mean when I use that term.
A ‘revelation’ does not change what exists. Far from it. Rather, a revelation simply reveals what has been true the entire time.* Because of this revelation, we now have a clearer sense of how a significant part of the American population feels about the direction in which our country has been headed for the past 8 years (in case it’s not clear, they feel bad about it). Wrapped up in all of this are the important questions of our era: How is globalization affecting our society? What is the role of America on the ‘world stage?’ Are we using our resources effectively? What does it look like to provide meaningful work for our entire population? Can our political system regain the trust of the common, everyday person?
The thing is, from my standpoint, we are pretty comfortable having respectful conversations about many of those topics. Some of them we aren’t.
And we need to talk about race.
The Infection We All Want to Ignore
First of all, and I need to say this upfront, I resolutely refuse to believe that most of the people who voted for Trump are bigoted, prejudiced, or explicitly racist.** As I wrote in a post last week, I know the people in my home of Franklin County, Pennsylvania. They do not want to see racial prejudice flourish in our society any more than the most progressive Millenials I work with on college campuses here in Portland.
Yes, bigoted individuals exist everywhere, but we need to stand firm against the overly-simplistic lie that says the swath of America that voted Republican on November 8th did so because they were explicitly biased against people of color.
And still, we really need to talk about race. Let me explain.
At the risk of being gross, this election cycle felt like a poultice that was applied directly to some of the deepest and most painful wounds in our society. It may have seemed like those wounds had healed over. There was even some scabbing and scar tissue, and it felt like we were starting to move forward, maybe at a limp. But what many of us did not realize is that festering, infected flesh lurked directly underneath the shallow facade of healing, and Trump effectively ripped those scabs off, pointing and screaming at the infected, oozing wounds, “See! We never dealt with this!”
Well, I believe race relations, notably between black and white, are the source of one of those infections. And with the reported rise of racially-based incidents immediately in the wake of the election, it’s pretty hard to argue against that perspective.
And just like an actual infected wound on your body, which you need to both acknowledge and identify in order to properly apply healing work, we need to have some honest conversations.
First, we all need to better differentiate between “fault/blame” and “responsibility.” If someone I love gets mortally wounded in a car accident, I can at the same time bear absolutely no blame for causing it, and also bear significant responsibility for tending to his/her recovery. In fact, wouldn’t you say that it would be downright unloving for me, in this situation, to throw up my hands, cry “Not my fault!” and continue my life as normal?
Fellow White folk, the legacy of chattel slavery, upon which the foundations of our economy are deeply rooted, still casts a long and dark shadow over our society today. This shadow continues to cause suffering in the lives of real people of color, our fellow citizens, our neighbors. And hear me say this, “That is not our fault!” I press this point because so-called “White Guilt” is a real issue. An honest look at the evils of race relations in America is overwhelming and paralyzing, and we want to ignore it, if only to feel better in the moment. I get it. I’ve been there.
But also hear me say this, “We can cast off the paralyzing guilt and shame and carry the serious responsibility we already bear in the struggle to fix it, to make it right.” Think of America like a big, messy, crazy, extended family, and some of our family members are hurting. So I implore you not to throw up your hands and walk away from them.
Particularly if you voted for Trump, I want believe that you were casting your vote for issues like: securing a more conservative Supreme Court, less aggressive foreign policy, and “draining the swamp” of corrupted establishment politics. I truly understand those motivations. But even so, now that Trump has been elected, there is an undeniable opportunity for racially-based, “White Nationalistic” rhetoric to have inordinate influence in our governance for the next four years. And I invite you to join me in explicitly and unequivocally condemning it.
I’ll be the first to admit that the road towards true racial conciliation involves more than blogs and social media posts. It has to involve real work, real humility, and real people.
But I also know that if we can’t talk about it, we won’t get anywhere.
*Incidentally, I wish more Christians read the biblical letter entitled “Revelation” through this lens.
**By this, I mean “individually racist.” I’m well aware that the term is increasingly used to talk about systemic and institutional racial biases, in which all of us are complicit.