It is hard for me to believe I finished high school in the year 2000 touting so many racist ideas. A racist culture had handed me the ammunition to shoot Black people, to shoot myself, and I took and used it. Internalized racism is the real Black on Black crime.
I was a dupe, a chump who saw the ongoing struggles of Black people on MLK Day 2000 and decided that Black people themselves were the problem. This is the consistent function of racist ideas – and of any kind of bigotry more broadly: to manipulate us into seeing people as the problem, instead of the policies that ensure them.
The language used by the forty-fifth president of the United States offers a clear example of how this sort of racist language and thinking works. Long before he became president, Donald Trump liked to say “Laziness is a trait in Blacks.” When he decided to run for president, his plan for making America great again: defaming Latinx immigrants as mostly criminals and rapists and demanding billions for a border wall to block them. He promised “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Once he became president, he routinely called his Black critics “stupid.” He claimed immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS,” while praising White supremacists as “very fine people” in the summer of 2017.
Through it all, whenever someone pointed out the obvious, Trump responded with variations on a familiar refrain: “No, no. I’m not a racist. I’m the least racist person that you have ever interviewed,” that “you’ve ever met,” that “you’ve ever encountered.” Trump’s behavior may be exceptional, but his denials are normal. When racist ideas resound, denials that those ideas are racist typically follow. When racist policies resound, denials that those policies are racist also follow.
Denial is the heartbeat of racism, beating across ideologies, races, and nations. It is beating within us. Many of us who strongly call out Trump’s racist ideas will strongly deny our own. How often do we become reflexively defensive when someone calls something we’ve done or said racist? How many of us would agree with this statement: “‘Racist’ isn’t a descriptive word. It’s a pejorative word. It is the equivalent of saying, ‘I don’t like you.’” These are actually the words of White supremacist Richard Spencer, who, like Trump, identifies as “not racist.” How many of us who despise the Trumps and White supremacists of the world share their self-definition of “not racist.”
From “How to Be An Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi