The year after my son was born, my husband had a wonderful job opportunity in Charlottesville, Virginia so we moved our life and newborn to this lovely location. We bought a little house that I adored in a suburb outside of “city limits” and settled into the gracious living the place is famous for; a bustling university town full of culture, diversity, and history. We were moving from Durham, North Carolina, another diverse university community and before that New York City and Los Angeles.
I mention this because on top of the privilege our college-educated, white, Christian heterosexuality affords us, we also existed in quite a convincing progressive bubble. From our vantage point, we were seeing integrated, thriving communities and we proudly voted for President Obama in Virginia in 2008, the year the state “turned blue” after backing the Republican candidate in the previous 10 elections.
We felt smugly proud and comfortable of the country we were raising our child in. We listened to ***people*** rail against our first black President, even going so far as to ludicrously claim he was not a U.S. citizen, with amused contempt. We gleefully believed the Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage meant that for once and for all the LGBT community had won not only the cultural but legal war to be accepted and equal.
We rolled our eyes at Mitt Romney’s elitist bombast about “the 47%” in 2012 and cringed when Jeb Bush gave the impotent response “stuff happens” when questioned about gun control during the 2016 election cycle. When ***Donald Trump*** threw his hat into the ring, we simply perceived him as one more clown coming out of the tiny car. A foolish and somewhat amusing spectacle. There was not a chance, in the world in which we thought we existed, that any of the clowns could get a convincing majority to vote them into the highest office in the land; we voted Bernie in the primaries and Hillary in the election and arrogantly felt we had done right by our boy.
But then it was November 9, 2016. And we crashed into “the wall” that was our folly and blind naiveté. And we mourned our son coming of age in the home of the racist xenophobe, land of the p*ssy grabber.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are 917 hate groups operating across the U.S. and in the 34 days following the election 1,094 “bias incidents” were sparked by Trump’s victory. Since then, the violence has continued; according to FBI, hate crimes are still on the rise and crimes against Muslims in particular rose by 15% in the first year of Donald Trump’s Presidency.
ICE deportation arrests are also up and our newly “great” country has “lost track” of nearly 1500 immigrant children after separating them from their parents. The child separation law was implemented by Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions, who said, “If you’re smuggling a child, then we’re going to prosecute you and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally. It’s not our fault that somebody does that.”
And what does our “fearless leader” have to say about these young children, forcibly removed from their parents and placed into detention centers? “They look so innocent. They’re not innocent.”
“It’s not our fault” could be this administration’s motto, because when the missing children fiasco was revealed, Trump tweeted, in part: “Put pressure on the Democrats to end the horrible law that separates children from there(sic) parents once they cross the Border into the U.S.” The audacity of his lie would be humorous if not for the high-stakes, real-life damage he inflicts on the “not innocent”; and we are no longer in a position to laugh at his buffoonery because when we look at him, we are looking in a mirror. We can say “it’s not our fault” but that won’t change the truth of our situation.
I am reminded of one of my favorite stories from the New Testament, that of Pontius Pilate. For those of you not familiar, Pilate was the unlucky prefect who is remembered mainly for his role in the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. In all four gospels that tell his story, he is depicted as unwilling to convict and condemn the Christian messiah.
We will not go into the scholarly debate of Pilate’s decision-making process, but I was always struck by the fact that his main concern seemed to be that he not be blamed for the death of Jesus. In the Gospel of John, he even proclaims the man’s innocence. But ultimately he is convinced by the mob to order the execution anyhow.
I think privileged white America has become a lot like this beleaguered man. We have become less concerned with actually doing the right thing and more concerned with washing our hands of any guilt in the many, many abuses and even deaths of innocents we have been witnessing. Ultimately, like Pontius Pilate, we make a show of our righteousness by blaming the angry mob for our complacency.
Donald “racism is evil” Trump just made a show of condemning the policy that he is squarely to blame for–as is everyone, myself included, who used his rise to power as an exercise in eye-rolling instead of activism. Like Pilate, we gave in to the angry mob. Like Pilate, we declared ourselves blameless because we see no guilt in those being persecuted.
We can proclaim “it’s not our fault”, but it doesn’t change the truth of the situation.
We live in a country where “innocent until proven guilty” is a legal linchpin that affords more protection to criminals than to the immigrant men, women, and children out living and working in our “land of the free”. While Muslim, minority and LGTB citizens may the ones most often found “guilty” of simply being themselves, we are all, to some degree or another, running around pointing fingers—it’s not me, it’s THEM. I am the victim of radical Islamic terrorists, white supremacists, blacks, NRA members, Jews, deplorables, gays, the church, the state, the Republicans, the Democrats, the other.
I am NOT the problem! Donald Trump is the problem, ignorance is the problem, THEY are the problem! We are so busy declaring ourselves not the problem that we have forgotten that the main issue is that there IS a problem (many) and we desperately need to actively seek out the solution (many).
“Racism is evil,” said the man building a wall to keep Mexican “rapists and murderers” out of our country and signing executive orders to ban Muslims. But what we are failing to give credence to is the fact that some Trump supporters do believe Mexicans and Muslims are a problem, so what he is offering them are concrete sounding solutions. “Problems” need solutions.
“Racism is evil” we shout, but we think that personally not being racist is a “solution”. Meanwhile, the racists are willing to separate children from their parents with no care as to the fate of those children afterward. That is their extremely concrete “solution”.
In all humility, it is time for white America to look in the mirror and say: I am the problem. Yes, no matter what side of the chasm you are on, no matter who you voted for; the first step in solving any problem is admitting you have one.
Am I racist? Am I enabling racism? Am I IGNORING racism?
In all humility, it is time to admit that Donald Trump is the Frankenstein monster we ALL brought to life, whether with our own fear-born hatred or complacent arrogance. His reign of terror will not end until we take responsibility for it. We can no longer wash our hands of any of it.
Hello, we are America, and we have a problem. We are equal opportunity haters; we hate foreigners or our neighbors or taxes or religion or technology or inconvenience with equal aplomb. We have convinced ourselves that our personal preference trumps the common good and have dug in our heels about the fact that your sexual preference, religion and skin color has to be as right by me as my very complicated Starbucks drink order.
This is our world and we insist it and others comply with our demands. Nay, our WHIMS. This is America; please me entirely or you don’t deserve to exist.
Can any of us wash our hands of this?
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