I’ll admit it, when I found out Donald Trump was running for president, I laughed heartily and unconcernedly. For a solid two months, actually. I woke up laughing, I had my coffee laughing, paid my cable bill laughing, even went out on Tinder dates laughing.
Not because I disdain his policies (what were they even then?), the GOP, him as a person, or anything else so palpably obvious now that we have fully witnessed him embark on what surely will go down as the most openly racist presidential campaign since Barry Goldwater. It really wasn’t for any of those reasons; despite being a New Yorker I actually hadn’t thought about him at all since the absurdity of his "birther" accusations in 2012, when I casually remarked to myself, “wow, so he really is racist” and then went splendidly on with my life.
The point is when Donald Trump declared his candidacy on June 16, 2015, I laughed for no profoundly insightful reason other than that June begins what is easily the most boring time of the year in all forms of televised entertainment, and I felt like he could tide me over until football started.
I’m serious. Basketball is over, March Madness a distant memory, the Stanley Cup, etc. I can barely get into baseball in October, but June? No way. So, when I found out The Donald was tossing his name into the proverbial clown car of incompetence known as the GOP 2016 presidential field I was happy because I figured it would get us all through what was sure to be another painfully boring summer for television. Otherwise, I’d be stuck listening to Scott Walker talk for the next three months.
As you recall, a terrible thing also happened less than a day after Trump announced his candidacy: a white supremacist named Dylann Roof opened fire on a weekly Bible study group at the Emanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killing nine people. It was the deadliest attack on a black community in nearly 90 years. Aside from temporary sadness, "prayers" and other expected cordialities from the white community, I, like the rest of the country, continued laughing at The Donald. It was June, there were no sports on, and Trump was just beginning this hateful charade that has come to define the American political arena this year.
There have been many moments throughout the last two years that have epitomized this new civil rights era we are witnessing. From the jury returning a not-guilty verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, to the number of fatalities of unarmed people of color surpassing lynchings in any year since the 1920s, to militarized police occupying cities for weeks on end, race in America has been the single-greatest issue on the mind of most Americans, myself included.
Throughout the first half of 2015, I watched the atrocities of Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Charleston, and Sandra Bland largely on the sidelines, save for a social media post here and there. It was only after watching the video of Sam DuBose getting his head blown off by an officer simply because his car rolled a few feet away that I felt compelled to action. I went home that night shaking and unable to sleep at the idea that an officer could not only exhibit such a callous disregard for human life, that he could then lie about it and worse, that scores of people in the social media stratosphere could somehow blame Mr. DuBose for getting himself murdered. I felt compelled to organize with Black Lives Matter in NYC and help in any way that I could, because it was so undeniably obvious that the traffic stop would have ended completely differently if the exact same set of circumstances had happened to me. Of this much, I am completely certain. That was around the same time I stopped laughing at Donald Trump, too.
The other day, I read a Facebook post from W. Kamau Bell who talked about the need to see Donald Trump not as a “Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy.”
The post fascinated me tremendously because I began to realize that laughter is the medicine that white liberals feed themselves to pivot away from Donald Trump’s white supremacy. It helps us pivot away from our own white supremacy, from our own implication in this horrible system of social hierarchy we collectively created, which continues to thrive despite our best efforts to deny its existence altogether. It is far easier to laugh at Donald Trump than admit to yourselves that he is simply a manifestation of white supremacy and unearned privilege, the same system that I continue to benefit from in nearly every avenue of my life.
His is most assuredly more vivid than mine, or my father’s, or my best friend’s, or my boss’, or thankfully any other white person in my personal life, but make no mistake, not needing to connect Donald Trump to your own race the way that black people are forced to own theirs every time gang violence erupts in Chicago is in fact the very essence of privilege. Whiteness as an institution is, in fact, invisible to white people because it was designed to work that way. It is central, it is dominant, it is normal. Everything else responds to its existence. That too is the very essence of privilege.
When I’m in the middle of having a conversation on Facebook about white supremacy and get spontaneously unfriended by the very person arguing with me – usually a self-proclaimed liberal – I understand exactly what’s going on because I feel it myself. Every time I’m at a march screaming about white supremacy I am taken back slightly because, understanding the true definition of white supremacy to be so much more than a George Wallace, a David Duke, or a Dylann Roof, I come to realize that I am calling out my family, my politicians, my barber, my childhood baby sitter, my neighbor, and every other white person in my life equally along with Donald Trump and the KKK. I come to realize that I am calling out myself for waiting nearly 27 years of my life to start fighting back. I come to realize that I am calling out everything I thought I knew to be true, and it scares me.
The hardest part about racism in America – and owning it as a white male – isn’t Dylann Roof; it’s that it so infrequently involves people like Dylann Roof. The hardest part about owning racism in America as a white male – is that it didn’t happen in some faraway place that I had nothing to do with, that I only read about in textbooks with Common Core-approved narratives. It involved my family, my friends, my school, my house of worship, my soccer team, my neighbors, myself, and pretty much everything else in my community. I'm reconciling oneself with the reality that there isn’t an inch of the country or the world at large untouched by white supremacy.
So all of this comes back to The Donald and the permanent marker his racist fascism has etched into the narrative of this pending election year: White liberals would rather laugh at him – frantically searching on Facebook for his next sound bite – because it is easier to do that than to own the reality that he couldn’t embody white supremacy and unearned privilege more perfectly than if Bull Connor himself ran for president.
It is easier to laugh because it is harder to acknowledge that Bull Connor’s white supremacy didn’t benefit the KKK, it benefited all white people everywhere. Ditto to a possible Trump presidency. In my brief time with Black Lives Matter – an amazing group of minds that I am privileged to know as friends – I have learned one truth more immutable than the rest: If you aren’t actively looking to tear this system of social hierarchy down, it doesn’t matter how hard you laugh at The Donald or white supremacy, you nonetheless benefit from the ideals he/it espouses. And that makes you part of the problem.
Sadly, it’s much easier for white liberals to laugh pretentiously (and let’s be honest, self-righteously) and play the "idiot GOP" card when it comes to his constituency, in ways not entirely dissimilar to how we saw Dubya supporters who remained fervently loyal in the wake of disastrous campaigns in Iraq/Afghanistan, a pending economic collapse, and the gross mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. It’s so much easier to look at Trump’s supporters and laugh while posting a sound bite of one of his rallies on Facebook with the tagline “how stupid can people get” than to actually look in the mirror and admit that white supremacy – which knows no political party or spectral allegiance – created this monster. And many other monsters just like it.
White supremacy created the idea that black people should vote for the Democrats because “imagine what will happen if the other guy gets elected” -- despite the reality that minority populations under Democratic mayors have failed to see their communities substantially improve. White supremacy created the notion that trickle-down social theories like affirmative action was more than sufficient from a policy standpoint instead of an all-out, whatever-it-takes, we-need-to-make-this-right, I-don’t-care-how-much-money-or-resources-it-costs campaign to eradicate the long-lasting economic and social implications of structural racism. White supremacy created the notion that we could elect a black president and self-proclaim our country to be "post-racial," without asking black and brown communities if they actually believed this to be true.
Here’s why we laugh the hardest at people like Donald Trump: White liberalism allowed it to survive through the years by not courageously fighting it harder every step of the way. If we had fought harder, compromised less, and truly stood in solidarity, we wouldn’t be here today. Donald Trump wouldn’t be the front-runner for the Republican nomination.
White liberalism far too often found the collective lump in its throat to be too massive, too cumbersome, too icky, and all too frequently hit the snooze button on racial justice.
It is easy to dismiss Black Lives Matter as a hashtag for the same reason that it is easy to laugh at Donald Trump instead of taking to the streets to demand his immediate withdrawal from the GOP primaries.
So to all of my liberal white friends who spend their time laughing at Donald Trump instead of standing in solidarity with your black, brown and Muslim brothers and sisters, let me ask you this: When your children ask what you did when Donald Trump tried to ban Muslims will you tell them you laughed at him and his supporters because it legally could never happen?
When your children ask what you did when supporters at Donald Trump rallies beat up black protesters shouting "Sieg Heil" and "White Power," will you tell them you looked the other way?
When your children ask what you did when Donald Trump called Mexicans rapists, will you say you laughed because he had no chance of getting elected anyway?
For all of the over-analysis, the fine word-salads, and the waxing idiotic we’ve been forced to endure from all sides of the media covering the election, I implore everybody – but mostly white people – to realize that there is absolutely nothing complex about why Donald Trump is surging in the polls lately. White supremacy is alive and well, and until we accept how uncomfortable it is to implicate our own role in its perpetuity – be it liberal, conservative, Democrat, Republican, north, south, east or west – we will never be free from its grasp.
Stop laughing at Donald Trump. He is an embarrassment to white people everywhere. And it isn’t funny anymore.