What do you say to a Black Trump supporter?
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
It may be that I make a naive assumption about African Americans, i.e., that the depth of our history as victims of racist and national oppression; our history of resistance to profound racial injustice; and our experience with the underside of the so-called American Dream, makes us immediately able to see through the demagogic chicanery of someone like Donald Trump. It is sort of the naivete that many of us experienced when Clarence Thomas was up for his nomination to the Supreme Court: yes, I understand that he is a real conservative, many of us said, but you have to give the “brother” a chance; once he is appointed, he’ll do the right thing.
Events turned out differently.
In reading about the first night of the Republican National Convention, and hearing a clip from Hershel Walker’s speech, my heart dropped, and I felt this very profound embarrassment. I don’t think that either Walker or Senator Tim Scott are stupid. Not at all. But they have chosen to accept a world view that has a number of interesting features. Let me enumerate them.
One, the assumption that despite the open racism of Trump and the Republican majority, it somehow does not apply to them or the people that they care for. I read stories about a similar phenomenon happening in pre-Hitler Germany where many rich Jews thought that the anti-Semitism of the Nazi Party was rhetorical opportunism and only applied to the Nazi attitude towards poor Jews. The Black Trump supporters that I have encountered, including within my own family, ignore the racial buttons pushed by the Republicans and think that it is all directed towards ‘others,’ e.g., undocumented immigrants; do-nothing Black complainers.
Two, the assumption that racism is no longer a major feature of US society. This comes up again and again. It is the denial of the systemic nature of racism and, instead, the tendency to look at racism as simply a matter of individual interactions and bad behavior. This goes back to the thinking of Ronald Reagan who, in effect, declared that the era of systemic racism was over. For the Black Trump supporter, cries of “race” and “racism” are used as excuses by US African Americans and other racialized populations as an reason for not doing the hard work necessary in order to succeed. Many of these Black Trumpsters have succeeded so why can’t everyone, they ask.
Three, a form of Black conservative pessimism, i.e., white folks are going to be what white folks are going to be, so we had better get used to it. This is something that never occurred to me until I read more about the thinking of Justice Clarence Thomas. You could see a variation on this theme in other parts of African American history, e.g., the late 1800s, where the overwhelming force of white supremacy, e.g, Jim Crow segregation, led segments of our people to decide that it was impossible to overcome; therefore, we must accommodate. And in accommodating, so that one does not feel humiliated, one must find a justification.
I am certainly not trying to make excuses for Black Trumpsters. They are either delusional or trapped in a delusional bubble. As a result, trying to convince them, as individuals to wake up and smell the coffee tends not to work. Much like the impact of Covid19 on one’s loss of the sense of smell and taste, the Trump deception has blunted their sense of reality.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the executive editor of globalafricanworker.com and a former president of TransAfrica Forum.