Trump is a thermometer, not a thermostat

“White America is not even psychologically organized to close the gap– essentially it seeks only to make it less painful and less obvious but in most respects to retain it. Most of the abrasions between Negroes and white liberals arise from this fact….They [Whites] are uneasy with injustice but they are yet unwilling to pay a significant price to eradicate it…”

An excerpt from Dr. Martin Luther King’s book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (1967).

President Trump has come under intense criticism for how he mishandled the violence and bigotry of Nazis and their cohorts in Charlottesville, S.C. I’m no Trump supporter, but I think White America is engaging in a little scapegoating here. As bad as Trump is (and has been) on issues of diversity and inclusion, he’s a thermometer, not a thermostat. Trump is, unfortunately, a reflection of how many White Americans feel about minorities. This comes as no surprise to minorities, because we’ve been living with the effects of White racism all of our lives. One of the most frustrating aspects of confronting White racism is how recalcitrant it is. I marvel at how White journalists appear so stunned by Trump’s racial insensitivity, while at the same time those journalists have sanitized how Trump got elected in the first place. He got elected because a majority of Whites voted for him. Period. Whites are the only racial group in America who voted for Trump at a rate of greater than 50%.

Here’s a racial breakdown of who voted for Trump: Jews-24%; Blacks-8%; Hispanics-29%; Asians-29%; Whites-58%.   And if you consider White men specifically, the picture is even bleaker: 63% of White men voted for Trump. That’s almost 2 to 1. What racial and gender group has the most power in America? White men. In other words, among the most powerful group in America, Trump was favored almost 2 to 1. But because Trump is an embarrassment, White America is trying to drop him off at the orphanage while falsely claiming that they woke up one day and as they walked out of their house to head to work, they found Trump wrapped in a blanket on their doorstep.   Yeah right, like someone just left this guy on their doorstep, and they’re just trying to find him a safe home. White America, stop trying to throw Trump under the bus and disown him.   He’s your kid. You raised him. You fed him a steady diet of White supremacy. You taught him everything he knows. So, please, White America, stop acting surprised.

This whole scenario reminds me of how sometimes little kids embarrass their parents by being completely honest all the time. You know what I mean. Like if the parents say something about a neighbor, let’s say if Dad comments that one of the neighbors’ kids looks really ugly. Dad would never say something like that in front of the child or the child’s parents, but he feels comfortable saying it to members of his own family. But Dad doesn’t realize that his 5-year-old son Billy is 100% honest, and Billy isn’t yet skilled in the social graces. So one day while Dad and little Billy are in the back yard, the ugly kid and his parents who live next door step out into their back yard. Billy sees them. Then little Billy yells out something like, “Hey Dad, isn’t that the kid you were saying is really ugly?!”. The ugly kid and his parents are standing only a few feet away and they hear everything. Dad is embarrassed and ashamed. Dad may even try to deny it in front of the ugly kids’ family. Dad may tell Billy something like, “Now Billy, stop kidding around like that, that’s not nice. You know we never talk about people like that!” It’s as though Trump has blurted out  White America’s true feelings: Minorities may be tolerated, but we’re definitely not wanted.   Whites generally, and White men in particular, still have intense feelings of bigotry towards Blacks, Hispanics and Jews. But it’s no longer polite to say such things out loud in public. But when you go to the voting both and cast a secret ballot, you vote for the candidate who most reflects your values. White America did just that, and the result was President Trump. White America needs to “own” Trump, instead of pretending he’s an aberration. He’s not an aberration. He’s the norm. By almost 2 to 1.

Dr. King observed 50 years ago that most Whites (even liberal Whites) were against racial violence, but they were not committed to racial equality. Because equality means that Whites would have to give up  money and power. However, there can be no true lasting peace as long as various segments of society are routinely discriminated against. So what can those of us who care about equality for all people do? First, we should admit to ourselves that we can’t save the World. Second, we should each commit to personally doing what little we can in our own small world to build close relationships with those of different races, religions, ethnicities and nationalities. If we all did just a little, the cumulative effect would be enormous.

I live in the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. It’s one of the neighborhoods for which Chicago has become infamous. Violent crime and grinding poverty are the order of the day in Austin. My church is also in Austin — The Rock Of Our Salvation Church. I’m sure everyone loves their church, synagogue, mosque or temple, just as I love mine. But what I think makes The Rock worth mentioning to the TOI audience is its initial mission. The Rock was started over 30 years ago by two pastors — one White and one Black. It was founded as a church whose primary mission is racial reconciliation. We are a small congregation (less than 200) that is intentionally diverse. The two founding pastors co-wrote a book about racial reconciliation called Breaking Down Walls. The book details 8 principals to achieving racial reconciliation. Those principals are equally applicable to building bridges between all sorts of diverse groups, not just between Blacks and Whites. What’s noteworthy about the book’s approach is that it does not involve anything political. It’s all very personal. In the end, politics is all about trying to force others to behave differently. But the focus of this book, and The Rock’s approach, is to ask all of us who are people of faith (especially Christians), to hold ourselves individually accountable for what we’re doing as individuals to bridge the racial and ethnic divide.  These wounds won’t heal by accident.

Healing won’t happen unless we take deliberate steps towards healing. We all can’t join a protest march or be a guest speaker on CNN. But we can all do something. Each of us can start the process of racial and ethnic reconciliation by the simple act of intentionally making friends with those of diverse backgrounds. Invite them to your home for dinner. Go to their home for dinner. Have your kids play with their kids.   Visit their house of worship, and invite them to visit yours. Get to know them as individuals, not just as members of some group that you consider to be outsiders. We don’t need to wait for an act of Congress to do any of these things.  We can all start doing these small things right now.   We can’t change Trump or his followers. But we can change ourselves.   We can choose to make embracing those who are different from us a priority.

So what are you waiting for?

About the Author
Patrick D. John is a Black Christian attorney living and working in Chicago, IL. He is a member of Chicago's Decalogue Society of Lawyers, and serves on its anti-Semitism committee. He believes that Christians should embrace the Jewishness of Jesus and speak up against anti-Semitism. He grew up for several years in Brooklyn, NY and completed his undergraduate education at the City College of NY in Harlem, where he majored in Urban Legal Studies and minored in Black Studies. Patrick is originally from Guyana, South America, a place of great religious diversity. Guyana celebrates the major religions of Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Guyana's first female president was Jewish--Janet Jagan (f/k/a Janet Rosenberg).
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