The Role Of Racism In The 2020 Election

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Trump speaks during a rally on Oct. 25, 2020 in Londonderry. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)
Trump speaks during a rally on Oct. 25, 2020 in Londonderry. (Scott Eisen/Getty Images)

As America watched the election results trickle in last week, one thing was abundantly clear — there are deep divides within our nation.

After a year of nationwide protests over systemic racism and police brutality, many people see the problem of racism differently. So far, more than 71 million people voted for President Trump, despite his failure to condemn white supremacy — and the majority of those voters were white.

The view from many, especially people of color, is that for about half of the electorate, Trump's racist rhetoric and support for white supremacy wasn't a deal-breaker.

For Robin DiAngelo, author of "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism," this shows that “the foundation of this country is racism and white supremacy, that many, many white people are deeply invested in it.”

“And so no, it is not a deal-breaker,” for Trump voters, she says. “I think the post-racial discourse we had during the Obama years is over, and it's been laid bare and we have some reckoning.”

There is a fundamental disconnect between how many Americans view Trump’s racial policies and rhetoric, and the problem of systemic racism in the U.S., DiAngelo says. Part of the problem is that many white people don’t understand that racism hurts them, too.

“It compels us to vote against our own interests, to deny programs that could deeply support us, but that we see as special rights for people who don't deserve them,” she says.

She points to the growing wealth gap in this country as one example of systemic racism that manipulates white people against their own self interests.

“There's a greater concentration of wealth in fewer hands than has ever been recorded in human history, and yet, our attention is drawn to the most vulnerable. Of course that helps ameliorate the sense of powerlessness we might feel,” she says. “It's certainly easier to look at vulnerable people and blame them, but that sets us up to be manipulated to support programs or not support programs that could actually serve everybody.”

During the campaign, polls suggested that white women voters were actually turning against Trump, but the president actually gained his support among white women to about 55%. DiAngelo says white women have a history of aligning themselves with the patriarchy because even though it makes them second-class citizens, it puts them near power and above people of color.

Trump also seemingly won white women with his message of law and order and raising fears about violence in the streets of America's suburbs, she says.

“There are many very consistent strategies that Trump uses, and one is to deeply divide people into two essential groups to push the villainized side of that division to the furthest extreme possible and then amplify dynamics that stoke fear,” DiAngelo says. “So, you know, if we have Joe Biden, we're going to get rioting and looting 24/7 through the streets. It's hardly a dog whistle. It's so explicit.”

At the heart of DiAngelo’s work is her call to action to white people, who she says must take on the responsibility of combating racism. It all starts with redefining what racism means to them, she says.

“No one could possibly be outside of the forces of racism and systemic racism in this country,” she says, “and it's on each and every one of us to change our question from if we have been impacted by those forces to how have we been impacted?”

More From The Interview 

On why combating racism starts with how we think about the issue as individuals 

“Each individual white person tends to think of themselves as outside of racism, right? I don't know that you could have come up with a more effective way to protect systemic racism than reduce it to the very simple formula of good people versus bad people. And that allows you to both express your racism, as Trump does so clearly, and still say, 'I'm the least racist person in the room.' And so even white nationalists will not acknowledge that they are racist, even as their project is a white ethnostate. And so that just is such a set up to have each individual person see themselves as not part of that problem.

“And what I would offer is that no one could possibly be outside of the forces of racism and systemic racism in this country, and it's on each and every one of us to change our question from if we have been impacted by those forces to how have we been impacted? When the question is if, well, for most white people, the answer is, 'No, not at all. I've, you know, been completely untouched by any racist ideology or messaging or implicit biases. I've been untouched by the culture I live in,' and so forth. So then what further action is required of me? Well, none. I'm not racist. When we change that question to how have I been shaped by the society I live in, that sets us on a lifelong path, both personally as individuals, but in organizing to address institutional policies and practices. We just can't get where we need to go if we reduce our understanding of what it means to be racist to conscious intention.”

On if Trump is a catalyst or a symptom of a bigger problem in the U.S.

“Yeah, he's definitely a symptom. It's easy to look at him and say, 'What a terrible person,' but he couldn't do what he's done without the tacit collusion of many, many, many people. So yeah, it's disheartening. I'm sure that I am not alone in how heartbreaking this situation is and how discouraging. Yes, we have our work cut out for us. Where I find some encouragement is that both sides, if you will, have been amplified. So while white nationalism and racial animus and resentment are definitely amplified, so is anti-racist activism. And so we just have to be consistent and courageous and never be complacent.”

On how white people can normalize calling out their own racism 

“Well, I don't think we can’t normalize it if we don't deepen our understanding of the concept of systemic racism, and that's another thing that does give me some hope is that that idea is now in the mainstream. As long as we see it as just individual bad actors, we likely are not going to move forward. Everybody has a role. It is critical that we listen to and take leadership from Black and Brown people and other people of color. And for far too long, we've offloaded all of this onto people who don't control the institutions.

"It's as if in relation to patriarchy, men just turned to women and said, 'OK, solve patriarchy.' It's like, no, how about you talk to your brothers and call this out in a way that only you can? But ultimately the responsibility goes to those who control the institutions and whose bias is backed with legal authority. Again, we all play a part, but those parts are different and it's on each of us to identify, so what is my part? I'm not a white nationalist, but that does not mean I have not colluded with systemic racism and does not mean that I don't play a role. That's each of our individual work.”

Samantha Raphelson produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Chris Ballman and Tinku Ray. Raphelson also adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on November 6, 2020.


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Tonya Mosley Correspondent, Here & Now
Tonya Mosley was the LA-based co-host of Here & Now.


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Samantha Raphelson Associate Producer, Here & Now
Samantha Raphelson is an associate producer for Here & Now, based at NPR in Washington, D.C.



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