When Barack Obama was elected in 2008, many assumed a “post-racial” America was upon us. They were fiercely wrong.
People believed that the nation had somehow reconciled its racism by electing a black man into the White House. As it turned out, one man alone could not undo the countless systemic issues that have plagued a country built on slavery.
During Obama’s last year in office, we saw just how deeply wrong the idea of this “post-racial” era was with the rise of the alt-right movement and the racist attacks that have unfolded as a result of Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
Trump’s campaign has catered to right-wing and far-right voters who enthusiastically promote his racist dog-whistle pitch to “Make America Great Again.”
Since the start of his campaign, the Republican presidential nominee has rolled out proposals and delivered speeches that came with incredibly offensive messages about America’s most marginalized groups, including black people. White nationalists heard him loud and clear, and have become energized to rebrand white supremacy as a mainstream idea. Behold, the alt-right movement.
The alt-right movement, as described by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is a group of people who subscribe to a far-right ideology “at the core of which is a belief that ‘white identity’ is under attack through policies prioritizing multiculturalism, political correctness and social justice, and must be preserved, usually through white-identified online communities and physical ethno-states.”
The movement, which is made up of mostly disgruntled young white men, has become extremely vocal online over the course of Trump’s campaign. They have weaponized social media and identified new ways to attract interest among Trump supporters through their highly-active online presence and hate-filled hubs on the internet. Racism is the movement’s central premise; they are explicitly anti-semitic and reject christianity entirely.
Members praise the presidential candidate for creating a space to allow their hateful views to permeate current political discourse. He has provided white supremacists with a safety net and served as a catalyst for the rise in hate groups who are actively campaigning to help elect him into the White House. Just last month, the KKK’s newspaper printed a front-page endorsement of Trump, using his campaign slogan as the headline:
Trump has tried to distance himself from hate groups. A Trump spokesperson previously told The Huffington Post that “Mr. Trump has repeatedly disavowed these groups and individuals, as well as their hateful rhetoric, which he strongly condemns, and will continue to do so.”
However, the irony here is that Trump is guilty of spreading hateful and racist rhetoric himself. Throughout his campaign, Trump has repeatedly disrespected the black community by dismissing the reality of police brutality, condemning the Black Lives Matter movement and believing all African Americans live in crime-infested inner-cities.
He has called Mexicans rapists, taken a tough stance on immigration and has pledged to ban all Muslims, repeatedly implying that they are all terrorists. His campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” is racist in and of itself, and white supremacists are enthusiastic about it because it signals to them that Trump also yearns for a time when being white meant being in control.
Trump has shown, time and again, that he has absolutely no idea how to reckon with the present-day reality of race in America nor how to bridge the country’s racial divide.
The movement has unleashed an ugly and volatile force into American politics.” Luke O’Brien
Trump serves as a beacon of hope to his core supporters. He coddles their ambitions to maintain America’s system of oppression and emboldens them in dangerous ways that have led to serious consequences. Just last week, a black church was burned and vandalized with graffiti that read “Vote Trump.” On Sunday, a black man was verbally attacked by a Trump supporter who called him a “n****r” and threatened to physically harm him. Black people have been pushed and shoved at Trump rallies and other people of color have been bullied online by Trump’s supporters.
Racist Trump fans are here to stay, and they have gained mainstream exposure at a frightening speed over the course of this election cycle.
In a recently-published piece by HuffPost Highline, reporter Luke O’Brien spoke with some of the most dangerous Trump supporters among the alt-right. He warned readers that “unconscionable racists will be a force in American politics well beyond November 8.”
“The movement has unleashed an ugly and volatile force into American politics,” O’Brien wrote. “It has proved that a small group of trolls can poison discourse with violent, racist rhetoric and help to elevate a candidate who entertains ideas like registering all Muslim Americans in a database. It has built the iconography, language and infrastructure for a millennial version of an old hate.”
It is still unclear what will unfold in the months following election day, but one thing is immediately apparent: America has never functioned as a “post-racial” society, and it damn sure isn’t starting now.