I just started Ibram X. Kendi’s How To Be Anti-Racist this week. Took forever to arrive from the bookstores because I believe it was on back order. A remarkable testament to the power of the times.
In The Atlantic Kendi asks: has Trump’s presidency finally forced a reckoning on race in the USA? He points out that during the 2016 election, he knew that progress in US politics is typically followed by regression. I’ve always thought the same about Western politics in general. Happens here too. I used to call it a pendulum, and would console myself after losses to racist/misogynist/capitalist candidates with the idea that the pendulum would swing back eventually. Now I think of it more like Damocles’ sword than a pendulum. But still.
The America that denied its racism through the Obama years has struggled to deny its racism through the Trump years. From 1977 to 2018, the General Social Survey asked whether Black Americans “have worse jobs, income, and housing than white people … mainly due to discrimination.” There are only two answers to this question. The racist answer is “no”—it presumes that racist discrimination no longer exists and that racial inequities are the result of something being wrong with Black people. The anti-racist answer is “yes”—it presumes that nothing is wrong or right, inferior or superior, about any racial group, so the explanation for racial disparities must be discrimination.
In 2008, as Obama was headed for the White House, only 34.5 percent of respondents answered “yes,” a number I’ll call the anti-racist rate. This was the second-lowest anti-racist rate of the 41-year polling period. The rate rose to 37.7 percent in 2010, perhaps because the emergence of the Tea Party forced a reckoning for some white Americans, but it fell back down to 34.9 percent in 2012 and 34.6 percent in 2014.
In 2016, as Trump loomed over American politics, the anti-racist rate rose to 42.6 percent. It went up to 46.2 percent in 2018, a double-digit increase from the start of the Obama administration. In large part, shifts in white public opinion explain the jump. The white anti-racist rate was barely 29.8 percent in 2008. It jumped to 37.7 percent in 2016 and to 40.5 percent two years into Trump’s presidency.