I’m not interested in outrage within communities of color and within those that empathize with our communities. I’m interested in the communities that really do find sincere energy and truth in President Donald Trump’s comments. And I’d like to find a bridge between us.
To that end, it’s useful to consider how Trump’s supporters (apologies for using such an ambiguous, imprecise category) parse his comments and how others are left outraged. From my observations, the most common rebuttal in defense of Trump is that this is yet again an example of liberal “political correctness” and oversensitivity.
I could already imagine the comments — “These countries, after all, really are shitholes. Trump is merely the only one in the room with the courage to say it. He’s definitely too blunt and crass, but at the end of the day, he said something truthful. He’s standing up for our people. Let’s be honest, non-Western countries are often violent, uncultured, unsophisticated and non-industrious, because they haven’t figured it out like we have.”
It turns out that the heart of the matter is what story we tell ourselves about whiteness, the West, people of color and why the West is far richer and “more peaceful” than Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Let’s be very clear. It is not about Trump’s “crassness” and “bluntness.” The anger and disbelief generates from the fact that this is the sort of language that lends itself to a type of evolutionary humanism — and that the president of the United States is sanctioning it.
(Although they are synonymous, I use the phrase “evolutionary humanism” as opposed to “fascism” because the prior explicitly makes clear that fascists are still dignified, moral, family-loving and compassionate humanists. They just refuse to extend this humanity to anyone outside their particular group. When we use the word “fascist,” it conjures up strange images of valueless, brainwashed followers which, I personally believe, is never really the case. These strange images make it hard for us to identify those amongst us who simply put — are indeed fascists. The semiotic sign “fascist” has been far too used to mean anything anymore and have rhetorical impact.)
Evolutionary humanism is an ideology that elides the political-economic complexities of how wealth is made and reduces our present status quo to concrete evidence of who had, and still has, the best genes and culture. Most Americans have decided that poor nations have been less wealthy and less well governed because of complex histories as well as external invasion and meddling — not because of immutable biological preconditions and cultural inferiority. But there are many that enjoy this latter narrative and will not hesitate to use language that implies these ideas. There are many who accidentally reveal their belief in this narrative through the vocabulary they use.
This evolutionary narrative and its claim to legitimacy is, again, the heart of the matter. And Trump is using the enormous prestige and symbolic credibility of his office to embolden those who subscribe to this narrative. What a step backward for this nation.
People of color in this country should expect their day-to-day interactions with white Americans (apologies for this unwieldy, ambiguous category) to be actually affected by the renewal of this narrative. Evolutionary humanists tend to exert themselves on “others” as they go about their day- to-day lives, which is quite annoying when I’m just trying to live my life. White Americans who believe in this narrative constantly induce higher levels of cortisol within my bloodstream in various “episodes” of my life.
(I use the word “episode” because whoever coined the word “microaggression” was a well-intentioned idiot. It’s a hopelessly incorrect linguistic label for that varyingly frequent social experience in which one’s social worth and belonging is directly or indirectly challenged and tested in front of friends, lovers and peers. A change in physiological chemistry is induced during any episode because a series of microaggressions only add more stress.) And as the word count of this post makes clear, I resent that. I want less cortisol in my bloodstream. May I make that demand?
Tim Kim is a sociology major and a senior at UC Berkeley.