TRUMP'S RACIST BONES
Untitled, Oil on Canvas, 18" x 28", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
Individual-1’s reference to racist bones is fair metaphor for the structure that supports and perpetuates racism in the United States. My first blog on race, Traces of Black Face in the Mirror, which I posted around the time the Virginia Governor’s medical school yearbook became news, was near the start of an awakening for me, although I am nowhere near becoming woke.
While researching racism for that post, I encountered Why Are White People So Bad At Talking About Race? by Courtney Martin, an interview of Robin DiAngelo, the author of White Fragility. I've seen her lecture. I am now reading DiAngelo’s book. I strongly recommend it. If you are white, be prepared to be made uncomfortable. What strikes me is how conditioned I was against, so oblivious to, what DiAngelo makes obvious: she convincingly argues our social order is built on a footing of white advantage and inheritance, purposefully designed to sustain and propagate itself by continuing to benefit some and marginalize others. That socialization is race-based. The fix was in and, frankly, has been in from the outset. Recognizing this truth is much too discomfiting for those of us who see ourselves as non-racial—progressives many. We are confidently positioned a morally safe distance from any form of racism.
That said, DiAngelo lets us off the hook—but only slightly and only briefly. She recognizes that no one (with a few exceptions I can think of [e.g., Stephen Miller, Steve King]), wishes to be known as racist: “If your definition of racist is someone who holds conscious dislike of people because of race, then I agree that it is offensive for me to suggest that you are racist when I don’t know you. I also agree that if this is your definition of racism, and you are against racism, then you are not racist.”
DiAngelo then goes through a lengthy, convincing explanation of structural racism, its origins and purpose. For many of us who are its intended beneficiaries, we don’t see it, don’t understand it, deny it and are defensive when confronted with it. We see ourselves as non-racial. We have never experienced racial stress or had the need to develop racial stamina. We see ourselves as sharing no responsibility for the terrible stain of racism in the United States, having done nothing to encourage or contribute to it. And we certainly don’t see it as a structural problem. But it is we and those who preceded us who established the public policies, institutional practices and cultural norms that reinforce and perpetuate racial inequity on a group level.
I’m a white guy who grew up inside three complex social structures in which all material decisions concerning socialization, including access, rights, power and governance, were made by financially secure white men. I grew up (1) Mormon in (2) the United States and, when forced to admit it, vaguely recall having identified with (3) the Republican Party in a former life. If I am honest with myself, I must concede to having contributed to and perpetuated structural racism. Unfortunately, I must also confess to having engaged in individual racism in what I thought, believed and practiced.
My second post about racism tied into the first. No One’s Born A Racist? That’s Not What I Was Taught. That Die Was Cast Long Before I Was Born.
Now that I’m starting to be clued in, I can begin to understand the structural racism DiAngelo discusses, using my experience with Mormonism’s institutional racism as template. Hey, if it was good enough for god, it was good enough for me. I'm sure I will revert to a defensive posture from time to time as I work toward unlearning decades of socialization.
I Don’t Have A Racist Bone In My Body
He says he is not a racist. He boasts he is the least racist person one could ever meet. He claims not to have a racist bone in his body. I generally don’t care to listen to anything he says, but I would love to hear Individual-1 articulate his meaning of racist in his denials. He speaks of racism—and pretends to denounce it—from a position of institutional superiority and entitlement. Of all public figures, he embodies, and intentionally perpetuates, structural racism in the United States. When Trump speaks in thinly-veiled code to attack, demean and marginalize people of color, which he does as a matter of routine, he also epitomizes, and willfully perpetuates, individual racism in the United States. In this racially-diverse, -charged and –divided country in which he strategically and unapologetically stokes structural and individual racism as poorly disguised dog whistle to a racist base and an emboldened following of white supremacists and domestic terrorists, it is fair to ask what Individual-1 means by racist in his denials and why he bristles at the label. His is likely the same ingrained, conditioned, knee-jerk definition I used and many people of non-color conceptualize as a means to define ourselves out of responsibility. We thought we meant it. He knows his is a lie.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**Richard’s list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in a number of traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father's work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father's art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com are hers