Note: I realize this is a long post, but it was impossible for me to address the issue of racism in 1,200 words or less. I hope you will read to the end, and then share your thoughts in the comment section. I would also appreciate you sharing this post on social media.
Donald Trump. What more can be said about the orange-haired toddler currently inhabiting the White House. Fair-minded people see Trump as a narcissistic psychopath whose entire approach to policy and governing can be summed up in one word — winning. In recent weeks, mental health professionals have begun to question the president’s sanity and mental fitness. Could it be that the millions of people who voted for my dick-is-bigger-than-your-dick Trump were duped by a man who is mentally unfit for office? Or is Trump more like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — a man who is artfully manipulating the system for his own good. Looking at the tax overhaul plan released today by Trump, I would suggest the latter. The president is asking Congress to reduce the number of tax rates, while also reducing the rate on the highest tax bracket from thirty-nine percent to thirty-five. Trump also wants Congress to do away with the estate tax, drastically reduce corporate tax rates, and fundamentally change how American corporate profits earned overseas are taxed. The big winners in the president’s plan are millionaires, billionaires, and large corporations. In other words, Trump wins big, to the tune of millions of dollars a year in reduced taxes. And when he dies his vast estate would be passed on to his heirs tax-free. Talk about winning. Trump wins on both sides of the grave.
None of the above surprises me in the least. Trump is the culmination of forty years of Republican attempts to gut the federal government, impoverish the states, and reward wealthy capitalists for their political support. Begun by Saint Ronald Reagan with what George H.W. Bush called voodoo economics, Republican economic policies are now such that there can be no doubt that their end game is the enslavement of the working class and poor and the enrichment of the corporate oligarchs who now rule (and own, bought and paid for with campaign donations) federal and state governments. And these haters of progressive values are not finished. We still have Paul Ryan and his Tea Party cohorts masturbating to a statute of Ayn Rand with Adam’s Smith invisible hand. These despisers of the poor will not rest until all the social progress gained since World War II is returned to the “hell” from whence it came. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, the Gun Control Act, Welfare, Food Stamps, Obamacare — gone, gone, gone! In its place is a resurgent wild west where corporations are free to misuse and abuse their employees, pollute waterways, foul the air, and donate millions to politicians who do the bidding of their business overlords (along with a military tasked to protect corporate interests across the globe).
Underneath the anti-human policies mentioned above is a subtle, and, at times, not so subtle, racism. There is no doubt, at least in my mind, that President Trump is a racist. And white supremacists, Steve Bannon of Breitbart fame, David Duke of the KKK, and the white marchers that took to the streets of Charlottesville think so too. White America — eighty-two percent of white Evangelicals vote for Trump — overwhelmingly voted for President Winner. While this in and of itself isn’t proof that Trump is a racist — after all, the overwhelming majority of blacks for voted Barack Obama — the president’s speeches, policies, executive orders, and Tweets — despite the token blacks at his Ain’t I Wonderful pep rallies — reveal that the man is indeed someone who is, at the very least, indifferent to matters of race. While some on the left want to give the president the benefit of the doubt, suggesting that he is a non-politician learning on the job, I am not one such person. Eight months of living in the swirling vortex of a Donald Trump presidency has shown me that the man is a racist.
If I had any doubts about Trump’s racism, events that have transpired over the last week have put an end to them. He is, without a doubt a racist. First, there’s the president’s verbal and Twitter attacks of black NFL and NBA players. My counselor and I were talking about this very matter today, and he asked me if I noticed how Trump artfully moved the reference point of discussion. When Colin Kaepernick took a knee, it was to protest racial injustice and police brutality against people of color. Over the weekend, hundreds of black (and white) NFL athletes refused to stand for the National Anthem. Their reasons for protesting range from racial injustice and police violence against blacks to Trump calling them sons of bitches and demanding team owners fire them. Trump moved the discussion goalpost by changing the point of reference from race to patriotism. The protests had nothing to do with race, according to the president, and everything to do with disrespecting the American flag. Trump did the same thing when he was sharply criticized for his atrocious tone-deaf comments after the white-supremacist-driven carnage in Charlottesville. The protest wasn’t about race. Oh no, the marching whites in Charlottesville were protesting the left’s attack on their Southern way of life, complete with Confederate flags and Civil War monuments. By turning these protests on their head, Trump hopes to avoid being labeled a racist. Sadly, many of his followers have followed right along with him, asserting that neither they nor President Make-America-Great-Again are racist.
Want to see how racist many people in America still are? Just turn to the comment sections on news sites and blogs, or slog through posts and comments by Herr Donald supporters on social media, and you will see George Wallace-worthy — I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever — racism. From support of Trump’s racist immigration policies and his callous indifference to the suffering of non-white Puerto Rico to their defense of his on attack black athletes and whites who oppose his policies, these dog-whistle-hearing sycophants show that we are generations away from living in a post-racial society.
If you doubt these issues are about race, let Steven Colbert of The Late Show fame,The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah, and Nick Wright from ESPN put your doubts to rest.
I am sixty-years old. I grew up in a flag-waving, John Birch Society-supporting, Evangelical home where racism was never far from the surface of day-to-day life. My parents moved to California in the 1960s. It was there that they were exposed to the virulent racism at the heart of American exceptionalism, Christian nationalism, and ideologies trumpeted by Richard Welch, Jr, the founder of the John Birch Society, 1964 Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and Democratic/Independent candidate George Wallace. I have no doubt that the preaching of their pastor, Tim LaHaye, from the pulpit of Scott Memorial Baptist Church helped to stoke my parents’ rage against blacks, Mexicans, Martin Luther King, Jr, the Black Panthers, the United Nations, Vietnam War protesters, and anyone and everyone who ran afoul of their white sensibilities.
It should not be surprising, then, that their eldest son, picked up on and adopted their beliefs. As a first-grader in the San Diego public school system, I took several of my mother’s books to school, one of which was None Dare Call it Treason by John Stormer. One of the books had graphic photographs of violence perpetrated by Communist Russia. I primarily brought the book to school so I could show my fellow classmates the photos. My teacher quickly confiscated the books and sent them home with me at the end of the day with a note saying the books were to remain at home. I am sure my parents were proud of my preaching of right-wing gospel.
As a young adult, I frequently told racist jokes. While I often had to hide my racist views of blacks in public, in private conversations with fellow white restaurant managers I would lament the laziness of black employees. Even in our foster care provider days when we had a black teen girl living with us, I saw myself as a benevolent white out to help a helpless black girl. I was, without a doubt, the son of Robert and Barbara Gerencser, warriors for all things Christian and white.
My views on race began to change while this black girl lived in our home. In 1983, I started a new Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church in Somerset, Ohio. Needing local housing, we arranged to rent a farm-house from a retired teacher. The day we called to pick up the keys for the house, this virtuous pillar of all things Christian told us that she was going to rent the house to a family member instead. This, I later learned, was a lie. The truth was that she discovered we had a black foster child living with us, and according to someone who knew her well, she “wasn’t going to have a nigger living in her house.” We moved, instead, to New Lexington, thirteen miles south of Somerset. There we enrolled our foster daughter in the local public school. She was the only student of color in the school. Needless to say, this made her a target of racist rednecks who made her short stay there a living hell. Eventually, our foster daughter was returned to the system in hopes of her being placed in a home located in a more racially diverse area.
During the almost twelve years I pastored Somerset Baptist Church, my understanding of the complexities of race and the systemic problems faced by people of color began to change. I wish I could say that I had a Damascus road experience and the racist blinders over my eyes immediately fell off, but alas I can’t. It took years and years for my racist tendencies to fade into the fabric of racial equality and inclusion. And even to this day, I am not certain that I am blind to skin color. Several weeks ago, I participated in forum discussion on the subject, Does Racism Exist in Northwest Ohio? (You can listen to the podcast here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.) My answer was, yes, and I gave several examples to bolster my point; that underneath the white Christian veneer of rural Ohioans is a latent Obama-hating, affirmative action-hating, racism waiting to be unleashed. Last November, seven out of ten voting locals voted for Donald Trump. Confederate flags were unfurled for all to see. Racism, once buried safely below rural respectability, was legitimized and encouraged to rise to the occasion. The result is there for all to see on social media and on the editorial page of the Defiance Crescent-News.
During the aforementioned forum discussion, I mentioned an example of how Mr. Progressive, Mr. Color Blind Bruce Gerencser still had deeply buried racist tendencies. Several months back, while driving by Galilee Baptist Church on Ottawa Street in Defiance, I remarked, that’s where blacks go to church. True, Galilee is primarily attended by blacks, but when I drove by the next dozen or so churches, why didn’t I say, that’s where whites go to church? This illustration might seem quaint or not worthy of mention in a discussion on racism, but to me, it revealed that I still, to some degree, saw things from a racist perspective. I suspect that I will spend the remaining days of my life continuing to root out deep-seated prejudices towards people of color.
My wife, Polly, grew up in a family where racism was multi-generational, especially on one side of her family. I don’t remember Polly’s parents making strong racist statements, but their view of blacks revealed itself when they negatively talked about “colored” people. Why was skin color germane to the stories? Does it matter whether the wino, homeless man, thief, or murderer was black? Shouldn’t the crime or behavior be the focus of discussion? Yes, that’s how it should have been, but a racial designation was always attached when the perpetrator was a person of color.
Over the years, Polly and I heard family members tell countless jokes and stories about blacks. Sometimes, the stories were about how their white churches, in a paternalistic way, helped out this or that black family or how the white colonialist missionaries they supported were helping poor, ignorant blacks see the truth of the white Jesus gospel. Several discussions revolved around whether missionaries should require new black converts to dress and behave like Western whites. The answer, of course, was yes. Western Christianity was viewed as superior to African and Caribbean norms. Women were expected to wear bras, men ties, and everyone was to sing hymns the way they were sung at First Baptist Church. Black culture was a problem to be eradicated, not embraced, and missionaries were tasked with westernizing — in Jesus’ name, of course — their target groups.
A recent social media dust-up I had with the sixteen-year-old son of Polly’s Fundamentalist preacher cousin made me realize that the racism in her family is multi-generational. In a post titled Christmas, 1957-2014, I talked about the 2010 Christmas gathering for her immediate family. I wrote:
Christmas of 2010 was two years after President Obama was elected to his first term. Polly’s family didn’t vote for him, and through the night they made known their hatred for the man, Democrats and liberals in general. Polly and I, along with many of our children, voted for Obama, so the anti-Obama talk and the subtle racism made for an uncomfortable evening.
Most years, a gag gift is given to someone. This particular year, the gag gift, given to Polly’s uncle, was an Obama commemorative plate one of our nephews had bought on the cheap at Odd Lots. The grandchild of one of Polly’s uncles asked him what the plate was for. He replied, to go poo-poo on, poo-poo being the fundamentalist word for shit. This was the last straw for us
Fast forward to 2017, the grandchild mentioned above is a Fundamentalist Christian teenager, a staunch supporter, as were the three generations before him, of right-wing extremism. Recently, the boy raged against those (blacks) who refuse to stand for the National Anthem during pre-game ceremonies at professional sporting events. The latest protests, which he perceived was dishonoring of the military, the American flag, and the Christian way of life, resulted in him attacking those who refused to stand.
Here’s what the boy posted several weeks back:
Several days ago, he posted a similar screed.
Generally, I treat Facebook as a place to hang out with like-minded family and friends. I avoid political and religious discussions, preferring to look at shared photographs and cat videos. If I happen to inadvertently befriend someone outside of our extended family who is a Trump supporter or a right-wing Christian extremist, I quickly unfriend them. Life is too short for me to spend time wading through rivers of Trumptastic bullshit. Things are, however, a bit more dicey with family members. Polly and I, by far, are more progressive and liberal than many of the people we call family. When it comes to religion, we are the only out-and-out unbelievers in the bunch. While a handful of family members voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, most of them vote Republican, and having had enough of the Kenyan-born socialist Obama, voted for Donald Trump over Clinton in 2016 (a few voted for Gary Johnson).
Knowing this about our extended family, I avoid political discussions with them, choosing to alternately laugh and cry over the lies and distortions they post on their Facebook walls. For whatever reason, yesterday I decided to respond to the aforementioned comments. Here’s what I said:
My response, predictably, brought out lit Tiki torches, resulting in this reply:
Let me summarize the boy’s argument:
- There is no such thing as racism
- There is no such thing as white privilege
- Whites are the ones being discriminated against
I, foolishly thinking I could make a saint out of Malcom X at a KKK rally, replied:
Needless to say, the shit hit the proverbial fan and it is still, today, spraying across the social media. The boy told me I was ignorant, and the boy’s mother, with whom I have had several skirmishes over her ignorant posts about atheists, sent me a red-hot message, letting me know that my comments were out of line, that I was a bitter old man, and that their family was NOT racist — we know black people! I attempted to respond to her, but, by then, she had blocked me.
I would have asked her, if your family is not racist, where did your son get his abhorrent racist beliefs? Dad? Mom? Grandpa? Church? (I featured the racist comments of one woman who attends the church this boy’s father pastors in a post titled, Christian Fundamentalist Shares the Sweet, Sweet Love of Jesus on Facebook. This boy did not come up with these beliefs in a vacuüm. He was taught these things in word and deed.
Needless to say, this Facebook altercation destroyed what little relationship Polly or I had with this particular family. And that’s fine. Perhaps, one day this boy will have an epiphany about his views on patriotism and race, along with his views on LGBTQ people, same-sex marriage, liberalism, and socialism, and vaguely remember his curmudgeonly old “bitter” atheist cousin once removed and his attempts to show him a better way. For now, he remain a textbook example of how racism and bigotry can affect multiple generations of people — even those who, with infectious smiles, say, Jesus loves you, and he has a wonderful plan for your life.
For those of you who are still talking to your uber-patriotic, flag-waving Republican/Evangelical/Conservative/Right-Wing/Tea-Party friends and family, how have they responded to Donald Trump’s racist comments and protests by black NFL players? Please share your pithy thoughts in the comment section. If you are a supporter of dotard Donald Trump, don’t bother. I’m all Trumped out.