As we speed toward becoming a country that will be majority-minority, time is running short for white America to decide whether racism and bigotry of any kind should be always and everywhere disqualifying in politics. What we are experiencing are the early birthing pains. If we aren’t careful, 50 years from now we’ll be looking back to 2016, wondering where all the time went as we remain stuck over the same debate—but in a country far more riven by race than it is now. How do I know? That’s about how long it took the Confederate flag to be removed from the grounds of the South Carolina State House—and that only after the massacre of nine black people in a church.
We spent half a century over a flag that should have never been allowed to become the center of our attention while more pressing matters—racial disparities in just about every walk of life, robbing us of precious talent and creating gobs of unnecessary headaches—went mostly unresolved, in large part because our gaze was fixed on the superficial.
That’s why the economic angst-vs.-racism argument is dumbing down an already dumb conversation about race—one that is often devoid of the kind of nuance and charity that will be required for us to pick up the pieces once Trump fades from the scene. It makes it nearly impossible for us to grapple with an ugly reality many of us still don’t want to face, that racism and bigotry remain primary drivers of the American populace in ways understood and not, that they are not confined to a few imagined trailer parks in Kentucky and Georgia and are not the sole property of one major political party, even if that party is infected by it more than the other.