NEW YORK – In his first speech as president-elect, Donald Trump pledged early Wednesday to serve as a leader representing “all Americans.”
Racial and religious minorities viewed the promise skeptically.
They noted that it came from a man who, over the course of his campaign, had called for mass deportations and a wall along the Mexican border, floated the ideas of spying on mosques and forcing American Muslims onto a national registry, and dismissed Black Lives Matter protesters as “looking for trouble” while disseminating grossly inflated Black crime statistics.
He was endorsed by Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi and White supremacist figures.
Instead, they criticized White voters for buying into Trump’s racially charged messaging and prepared for what many foresee as the battle still yet to be fought between the vestiges of America’s ugly racial past, and the realities of an ongoing demographic shift that will leave Whites in the minority.
Activists of color pounced on results that showed that 70 percent of Tuesday’s voters were White; of those, the majority – 58 percent – voted for Trump, across economic and other traditional divides.
For many non-Whites, the numbers confirmed their suspicions about White compatriots’ views toward them, and cast aspersions even on White allies such as supporters of the social media campaign #notallwhitepeople. With the voter data so stark, they gave nobody a pass Wednesday.
“There’s a president who wants to make America great but not for me, for people who look like me, for people who believe what I believe in. He just wants to make America great for people like him,” said Taylor Brainey, a California native who attends Howard University.
Whiteness as ‘oxygen’
One of the most searing indictments of White voters came from Damon Young, the Pittsburgh-based editor of the online publication VSB, known for its race-related commentary. He wrote that he’d been wrong to believe that a majority of White Americans would choose “their own humanity” over the preservation of White supremacy.
“I failed to realize how intertwined these things are for them,” Young wrote. “There apparently is no point in even existing without existing as White. Whiteness is past an identity or status. It is their oxygen, their plasma, their connective tissue.”
Throughout the election, polls showed racial resentment as a key factor in Trump’s popularity, but analysts say that reality was overshadowed by Trump’s antics on the campaign trail or the narrative of the impoverished, neglected White voter.
Surveys find that economic factors were not the only drivers of support for Trump.
One, by the Pew Research Center, found that attitudes about immigration, Islam and racial diversity were bigger factors than economic concerns among Republican voters.
Another, by Hamilton College political scientist Philip Klinkner, who analyzed voter data for Vox, found Trump was favored over Hillary Clinton by “those who express more resentment toward African-Americans, those who think the word ‘violent’ describes Muslims well and those who believe President Obama is a Muslim.”
Now Trump critics are bracing to see whether the rhetoric from the campaign trail – including words and ideas that once were out of bounds for polite discussion – makes it into policy. Human rights and civil liberties defenders on Wednesday issued pre-emptive warnings about the hardening of these racial and anti-immigrant sentiments.
“From internment camps to the use of torture, we have seen disastrous results when those we elect to represent us flout the United States’ obligations to uphold human rights,” said Margaret Huang, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, the rights watchdog known better for monitoring dictatorships abroad. “All who have been elected today – from the executive office to city council – should bear these lessons in mind.”
Others charged that Trump’s appeal played squarely on fears that, according to current population trends, White Americans are about 30 years from becoming a minority group.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant and prominent activist behind the documentary “White People,” asked on Twitter how much change White Americans can handle as they see their hold on the country loosening, gradually. He answered himself: “I think last night we saw that it’s not a lot.”
CNN commentator Van Jones put it bluntly during election coverage.
“We’ve talked about everything tonight…we haven’t talked about race. This was a ‘whitelash’ against a changing country, against a Black president, in part, and that’s the part where the pain comes…I know this is more than about race…but race is here too and we gotta talk about it.”
Across social media, Black and Brown pundits offered their takes on the outcome, naming the target of their anger: “White folks did this,” “this was a referendum for White nationalism,” “the slave codes for the modern day.”
Such characterizations jibe with the research of Joe Feagin, a White, Texas-born sociologist who’s written extensively about race relations in books such as “White Party, White Government: Race, Class and U.S. Politics.”
“This demographic shift is not going to come peacefully and that’s why Trump was elected,” said Feagin, a professor at Texas A&M University. “Whites know enough about this coming demographic shift to be scared.
“The racial problem in America is a White problem.”