The hatred that exists among and between broad swathes of the population in the US is no longer largely invisible, and can no longer be ignored.
Opponents of President Donald Trump are fond of bashing him for a plethora of offences, often deservedly so, but at least one that is frequently criticised—the state of race relations in the United States—has been viewed from a myopic perspective by many of his critics. While it can easily be argued that the state of race relations has not been as raw since the 1960s, we have Trump to thank for the fact that this state of affairs is now visible for all to see in the media on a daily basis. Without Trump, it would likely simply continue to boil relatively silently beneath the surface.
Underlying conversations about gender disparity, sexual assault, xenophobia, and nationalist populism, the state of racism in America is, arguably, at the heart of it all. Social media aptly illustrates just how strongly racial considerations continue to loom in the daily lives of Americans of all creeds, convictions, and age groups.
A predisposition toward judging individuals based on colour, creed, religion, or sexual orientation among some segments of the population has in reality changed little over the past two generations, as polls on employment, dating, and residential preferences remind us. Racially tinged biases continue to influence the outcome of elections in some southern states, as millions of white Americans are terrified that their way of life is under threat as the fabric of American society becomes more and more diverse and integrated.
In an America built upon the contributions of immigrants from the Global South, indigenous predisposition toward prejudice has been supplemented by prejudice imported in virtually every Chinatown, Little India, and other ethnic enclave. For example, one has only to spend a short time perusing the Internet to realise the extent to which many Southeast Asian communities in the US harbour anti-black or anti-Chinese attitudes.
While a key byproduct of the uniquely American ethnic mosaic is that it is an ideal foundation upon which to encourage harmony and mutual understanding, it is also a breeding ground for bias, stereotypes, and racism. As Martin Jacques has noted, “every race displays racial prejudice, is capable of racism, and carries assumptions about its own virtue and superiority”.
Just as American society has become more international and cosmopolitan, a plethora of individuals with opinions from across the spectrum have felt free to become more vocal. It is no longer simply White Supremacists and the Klan who have gotten organised and taken to the airwaves. Consider the case earlier this year of 25-year-old South Korean Heon “Hank” Jong Yoo, who gained notoriety on YouTube espousing his views and singing “Dixie” while dressed as a Confederate cavalry member. Yoo often gives prominent placement to Nazi, “alt-right”, and Confederate imagery in his videos. He has become popular for videos ranting against the Black Lives Matter movement and one entitled “Sieg Heil Taylor Swift”.
Yoo is hardly an anomaly, nor can he be written off as a troll; rather, he is an example of a larger group of young men who have come of age glued to dark forums such as 4Chan and Stormfront. Anti-racism activist Christian Picciolini, who in his youth led a chapter of a white nationalist organisation, says of the temptation to hate that he used to feel an energy flow through him that he had never felt before—as if he was a part of something greater than himself. Such are the consequences of the loneliness, social isolation, and cultural alienation that continue to proliferate in America in the Trump era. Social media has compounded these effects, creating a dangerous cocktail for the American experiment—one that is no longer about black versus white.
The US is a distinct polyglot civilisation, yet few Americans of European heritage take fiery ethnic pride in where the ancestors came from at the expense of their American identities. The degree to which this has been taken for granted, rather than viewed as a work in progress, has contributed in its own way toward an increasingly chaotic environment.
Irish Americans, for instance, take great pride in being Irish during annual parades and on St. Patty’s Day, but these have become a joyous and widely celebrated American tradition. Less established ethnic groups have not yet become fully integrated into American society, and, importantly, many of them have put down roots in local communities throughout the US that have historically been less accustomed to hosting people from faraway lands.
Globalization has of course increased competition and placed more pressure on indigenous domestic workers to perform well, but it has also brought together groups of people who have been deprived of real contact with “the other”, while having been brought up in judgemental, intolerant cocoons. The net result in such instances tends to be less of a melting pot and more of an Indian thali, wherein the contents do not mix well together. This is an important contributing factor to the heightened state of tension among America’s diverse ethnic mosaic.
America did not arrive at this juncture in its history by accident, nor quickly. It evolved over many decades. Likewise, racism and bigotry did not suddenly appear on Mr Trump’s watch, but as the country’s experiment in ethnic pluralism has gradually unfolded over generations, the hatred and animus that exists among and between broad swathes of the population in the US is no longer largely invisible, and can no longer be ignored.
For that, we owe Trump a debt of gratitude. Now, of course, the challenge is for concerned citizens and enlightened lawmakers to do something about it.
Daniel Wagner is CEO of Country Risk Solutions and author of AI Supremacy. Aditya Ramachandran is a research associate with FutureMap.