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Blaxploitation: The RNC Version

August 28, 2020
Your black friends

What a black friend posted on Facebook today.

WAR IS PEACE.
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY.
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.

Having just watched the Trump Party’s four-day festival of mendacity and corruption (aka the Republican National Convention), I think it’s time to add a fourth oxymoron to Orwell’s famous trinity:  EXPLOITATION IS BENEVOLENCE.

What most stood out during the event was the mind-bending juxtaposition of a parade of African-Americans there to praise the benevolence of Donald Trump while party leaders were simultaneously making the mostly outrageously racist appeal to White America’s primal fear of black people.

The latter loomed as the principal theme of the convention. One after another, Trump’s acolytes took the podium to scream alarm that if Joe Biden won the election those people from the crime-ridden war zones of Democrat-run cities [i.e., black people] would be coming to destroy America’s idyllic [white] suburbs. There would be uncontrolled rioting in the streets, “mob rule”, and “no one will be safe in Biden’s America”, as Trump himself proclaimed. Rudy Giuliani could barely contain himself, calling–literally–for locking more people up and portraying New York City as a cartoonish Gotham City where criminals rule the streets and chaos reigns. The solution, repeated endlessly by speaker after speaker, was total support for the police.

The intended message was crystal clear: Black people are dangerous. Black Lives Matter means riots, looting, and burning down private property.  The Democrats are the party of black people. Therefore Democrats want looting and rioting and sending black welfare queens to live in your safe white suburban neighborhood, bringing crime and who knows what else. Good white people will not be safe in their homes.

And all of this was taking place immediately following another grotesque police shooting of an unarmed black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Then a 17-year-old white vigilante named Kyle Rittenhouse had his mom drive him and his long gun up from Illinois so he could prance around with his rifle threatening protesters in the demonstrations that followed, where he promptly shot and killed two people and grievously wounded another, and then was ignored by police until video of him emerged on social media. Young Kyle was quickly adopted as a hero by such luminaries of right-wing America as Tucker Carlson and Ann Coulter, who gushed that she wanted him “as my president” on the same day that Trump went full-on “American carnage” in his acceptance speech. No one at the RNC condemned or even mildly admonished the Kenosha police; their denunciations were entirely directed at those protesting police violence.

Then there was the cognitive dissonance of a series of black Americans giving Trump glowing testimonials about how he had helped them. If you had just arrived from Mars and were watching the convention on TV, you could be forgiven for assuming that the Republican Party was mostly African-Americans or other people of color. I won’t speculate on the motives of the black folks praising the most racist president since Woodrow Wilson, but the general tone of their speeches (and indeed of the entire convention) was one of a grateful subject expressing gratitude for some favor gratuitously bestowed by a benevolent sovereign. It’s equivalent to fulsomely thanking the boss who has been paying his workers starvation wages all year for giving them a Christmas turkey.

The stress of the physical and emotional and political abuse of black Americans is clearly taking a toll. Black journalists and analysts commenting on the RNC were visibly struggling to contain their hurt and fury at what they were witnessing and to maintain their professional composure. As several people observed, the point of having black folks praise Trump wasn’t really to persuade black voters to vote Republican, but rather to give white voters who might have qualms about Trump an excuse to vote for him anyway.

The sports world reacted immediately. The players of the Milwaukee Bucks refused to play, and then the entire NBA suspended its playoff games. Several other sports leagues including the WNBA and MLB suspended play as well. A series of black sports stars spoke up, expressing their dismay and outrage at what is happening. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “How dare Republicans talk about fear. We’re the ones that need to be scared. We’re the ones having to talk to every Black child—what white father has to give his son a talk about being careful if you get pulled over? It’s just ridiculous…It’s amazing why we keep loving this country, and this country does not love us back.” Charles Barkley said, “It’s exhausting being black in America.”

What I’m seeing from some black friends on social media is akin to despair.

I admit that I share that sense of despair. As a white man, I have never had to deal with the daily indignities that White America dumps on black folks, but my eyes have been gradually opened to the pervasiveness of racism in our country. Even so, until Trump won I really thought that things were getting better.

What feels different now, is that for the first time in my lifetime we have both a president and a Republican party that openly base their appeal on racial divisiveness. They are actually willing and often eager to inflame racial divisions if that’s what’s needed to stay in power. Before Trump, white nationalists had to stay in the shadows, but now his winking approval has enabled them to operate in the open. The message to racist cops and gun-packing white nationalists is: Don’t worry, we got your back.

They’re not quite mainstream, yet. That’s why Trump and his supporters still need to pretend to care about people of color and put on a show of faux inclusiveness as seen at the RNC. But it’s really just another form of contempt, because it says either that they think black folks won’t see through their hypocrisy or they just don’t care if they do or not because the show isn’t for them anyway.

It feels like we are at a watershed. I wish I felt some confidence about which way things will go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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