Elections

Many minorities see Trump’s win as a victory for white supremacy

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.

“It’s uncharted territory. It’s scary,” said Ernesto Yermoli, a North Carolina voter who became a U.S. citizen this year more than two decades after his family emigrated from Argentina. “What’s really frightening now is that people feel free to give voice to their darkest prejudices.”

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 minorities, 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, the historically African-American college in Washington.

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.

But 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 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.”

Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, issued a call for Trump to reconsider proposals such as banning the entry of Muslims to the United States and amassing a deportation force to remove 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally. Such ideas, Romero wrote, “are not simply un-American and wrongheaded, they are unlawful and unconstitutional.”

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.

They pointed to other political developments that are harbingers of that changing America: four new women of color in Congress, including the first Latina senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, a Nevada Democrat who’s the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants and a staunch opponent of Trump’s plan to build a wall at the border.

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.”

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,” “whitelash.”

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 next step is finding the vocabulary to talk about this phenomenon. Feagin said that throwing around the word “racist” killed the national conversation because most white people didn’t consider themselves racist. He said that too many whites saw a racist as someone burning a cross on a lawn and didn’t take into account the everyday biases and stereotypes that had burrowed into the American psyche.

“The racial problem in American is a white problem,” he said.

Feagin favors pushing white Americans to examine the privileges they inherited as beneficiaries of a country that for most of its history was a slaveholding society. He said the natural start for reform would be in the school system, with books and curricula that challenged stereotypes and introduced a more historically accurate story of America.

But Feagin doesn’t expect an overhaul anytime soon. Issues of race relations remain so thorny, so incendiary, that politicians and commentators typically do their best to avoid them. He pointed to how guarded even President Barack Obama is in broaching issues of “white systemic racism.”

Perhaps the country could take heart from a major demographic shift that occurred gradually and mostly peacefully on the West Coast, he said.

“California is what the future is. If we’re lucky, if it doesn’t have a serious violence component,” Feagin said. “California changed from a very conservative white-run state to the United Nations of America.”

Javaria Khan and Vera Bergengruen contributed to this article.

Hannah Allam: 202-383-6186, @HannahAllam

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