The Proximity Problem

So, how can a President of the United States of America spout racist spittle in his Twitter account while pompously announcing he hasn’t a racist bone in his body? And, how could sentient being believe that?

Anyone who isn’t white spots the hypocrisy immediately. Many who are white find his statement compatible with their own feelings.  It doesn’t take too long in life to hear someone white say precisely the same thing and to note the speaker believes it.  The trick, and the proximity problem, is in the word that all too often follows the clause…”but.”

I’m not racist…but they just don’t behave like us. Or, they don’t work like we do, or they don’t raise their children up like we do, or they don’t take care of their property like we do…And so on.  Such tried and tired lines passed from generation to generation create the basis for institutional racism, the foundation for everything from redlining to school segregation.  Library shelves are full of volumes and tomes explaining racism. Kitchen tables are full of conversations and comments which perpetuate it.

Much of the President’s unpalatable rhetoric doesn’t leave a bad aftertaste if the listener is inclined to be uncomfortable in racially or culturally mixed groups.  There’s the key word, “comfort.”  Recall the studies from years back that concluded whites were comfortable in mixed neighborhoods until a minority population started to exceed 10%?  Now, think in terms of a head nodding member of Trump’s audience reacting to a racist comment with an interior “yeah, I don’t have any problems with ‘them’ I just don’t want too many of them in the school, the neighborhood, or my city.”  Translation: I don’t want to be in proximity.

Proximity is challenging.  Segregation allowed generations of white Americans to live with the benefits of non-white work, but without the necessity of contact or proximity.   It’s probably no accident that the gun-sense activists of Parkland made common cause with their cohorts from predominantly minority population neighborhoods.  Proximity is less problematic after a couple of generations of integration?  Proximity is easier when there is a cause greater than personal comfort.

Trump offers comfort to the Discomfited.  Uneasy with an African American President?  How about a white male one? Was that African American President making you feel uncomfortable because he understood The Talk parents have with teenage sons?  The more uncomfortable with members of minority groups, the more comfortable with Trump! To admit he is racist is to admit to one’s own biases.  Racism is white supremacist hood wearing cross burning radicals…but the President isn’t one of those, therefore I’m not racist either?  No, skip the hood, but he certainly makes noises compatible with those unfortunate souls when he uses words like invasion, infestion, and his officials appear on television rewording the plaque on the Statue Of Liberty.

He’s upset at being branded a racist, as would all those who emphatically declare themselves free of racism in all portions of their skeletons.  The solution is simple to say, complex to implement: Get used to the proximity.  A solution made all the more difficult when a significant percentage of the country doesn’t want to live, work, play, or pray near those unlike themselves.  Those uncomfortable with the unfamiliar,  who are fearful of the implications for their status.  We ignore them at our peril, and their residual racism causes the resurgence of our proximity problem for each generation. However, like a disease which refuses to be eradicated, changes and attacks the body politic in each new generation, inoculation is possible.  Acquaintance assists. Proximity helps. Tolerance cures.

 

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