How Trump’s White Appeal Degrades



Last night my book discussion group discussed Snow, by the Turkish Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. I’ll have more to say on the novel as it provides insight into headscarf controversies (suddenly cropping up in the state of Georgia, of all places!) as well as Turkish politics. I predict we’ll be hearing a lot about Turkey in upcoming weeks as both Donald Trump (with two Istanbul hotels) and his proposed National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (whose major consulting client is Turkey) have some serious conflict of interest issues.

Today, however, I share a passage that gets at the pain that my students of color continue to experience from the recent election. Aside from the fact that millions of Americans downplayed or rationalized Trump’s racism and misogyny, a number have interpreted the election as a license to bully. My college’s African American president recently had the n-word thrown at her (this after she passed a man in a pick-up truck), and one of my Asian students was called “chink” by a fellow student. The Trump Effect is real.

In Snow, the poet protagonist at one point is having a conversation with an Islamic activist who talks about his experience as a political refugee in Germany. Blue talks about how he can’t help but see himself through German eyes:

When I was in Germany, at whatever Muslim association I happened to be visiting, in whatever city—it could be Frankfurt or Cologne, somewhere between the cathedral and the station, or one of the wealthy neighborhoods of Hamburg—where I happened to be walking, there was always one German who stood out of the crowd as an object of fascination for me. The important thing was not what I thought of him but what I thought he might be thinking about me; I’d try to see myself through his eyes and imagine what he might be thinking about my appearance, my clothes, the way I moved, my history, where I had just been and where I was going, who I was. It made me feel terrible but it became a habit; I became used to feeling degraded, and I came to understand how my brothers felt.

That whites don’t undergo this mental process is what it means to be privileged. Under Barack Obama, people of color imagined a day when they could stop worrying about how whites saw them. The election of Donald Trump let them know that millions of white citizens are willing to scapegoat them. Or at least they will vote for a presidential candidate who does.

My students saw themselves through the eyes of white Americans and they felt degraded. I, meanwhile, suffer on their behalf, as well as from the fact that most Trump supporters look like me.

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