Under President Donald Trump, the U.S. may now have moved into a time of not having to apologize for racism according to a longtime social and cultural historian. Professor John Hoberman of the University of Texas at Austin, who was the scheduled Humphrey Forum speaker January 30 at the U of M’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, called this the “Trump effect.”
Trump now “is teaching us things. One of the things he is teaching us is that there have been wraps placed around certain kinds of racist impulses,” Hoberman pointed out. The president, for example, often shows “his ignorance” whenever he talks about Black Americans, such as labeling Black neighborhoods “ghettos,” he noted.
Hoberman explained that America has experienced three “effects” since the summer of 2014, starting with the “Ferguson effect,” after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by a White police officer. It was followed by the [Colin] “Kaepernick effect” last summer, when the NFL quarterback kneeled during the playing of the national anthem before a pre-season game in protest of police-involved killings of Blacks. Then the November election of Trump introduced the “Trump effect.”
“There are a lot of things to keep track of in this historical period we are in,” said Hoberman. “The question is which parties in this society are going to stand up for our traditional values.”
Seeing racism in such an open fashion “did not start a week ago with the start of the Trump presidency,” explained Hoberman. “What’s so special about Trump? He ran as an open racist.” Over the course of his campaign, “A small army of people who felt oppressed [wanting] to make their feelings known in public” became energized with Trump’s candidacy. “This includes anti-Black racists, lots of Jew haters…
“What Trump essentially has done is to liberate large numbers of racist-minded Whites who felt put upon and unfairly repressed. It was political correctness that kept their mouths shut for so long until Trump liberated them and validated their feelings.”
For candidate Trump, divisions among families, police departments and professional teams were created mainly along racial lines, explained Hoberman. “The difference with Trump is that certain people go around with racial hatred and anger and they won’t have any consequences. Trump was very clever to use P.C. [political correctness] as a tool to mobilize” his political base, Hoberman said. “Political correctness was repressive [for some], to [be unable to] call Blacks this and Jews that. They didn’t have the guts before Trump liberated them.”
Trump’s election last November gave rise to “concealed racism…that now is coming out of the woodwork,” stated Hoberman. “[He is] an anti-Black racist. We don’t know what’s in store. This is a difficult time for America. Something has to be done about it.”
When an audience member asked if it is better that we see racism openly, Hoberman responded, “That is an interesting question. There’s no easy answer.” He added that he believes whenever people have grievances or are suffering it should be made publicly known in order to be addressed properly and honestly.
“You have to make yourself heard in order to get action or some results,” said Hoberman. “If it isn’t out there, nothing is going to happen.”
Under the new Trump administration, Hoberman admitted that such current issues as policing, which has been “a crisis for African Americans for decades,” will not be adequately addressed.
“We have to spend more time on how do we build relationships, how do we handle conflicts, and that is the stuff that has to happen in the law enforcement world,” said Debbie Montgomery, a retired St. Paul police officer who was among the audience members.
“Police reform is one of the hardest things to do” in this country, said the professor. “A department of justice under [attorney general nominee] Jeff Sessions is not going to lift a finger” to reform police departments, he predicted, adding that voter suppression will be “the second casualty” under Sessions.
Before his appearance, Hoberman told the MSR, “We’ve got an emergency situation on our hands. There’s an authoritarian in the White House. There are those who are wondering in the age of Trump,” if America will turn back to the state of race relations in the 1920s and 1930s.
“I don’t know about that,” said Hoberman. “I don’t have that expertise. I never expected to live to see something like this.”
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Charles Hallman is the senior staff writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org