In the midst of discussing protection for immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and countries in Africa, the President of the United States asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” Instead, Trump continued, we should have more people from places like Norway.
This comment perfectly encapsulates the dual nature of racism. Racism is not only unfair bias against brown and black people, it is also unfair privileging of white people.
Racism as discriminating against someone because of their race or ethnicity is well understood. Sometimes this bias is unconscious. Sometimes this bias is explicit. Highlights from the longlist of Trump’s blatant racism might include: denying the citizenship of the nation’s first black President; damning Mexican immigrants as criminals and rapists; and demonizing Muslims with claims like “Islam hates us.” The racist assumption that black and brown people from majority black or brown “shithole” countries had nothing worth contributing to this country is merely the latest entry. (Never mind facts like Nigerians are the most educated immigrant group in the United States.)
Trump’s musings about Norway, on the other hand, illustrates white privilege, a less familiar concept. Peggy McIntosh defines white privilege as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was ‘meant’ to remain oblivious.” White privilege essentially consists of various benefits that white people enjoy, usually without even realizing it, and that people of color do not. These benefits range from the ability to drive a nice car or board an airplane without raising any suspicion; to guaranteed representation in just about everything, whether it be children’s books, journalism, or movies; to getting the benefit of the doubt.
There’s a Trump list here too. In fact, Trump does not merely give white people the benefit of the doubt, he embraces idea that white people are automatically less blameworthy and more worthy. As quick as Trump is to rage against Muslim terrorists, his response to white terrorists is silence, or at best, a tepid message days after an incident. Instead of condemning the “Unite the Right” rally at Charlottesville, Trump insisted that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Trump’s comments about Norway again gives white people the benefit of the doubt. If someone is white, he assumes they will contribute, regardless of their actual background. Trump doesn’t need to know more. They are white and therefore, no doubt, very fine people.
Racial bias and white privilege both contribute to racism. To our country’s great detriment, both were on display last night.