Recently, I’ve been watching the HBO series Westworld. In the simplest way I can explain the show, it’s about a “Wild West” themed park that humans can visit. It’s full of androids called “hosts” that act the part of the cowboy, the sheriff, or the outlaw. Behind the scenes, the androids are created and controlled by some vicious coders and designers. I’ve had a handful of friends recommend the show to me and, with my undergraduate career finally wrapped up, decided to give it a look. I’ve finished episode three of season two. It’s been a confusing, thrilling ride.
The show inspired me in its own way, especially when I look at the entertainment scandal currently on everyone’s mind. Roseanne Barr opened her mouth to call Valerie Jarrett a monkey, then proceeded to blame it on sleeping pills, as if Ambien was an obnoxious writer who designed her backstory to include racism. Trump then decided to get involved in a situation that didn’t involve him and make it about him. Fascinating how that unraveled, but not surprising.
The reactions I’ve seen on Twitter and other social media platforms weren’t too sympathetic toward Barr, and rightfully so. She said something unquestioningly racist and, in my opinion, unoriginal; comparing Black people to monkeys is pretty old. If you’re going to be racist at least commit to it with gusto and originality.
Last night, while scrolling through Twitter, I came upon an article written by columnist Max Boot with the headline “President Trump is normalizing racism.” I, in my young Black womanliness, was bewildered. Not because what he wrote was shocking and I had never read anything like that before, but because there seemed to be a blatant misunderstanding of how society has worked for the last hundred years or so. Or even more recently, the last sixty years or so.
Here’s what we all need to understand and get on the same page about: Trump is not the cause of the problem. He’s a symptom of it.
Trump is the result of institutionalized racism. Scary words, I know. Scary words that majority of this country still like to deny exists, still like to pretend that it’s the Boogeyman and if you just hide under your blanket of white privilege it’ll all go away. You can look at the research for yourself. If documentaries are more engaging for you, Ava DuVernay’s 13TH is a compelling piece that speaks on and investigates the unjust and overwhelming incarceration of African-Americans.
That is to say, Black people knew. We’ve always known. We live it every day. We encounter it on a regular basis. Microaggressions, overt and covert racism–they’re no stranger to us. Instead, it’s like going to the company party and always having to tell that one coworker she did a good job on her deconstructed potato salad with raisins.
Boot writes, “What I was suggesting is that racists such as Barr might feel emboldened to publicly vent their hatred because they see the president doing something similar.” Perhaps. Had this been the point of his opinion piece, perhaps I’d be less inclined to write this rebuttal. Indeed, Trump is no shy man. He stated that sanctuary cities are “breeding” criminals; he threw a tantrum over immigrants coming from “shithole countries”; he displayed his racist thinking and opinions for all of America to see. If we were the great country that we thought we were, perhaps, by now, he would’ve been held accountable for his actions. Instead, he’s still playing a dangerous game of Simon Says with America. It’s how a KKK leader crawled out of his hole to run for Senate; it’s why the Obamas still bunch up the panties of the Trump base anytime they breathe or move; and it’s why so many have decided to, now, speak on what they’re truly feeling about Black and brown people in this country. All Trump has done is bring to light what was on everyone’s mind. All he has done is continue to prove that racism is cancer and everything that America says it stands for is dying from it.
But even here, the point is muddled, because although she is paying for her actions, Barr is being excused. Had she not played Simon Says with the president, her career would still be intact and Roseanne still on the air. It’s all Trump’s fault that she felt froggy and lept. No, no. She’s a grown 65-year-old woman who should, by this point, know well right from wrong. Let’s hope she takes her newfound free time to do some self-reflection.
Boot ends with a question: “Or do they simply not care that a president is setting a racist tone for the nation?” I disagree with this sort of logic, mostly because it achieves nothing substantial. It just fills up the comments beneath with anonymous racists still fuming over Obama.
Instead, this article tells me that a lot of Americans still have no idea how racism works in this country. They’d like to think that this episode in our history, this presidency, is all but a fever dream. It’s not. 62% of white men and 52% of white women voted for Trump. And now he is our president.
Do not write articles about Trump normalizing what has been embedded in the marrow of this country. Do not feign shock or surprise that Trump is president or that many, including Barr, have decided to say uninformed and racist things about African-Americans. Trump is a problem, yes, but he is not the only problem. The sooner white Americans realize that the sooner we can start to make substantial progress towards actual change that prevents the Barr and Trump incidents from happening again.
This reaction, this quick flitting of fingers across the keyboard to write that Trump is normalizing something that has existed for generations, shows that white America is oh-so-cozy and comfy under their white privilege blankets. Much like Dolores, Maeve, Bernard, and more from Westworld have learned, even the most tragic of truths will come to light. Even they had to confront them and deal with them. Take peace in knowing that if fictional androids can do it, so can you.
The park of “Whiteworld” is now closed. Time for y’all to face your fears.