When it comes to misogyny and white supremacy, we’ve held the wrong audience accountable.
For years, Harvey Weinstein’s and Donald Trump’s private audiences could be divided into two types of (often) men: his vocal supporters and his silent endorsers.
The outspoken supporters — whether casual misogynists or white supremacists — are henchmen who helped take down women’s careers or allies in Congress who are themselves proponents of a white nationalist agenda. Most critics of both Weinstein and Trump consider this “base” group the real problem. For they are the fringe who have somehow become the norm.
But the people who really sustain misogyny and white supremacy are the quiet endorsers. Because they have the power to denounce the words, to reject the assumptions and, if necessary, to walk out of the room. They were the first to know and could have rallied — or become — the opposition.
And because so many of us have acted like quiet endorsers, Weinstein and Trump have the power they have (or, in Weinstein’s case, had).
Fortunately, the Weinsteins of our world are finally losing their power. This is in part because their actions behind their closed doors have been outed by brave women. But they could not have built that power in the first place without the presence of men (and some women) who failed to ask questions, or looked the other way or ignored their own beliefs about the equal value of women. #MeToo will become a movement of transformative change when brothers join their sisters to say #TimesUp.
White supremacy deserves the same fate. Trump has enjoyed a coterie of supporters and endorsers of white supremacy. Putting his misogyny aside for a moment, much of Trump’s electoral base, Congressional allies and conservative media henchmen and women seemed to support his barely veiled animus toward people of Latin American or African descent and Muslims. Yet more worrying are those congressmen who were in the room when Trump called El Salvador, Haiti and the continent of Africa “shithole countries,” yet refused to speak out. They equivocated or offered “no comment,” quietly endorsing Trump’s bigotry.
“Unfortunate,” as Paul Ryan would mutter (again). Never “racist” — though it clearly is.
This is the normalization of the most dangerous racism the United States has seen in a generation. “Unfortunate,” as Paul Ryan would mutter (again). Never “racist” — though it clearly is.
Most Americans are coming around to an understanding that normalizing sexual predation represents an existential threat to the nation. White supremacy is — we should know by now — no less threatening. The harms in each are eerily similar.
Both cause direct pain, either in the lives of women or people of color. The promise of equal dignity on which the republic stands has been qualified, discounted or, in many cases, repudiated altogether.
Then there are the larger structural effects of a system whose most powerful stewards can impose their hateful assumptions across all the institutions that matter — immigration policy, employment rules, pay standards. These institutions are the embodiment of larger ideas like access, control and equality; ideas we Americans like to lecture the world about.
If women can be casually and habitually objectified in the workplace, they will never challenge the norms of male power successfully. Male power will be rewarded and women will always have less than they deserve.
If people of color can be casually subordinated as coming from “shithole” cultures, neighborhoods, families or brains, they will never overcome a system of that offers them less.
Even if the harms of casual misogyny and racism are already known, what’s less clear is how they are perpetuated. Two powerful forces come to mind.
Misogyny and white supremacy lead similar lives because both rely on “good people doing nothing.”
One is the exploitation of nuance — the parsing of so many examples and exceptions and close calls that the thing itself becomes less meaningful. Some nuance is always key to discussions of sexual harassment or racism. Racial essentialism and harassment allegations without due process threaten Americans’ sense of justice. Yet too much nuance can blur moral clarity and make everything so relative that it’s no longer true enough to act on.
The other reason misogyny and white supremacy lead similar lives is that both rely on “good people doing nothing.”
What Trump has painfully shown us is that millions of Americans have turned tolerance on its head. Tolerance used to mean exercising our highest aspirations of inclusion — even when we were uncomfortable or unfamiliar with someone. But now tolerance has come to reflect how much hatred we will accept as a means to an end.
In that dangerous silence, we can only guess what that end will be. And we cannot hear our ideals disappearing, lie by hateful lie.
Trump and his enablers must be held accountable for their white supremacy. Racism must also be your last straw.
The president of the United States cannot be a white supremacist.
One way for each of us to achieve this is to act on the difference between opposition and criticism. The former is active and bold. It offers an alternative vision of power relationships, wrapped in specific goals, and meets them. Criticism, on the other hand, is witty, cerebral and insightful — but has all the staying power of a wave. Facebook outrages have their place, but true opposition is organized.
Time’s up. We have to choose the republic we believe in.