When Donald Trump first announced his presidential candidacy, I was among those who said he would win.
A lot of people — a lot of them being white progressive friends, some American — insisted this was alarmist. They also insisted that Hillary Clinton was the more qualified candidate. “I didn’t say Trump should win,” I explained. “I said he will; whether he should won’t matter when he does.”
Which polls did we study to know this? Not the pre-election polls. Those are normally run by nice, respectable people talking to nice respectable people; “experts” with a bias towards people who think like themselves, believing those to be representative of the majority, extrapolating within psycho-social parameters they find believable. But the human element is inescapable: that’s why the best predictor of human behaviour is human behaviour. The best polls to study to determine a political outcome is the incidence of hate crimes.
Consider the bullied kid who insists the class bully doesn’t bully in isolation. He has support; he’s popular with the jocks and athletes; he’s a formidable terror in the bullied kid’s existence.
Imagine classmates shrugging off the bullied kid’s story. They say he’s exaggerating. The bully is just a dumb loud-mouth nobody listens to.
The time to vote class captain comes. As candidate, the bully says all the wrong things. The average student imagines there’s no way someone like him would win. But he does. It is only then that everyone realises the pervasiveness of the bully’s kind of thinking.
Will things worsen for the bullied kid? Yes. But at least he will now be believed when he describes the subtler workings of the school’s power systems.
Let’s talk about rape culture, systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and the nice, middle-class white progressives who make it all possible.
After slavery and segregation were lifted from black folks in the USA, there were no reparations (a fact the UN is now making sounds about). Redress for injustice is a concrete way of quantitatively and qualitatively coming to terms with its wrongness in all its dimensions. If the one (the quantitative or the qualitative) is prioritised ahead of the other, if reconciliatory ceremonies and gestures are put ahead of the actual work on the ground or vice-versa, it will lead to two things happening among those who had not previously been oppressed:
Those who hold on to bigoted attitudes will think they’re good people because they have not come to terms with the extent of their prejudice. Those who don’t necessarily hold on to prejudice — that’s our nice, white progressives who constitute the bulk of voices on social and traditional media — will overestimate the efficacy of changing discriminatory laws, and underestimate the importance of shifting attitudes on the ground. Really, the one should be tackled in tandem with and in proportion to the other.
The moment you take reparations and redress out of the equation, you create a disjointed world void of consequences. This is the kind of world moderate, mellow progressives live in. This is why it’s impossible to explain intersectionality and systemic oppression to them: their whole words are disjointed and de-systemised. They can afford to put together idealistic, utopian pictures of what should happen, and think those are what will happen, because that’s what has happened in their worlds for them. I’ve blogged about this before:
White privilege is the freedom to deny that constructs exist because once you have the resources and mobility to opt in and out of the group, its guilts and its prejudices, you have no reason to admit that constructs have been constructed, let alone that you have unduly benefited from them. White privilege is the gift of not knowing about white privilege whilst benefiting from it.
To have white privilege is to be given from birth the tools needed to move through the world without having to reckon with the power of constructs.
This is why #BlackLivesMatter exploded last year, and it’s why Donald Trump won this year.
This means the bullied kid, be he the Muslim, the transgender black woman or the Mexican immigrant, has been vindicated in his insistence that the issue is systemic and pervasive.
In the next few hours, we will hear unspeakably tragic stories of black churches being burnt, of gay-bashing incidences spiking the way they did just after #Brexit, and we will see a nauseating explosion of misogyny and hate online.
And all that will be is the full horror of the nightmarish monsters the oppressed have had to live with emboldened to come out into broad daylight. Nothing would have actually changed. Who you install as president, which laws you pass or repeal, says only so much about the work that’s actually been done on the ground in terms of confronting attitudes, unpacking privilege and making reparations.
Who really knows the guts of a system? It is not those who know the broad economic ramifications of this or that decision: it’s those who’ve been squashed by that system’s underbelly. They’ve had face-to-face exposure to what it’s really like, in real life. Blessed are the poor, the meek and the oppressed: they know the world better than anyone else.
The United States of Amnesia did not “go backwards” in this election; it simply proved that those who looked at progressive laws alone as a measure of where the country was at, had failed to take into account the (now vindicated) fears of those who’d been left behind.
Siya Khumalo has gone from working on a book to having the book work on him. Please follow and retweet on @SKhumalo1987, thank you.