Explicit Racism from the Oval Office — and Our Response

By Jim Wallis 1-13-2018

FILE PHOTO - President Donald Trump addresses a joint news conference with Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in the East Room of the White House. Jan. 10, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Donald Trump’s hateful words spoken in the Oval Office have been now been heard around the world and may be among the most ugly and harmful words to ever come from the White House of the United States of America. The people of America and around the world have heard that Trump asked, “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” The “shithole” countries named were those in Africa, as well as Haiti and El Salvador — places from which he didn’t want more people to come to America. Instead he said he would like more people from “places like Norway.” The message, about the color of skin the people Trump wants and doesn’t want in America, was clear.

The words uttered by Trump are perhaps more brutal, but painfully consistent with the many other words he has spoken about people of color, immigrants, refugees, and Muslims. He was a political candidate who ran on, and is a president who continues to run on, the racial bigotry of white nationalism. The media is now full of those vile words and pundits asking what they mean about Donald Trump. Does continual and blatantly racist language and behavior make you a “racist”? Even more important, do continual policy decisions and choices that promote structural racism make you a racist? What stupid questions. Language is not the core issue, but rather Donald Trump’s worldview that white European immigrants are preferable to black and brown immigrants.

The better question is what our response to this divisive, dangerous, and racist talking and acting political leader will be. We already know what these incendiary racist remarks say about Donald Trump. We knew that before this happened. But what does our response to Trump’s racist remarks and policy decisions say about us? That is the important question now.

The silence of Republicans has so far been not only deafening but revelatory. Being close to power, getting what you want in transactional relationships and furthering your ideological agenda by using the racism in your political base — instead of speaking against repeated racial talk and actions — now defines the Republican Party. That is embarrassing to many other conservative Republicans who believe principles should be more important than politics, and it is empowering the resurgent racism in the United States.

The deepest question we must ask is about white American Christians: What will they/we say and do? Will we speak against the racism that is a sin against God and against our brothers and sisters of color who are all made in the image of God? Silence is not morally or biblically allowed, and silence is complicity according the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we remember on Monday. My recommendation is that every MLK event in America this Monday make the move from commemoration to commitment. It is time for Christians, especially white American Christians, to speak out and step up as Christians to the kind of racial talk and actions that are now becoming normalized in the United States of America and that we heard again on Thursday from the Oval Office. God help us.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His new Audible spoken-word series, Jim Wallis In Conversation, is available now, as is his book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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