It was indeed all a lie, but white Democrats are on the hook, too

Racism isn’t “the original sin of the modern Republican party” alone

“I saw the warning signs but ignored them,” confessed Republican strategist Stuart Stevens in his 2020 New York Times op-ed, going on to acknowledge racism as “the original sin of the modern Republican Party.” Stevens was introducing his book It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump¹:

I spent decades working to elect Republicans, including Mr. Romney and four other presidential candidates, and I am here to bear reluctant witness that Mr. Trump didn’t hijack the Republican Party. He is the logical conclusion of what the party became over the past 50 or so years, a natural product of the seeds of race-baiting, self-deception and anger that now dominate it.

I saw the warning signs but ignored them and chose to believe what I wanted to believe: The party wasn’t just a white grievance party; there was still a big tent; the others guys were worse. Many of us in the party saw this dark side and told ourselves it was a recessive gene. We were wrong. It turned out to be the dominant gene.

…There is a collective blame to be shared by those of us who have created the modern Republican Party that has so egregiously betrayed the principles it claimed to represent. My j’accuse is against us all, not a few individuals who were the most egregious.

This week, Stevens joined two former Republicans, Elise Jordan and TV host Joe Scarborough, for a communal look in the mirror. As the panel shared their experiences of seeing the same light, Twitter lit up to say that it was all too little, too late. “You’re shocked to find out that your party is racist, xenophobic, and nationalistic?” said one. “Welcome to our world! We’ve been trying to tell you!” “The Republican party has a lot of soul-searching to do,” offered another. Many of these Twitter users gave every appearance of being white Democrats.

Okay, yes. And no. No, because no one who’s white of whatever party has any latitude for self-righteousness today. The fact is that the Republicans and all of us who are white have a lot of soul-searching to do. This is not to say that I don’t agree that there are many degrees of difference between the raging overt racism of white nationalists and the white socialization sediments that linger within even the hardest-working white antiracists — of course there are. I just don’t think that focusing on those distinctions as grounds for self-back-pats is the way forward.

As we’re all aware, Trump and his supporters did not invent racism.If you’re white, were you doing enough five years ago, ten years ago, to end racism? Don’t answer that. I already know the answer. It’s the same as mine: No. Even white people with an antiracist stance have never done enough (with a very few exceptions) because if we had, we wouldn’t be having this national reckoning now.

African Americans and other people of color have the moral standing in this moment to say, too little, too late. Their disgust at the pathetically slow rate at which white people are coming out of their self-serving fog is exactly the reaction that we should expect. But me? I’m going to Tweet recriminations about a group of white people who are now showing up in public to say, everyone that I knew believed it, and I spent my whole life inside of it, but it was all a lie? I was never a member of the party that lifted up this white nationalist president, but still — how is that so different from my work?

Partisan positions are different and those differences matter, but when it comes to white people’s reckoning with their own whiteness — I’m on that journey, too. As white people who see others setting foot on the path, we are not helping the cause when we respond by pointing out that they should have done that a long time ago. The best time to plant a tree is indeed twenty years ago, but the second best time is today. Given that their work is my work, what about saying, I see you and I’m learning from you? Because I do and I am. We took that step — now what will our next step be? Let’s figure it out and let’s keep going until Black liberation is achieved.²

The Republican party’s original sin is our nation’s original sin. White men, white women, white people with college degrees, white people without them— Donald Trump won every one of those white demographic groups. With less than 100 days left before the next presidential election, white people are alone among American racial-ethnic groups in saying that they still lean toward the Republican party. Even if you don’t align with that majority portion of your white demographic, it’s not yet time to turn away from the mirror nor from those white Americans who need collecting by you. Although I’ve never been a Republican, I’m grateful to Stuart Stevens for l’accusation and I take it to heart.

¹ Stevens, S. (2020). It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. Knopf.

² With appreciation, I credit my use of this phrase to Dr. Della V. Mosley, Pearis L. Bellamy, and the rest of the team at Academics for Black Survival and Wellness.

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