How much longer can we sugarcoat our racist attitudes?



At $27,000, the antique desk was so laughably beyond my budget I gave up and made for the door, but the quick-thinking saleswoman scuttled my escape. “If you’re looking for something simpler,” she said, “we have a storage shop down the street with some rougher items. I’d be happy to walk you down if you’d like to take a look.”

I tried to say no, but I’d driven all the way to Bloomfield and my back was killing me from working long hours on my couch. Would it hurt to take a look?

The storage shop was, indeed, rougher but still way too pricey, so I gave up on desks and gravitated toward an old table I thought might work. Eager to make a sale, the woman rattled off a potential discount, a description, and a civics lesson. “That piece was built around 1870, right after the Civil War. You can see one of the legs has been replaced and a corner was broken off. It’s had a rough go,” she chuckled, “kind of like The South.” While I looked the table over more closely she filled the quiet with talk of southern pride, how the war was all about states’ rights, and how her own ancestors had fought and died for our values.

I recall this story whenever someone explains why, despite his many flaws and moral failings, they voted for Donald Trump. We suffered 8 years under Obama, they often say. Or, I got tired of being politically correct. Or, we need to keep foreigners from coming here and our taking jobs. Or, a favorite of late, the Democrats want to take away our 2nd Amendment rights.

Like the antique saleswoman with her version of the Civil War, we tell the story that makes us feel best. Because surely we did not vote for Donald Trump because he is a powerful, wealthy white man with a history of racial discrimination (see: the Central Park Five) , or because he questioned the legitimacy of our first black president (see: birtherism) , or because he promised to ban all Muslims, stem the tide of hispanics at our border, return jobs to rural white America, or protect white gun owners.

Or did we?

In a recent interview, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu explained that southerners need to stop glossing over, stop sugarcoating. We need to “quit saying that the Civil War was not about slavery. Quit saying that the Civil War was some kind of noble cause. It wasn’t. The Civil War was fought to destroy the United States of America, not to put it back together. It was fought over the cause of slavery. And for some reason we have a difficult time dealing with that issue.”

On April 6, during a South Carolina town hall, Congressman Ralph Norman laid a loaded gun on a restaurant table. Norman has a conceal carry permit. He insisted laws are already on the books and it was all okay. He smiled and said, “I pulled it out to make a point that guns don’t shoot. People shoot.”

But what if Ralph Norman wasn’t white? Could a black man walk into a crowded restaurant, lay a loaded gun on the table, smile and say, it’s okay folks, I have a permit and that’s the law, I’m just making a point that guns don’t kill people?

Of course not. Not without getting himself killed.

Mayor Landrieu is right. We southerners have a difficult time with unpleasant facts. Six months post-Hurricane Maria, 60,000 Puerto Rican Americans remain without power. In Flint, Michigan, more than 1,400 days have passed since residents have had clean, safe water. The women and children dying from chemical attacks in Syria are the very refugees, the Muslims, the Trump administration has insisted are not welcome here. The president is deploying the National Guard to the Mexican border to keep a few hundred Honduran refugees from finding asylum (and low-skilled jobs) here.

Would we tolerate 1,400 days without clean water in a white Lexington suburb? Imagine the uproar if we treated post-hurricane Houston like we have Puerto Rico? What kind of military response would we deploy to save Christian white women and children from a chemical weapons attack? Does the president’s protection of our beloved 2nd Amendment apply equally to black and white Americans?

Like with the $27,000 desk, we have to think about what is too costly for our comfort. The Civil War was not fought over states’ rights; it was fought over slavery. We did not elect Donald Trump because we despised Hillary Clinton; we elected him because, after 8 years with a black president, he was a powerful, wealthy white man who promised to make white America comfortable again.

What price are we willing to pay to keep sugarcoating it?


Donald J. Trump has been president 14 months. I’m curious — how’s he doing, what are your thoughts?

11 thoughts on “How much longer can we sugarcoat our racist attitudes?

  1. akienzle

    Great article Teri, as usual. As for how Donald Trump is doing–he is a disaster–a corrupt, lying, racist who only thinks about himself. The only benefit of the Trump presidency for non-racist, empathic people who want the country to make progress and become more just and less economically unequal is that he is destroying the Republican Party. Mitch Landrieu is right. Your antique dealer is wrong. What I wrestle with is how to relate to people who have not yet abandoned Trump–people who are in the Fox/right wing media bubble.

    Beliefs lead to actions. Wrong beliefs lead to wrong actions. But how should we feel toward people who are sincere in their wrong beliefs and think that they are right (or righteous)?
    Try to persuade them? Fight them? Shun them? Love them? Hate and disrespect generally don’t produce positive results. I suspect that there is no one way. But as for Trump, he must be fought at every turn–unless he randomly stumbles into doing something good.

  2. Bernice

    First, I think Trump is a narcissistic flaming turd. He lacks curiosity about everything, and any president without the desire to learn and seek knowledge and perspective is trouble! Second, we have less than 3 years now to get rid of him. Third, it could take a long time to fix the divide he’s created. It goes to show how quickly things can get out of control when you people don’t take an active role in knowing the issues and voting. Finally, remind me again why you live in Kentucky?


    Here is a thought. We are all familiar with the concept of “a line in the sand,” whether it is a physical line or a verbal line. “Don’t cross that line!”
    Could it be that our society has gradually allowed “the line” to move in such a manner that we are no longer shocked or dismayed by the dishonest and immoral behavior of elected officials? Have we thrown our moral compass out the window? Are we now fearful of looking at ourselves in the mirror?
    So…we “join” a tribe and convince ourselves that we are OK. But, deep in our souls, we have lost our self respect. Being dishonest about slavery and the Civil War is one symptom of a very dangerous social malady. When we walk away from integrity, we walk away from life.
    Ragan Phillips .

  4. Mark Fussell (@MarkFussell2)

    How is Trump doing? A bit of a loaded question as I’m sure we know how you feel about him. His presidency is testimony to the fact that calculated mendacity can take root anywhere. When I was young, I wondered how Nazi Germany and fascist Italy could have happened. No government is immune from charlatans intent on only their own enrichment. We have proof of that in the White House.

  5. savorygrace

    Quoted in a recent Atlantic article, 1860, there were more millionaires (slaveholders all) living in the lower Mississippi Valley than anywhere else in the United States. In the same year, the nearly 4 million American slaves were worth some $3.5 billion, making them the largest single financial asset in the entire U.S. economy, worth more than all manufacturing and railroads combined. 

    Given the magnitude of the loss of that asset base, it follows that the pain of loss lasts for generations.

    Today the only industry asset base in the US, which is global in scale, is the banking/finance system. Many economists claim that this system began its meteoric rise in the ’80’s with R. Reagan’s policies and is the primary cause for global economic inequality. Those policies have grown with bipartisan effort to date. While it’s yet to be seen where reactions to this trend will ultimately take us, it’s clear that large swaths of citizens are beginning to react and it’s easy for a demagogue to spark them. Thus we have large blocks of confused voters celebrating policies in opposition to their personal interest. With Trump, people are, at least, paying attention; with Pence perhaps people will go back to blissful thoughlessness, while their their future prospects will continue to decline. A major concern is the magnitude of gun ownership in the US.

  6. Connie Hoyt

    Thank you, as always, for saying what needs to be said. As Van Jones once said about Trump “you can’t polish this turd” The same holds true for the Civil War.

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