It’s not just a question I get asked often, especially since 2016, but it’s also a question I have asked myself a lot after 2016. The narratives that emerged in and around the rise and election of the current US president makes this question hard not to be asked. For those who haven’t ever listened to a far-right, white supremacist talk show or podcast (and there are many), think of a spoke person from any fundamentalist group you are aware of in India with a mouthpiece spurting out utterly threatening, more importantly factually incorrect, random sentences connected with only one theme: bias. So obviously, when such sound bites dominate the waves and translate into sentences that a democratically elected president utters, questions might arise about the entire nation. My personal struggle immediately after 2016 was not with such sound bites, but with the ‘democracy’ or the ‘population’ that allowed a man so flabbergasting a path to the highest office.
I tried to look in and around myself and into the corners of a nation that is now home. What is going on with all these people who are so kindred and have so much access to information that could cause something like this? Is America then, inherently racist?
It is not unknown that America does have a history and a problem with race. This is no different from any nation and its sections of populations with history where a vicious cycle comes into play. Segmentations caused distinctions, distinctions caused biases, which cause further segmentation. However, having lived in and travelled to many nations, I have found the US one of the most tolerant and sensible places to end up in. Off-course there are pockets of deep-seated hate, sections who misbelieve and misbehave, but there is also a consistent, vocal majority against them. And that makes sense for a nation made of immigrants, ruled by the principles of capitalism and the free market. What doesn't make sense is the current audible narrative of bias and hate, and even more, how can that be the dominant narrative. Is America then filled with closet racists?
My answer is, no.
What is less known and possibly incomprehensible to gather about America, is that it has its own economically disadvantaged sections – and life is getting harder and harder for them for quite some time now. There are a lot of people pinched in the loopholes in the richest nation on this earth. The not too poor and not too rich—are they better off than the majority of this world’s population? Yes, (I mean this strictly in the context of access to resources and quality of living). But does that matter? No. Rather what matters is the discrepancy. The expenses from health care to higher education. The lack of access to higher skill sets and therefore higher skilled jobs. The climbing costs of housing in most major cities. All round unaffordability for most Americans in blue collar jobs. Homelessness is climbing in most major American cities and for a lot of Americans.
Additionally, a lot of affordability in America, unlike that in India, is from credit – as in loan. You don’t really have to have the money, but it’s still possible (and was considered rightful), to be able to loan the lifestyle. 2008 and the years following shattered that illusion, leaving the middle class here without much footing.
The financial recession, exact 10 years prior, had another aspect too. The comparatively better faring of Asia in the crisis, including the boom of China, while the West faltered. The whole ‘Make America Great Again’ rises from the misuse and spinning of this fact into propaganda. Everything is a matter of perspective, and the US perspective is not used to be lagging, or even equal, to the rest of the world. America is not any more racist than any other nation that comes to mind, but America is definitely classist – with ‘the US' being the class above the rest of the world.
Another thing to know here is that the US, like India, has two very different identities. It has its coasts – the New York and San Francisco-s - but it also has a massive heartland. The non-coastal America has remained untouched for decades by the golds of globalization. What makes Trump possible off-course is folks from the coasts disillusioned or now suspicious of the benefits of free trade post the great recession joining in with them. But in my opinion, the motivator here is not race. It is economics. When resentment seeps in, it is rarely logical and mostly based on easy cues. Who shouldn’t be here? Who came after me? So, although a lot of folks might not sympathize with the extreme rhetoric of hate and bias, they are willing to be tolerant for the sake of the promised economic betterment. This, we Indians will possibly be able to understand.
So will/can Trump win again? Or has America seen enough of the evil? I personally think he absolutely can. Until all segments of the US society function at reasonably equal footings, propaganda economics is going to make more sense than social justice to a lot of people pinched by globalization. There are also some baffling factors of the US thought process that will contribute to this, but that needs to left for a future piece for the sake of sanity.
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