Trump’s comments calling predominately black nations “shitholes” aren’t just racist comments about those places. They are far more sinister.
This is the logic that underlies one defense of slavery: that enslaved Africans and African Americans were “better off” as slaves in the colonies and the US than they would have been in Africa.
The next part of this argument is that African Americans were better off during slavery than they are now.
And they should be grateful for the white people who enslaved them.
And, finally, that America itself was better off during slavery.
The bigger argument is that racial oppression is good for the oppressed and the oppressor so we should do more of it.
And Trump isn’t alone in making it.
Roy Moore argued that families were stronger during slavery–showing that he only thinks about “strong families” in terms of white families, he ignores the ubiquitous sexual violence of white men against enslaved women and the enslaved children it produced, and.or he thinks that black families today are so “bad” that they were actually better off under slavery.
This is the logic of The Marriage Vow, a document created by conservative Christians and presented before the 2011 Republican primary candidates. The original draft of the document said:
“Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African American President.”
Minnesota Republican Representative Michele Bachmann signed it, as did Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum. The document was later revised to remove the offending passage, and Bachmann’s spokesperson clarified that Bachmann “believes that slavery was horrible and economic enslavement is also horrible.”
And by “economic enslavement,” Bachmann means that white people are “enslaved” in a tax system that transfers their wealth to lazy people of color through welfare programs and that black people are “slaves” to the welfare system themselves.
In 2010, Arizona Republican Representative Trent Franks said that “far more of the African-American community is being devastated by the policies of today than were being devastated by policies of slavery.” Yes, in this logic, Temporary Aid to Needy Families and food stamp benefits are worse than life-long, race-based, inheritable enslavement.
And here’s Pat Buchanan, in 2008, in response to the candidacy of Barack Obama:
“It was here that 600,000 black people, brought from Africa in slave ships, grew into a community of 40 million, were introduced to Christian salvation, and reached the greatest levels of freedom and prosperity blacks have ever known.”
This was due to the generosity of white Americans. Buchanan argues:
“[N]o people anywhere has done more to lift up blacks than white Americans. Untold trillions have been spent since the ’60s on welfare, food stamps, rent supplements, Section 8 housing, Pell grants, student loans, legal services, Medicaid, Earned Income Tax Credits and poverty programs designed to bring the African-American community into the mainstream.”
White people did this, he argues, even though their generosity came at great and unfair cost to white people:
“Governments, businesses and colleges have engaged in discrimination against white folks — with affirmative action, contract set-asides and quotas — to advance black applicants over white applicants.”
But African Americans, Buchanan says, shaking his head, just can’t be pleased! “We hear the grievances. Where is the gratitude?”
Here is the sum of Buchanan’s argument: we white people generously brought 600,000 people here, where they flourished, and what do we get? High taxes, high crime, and ingratitude! Ungrateful, of course, is just another word for uppity.
The implication here is that you can remove the person from the shithole, but you can’t remove the shithole from the person. This is why it didn’t take long for Politico to find some racist Trump fans to guffaw that the NFL, filled with black athletes, some of whom are calling attention to police brutality, stands for “N—- for Life.” It’s not just that the NFL has lots of African American players. This racist logic says that there is some quality of blackness that so deeply engrained that it cannot be socialized out of African Americans. You can give them nice jobs and a million dollar salary, or you can give them emancipation and desegregated schools, or you can give them food stamps and government housing, but it won’t matter: this inferiority can’t be overcome.
In this framework, slavery was a “civilizing” force. Here’s Cliven Bundy, the rancher who led a standoff against federal agents while occupying federal land, and a hero to many libertarians and right-wingers and who, just this week, was released from jail, his case dismissed:
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?… They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
Emancipation resulted in less freedom because we replaced slavery with a welfare system that discourages work. That’s not just Bundy. It’s what white conservatives hear every time Michele Bachmann or another Republican suggests that “slavery” and “economic slavery”–paying taxes that support the social safety net–are the same thing.
Better than freedom and more than such shithole people deserve. That’s what many white conservatives think about slavery.
That African Americans were cut out of the best paying jobs, the unionized ones with pensions, doesn’t matter.
That most people who use welfare benefits are white doesn’t matter.
That we spend more money on wealthfare–subsidized for the already wealthy–and that this money goes disproportionally to white people doesn’t matter.
What matters is that white people believe that their taxes go to support people who are and will always be shithole people.