Jamelle Bouie is right about one thing: the racial social contract we’ve had is over. Whites aren’t content to let everyone but them get special treatment any more.
Jamelle Bouie had an article in Slate following the election titled “White Won.” It is a powerful, at times beautiful piece about his shock and dismay at Donald Trump’s surprise victory. He describes having to leave the CBS News studios for a walk and a call to his wife as he realized the impossible was happening. He rightly concludes that the most direct national appeal to white voters in decades had not only been made, but won. As a white person, I cannot fully understand what Trump’s victory means for people of color. I have my own strong reservations about his presidency, but they do not involve fears related to the color of my skin. In trying to better understand the fears of minorities through Bouie’s essay, one section stood out to me as a particularly astute description of the current racial moment in America. Bouie writes:
John McCain indulged racial fears, and Mitt Romney played on racial resentment, but they refused to go further. To borrow from George Wallace, they refused to cry ‘nigger.’ This is important. By rejecting the politics of explicit racism and white backlash, they moved the political battleground to nominally colorblind concerns. Race was still a part of these clashes—it’s unavoidable—but neither liberals nor conservatives would litigate the idea of a pluralistic, multiracial democracy. Looking back, I thought this meant we had a consensus. It appears, instead, that we had a detente. And Trump shattered it.
This admission that what he believed to be a consensus was really a détente is extremely important. While a consensus means questions have been laid to rest, a détente means disagreement still lingers, but a deal is struck to keep those disagreements from flowering into open hostility. From the 1970s through the beginning of the current century, America existed under such an agreement. Bouie is correct that this has been shattered, but he is wrong to suggest Trump is the only, or even the primary, reason for this.