Editor’s Note: Andrea Portes is a novelist and author of “Hick,” “Bury This” and the forthcoming “This is Not a Ghost Story.” The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
Dear fellow White women,
President Donald Trump is betting that you will be more scared of Black people than you will be of dying of Covid-19, losing your job or your children’s schools not reopening.
If you’re a mom or a caregiver, you already know that the amount of thankless, unsung work we did was barely manageable before the pandemic. But now, thanks in part to Trump’s failure to listen to the scientists and to actually deal with the reality of the Covid virus, so many of our children are not back to school, as they are in Europe. So now, we have an extra job that is more maddening, more stressful than anything we had before – educating our children remotely.
Now our children’s futures depend on how well we do as teaching assistants, which, in my case, is not very well. The other day, while doing a mindfulness assignment, I yelled at my son, “Take ten deep breaths or else!” I guarantee that was not the intention of this exercise.
Now we are fighting with our kids, pleading with our kids, bargaining with our kids – while they are whining, crying and wondering, as my son did, “Mommy, why are you being so mean?”
So why am I addressing this to just White women when women of color are also struggling with these same dire circumstances? In fact, aren’t Black Americans, including Black women, disproportionately at risk of dying of Covid (as are Native American and Latinos) and at greater risk of experiencing economic hardship from the pandemic? Sadly, yes to all of this.
But Black women are not who Trump is trying to reach—and he does not want to discuss the disastrous pandemic with anyone.
He would like to discuss something different…and just with suburban White women, who he is not-so-subtly courting and desperate to capture, since these voters have the power to swing the election.
Of course, many, many White women—suburban and otherwise—did not vote for Trump last time and have no intention of doing so in 2020.
But many did. Polling shows White women favored Trump in 2016, but that enough of them turned out to help Democrats win the House two years later. Quite simply, Trump, trailing among all women in the polls for the moment, cannot win a second time without them.
I’m a White woman, and the truth is I’m moderate—a Democrat, but fairly moderate. I understand that it can seem like much of the Democratic left is overly concerned with who is the most politically correct. I’m annoyed by elements of cancel culture, too. And I’m probably not that woke. At least, not woke enough for some.
But I refuse to be goaded or manipulated by racist fear tactics.
I was horrified by what happened to George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and now, Jacob Blake. I detest racism and police brutality; it has no place in this country. And when Black people (and their White allies) rise up to protest against this, their legitimate grievance should not be twisted into a wedge issue by any leader.
At the same time, some of the images of looters –in LA, Kenosha and elsewhere–taking advantage of this moment of racial reckoning rub me the wrong way, too.
But all this yelling at each other from the political extremes is pointless. My best friend has opposite political views from mine. And, in true, politically disengaged, Gen X fashion, I don’t care.
What I do care about is right-wing extremists or self-appointed militias – or extremists on the left, for that matter – getting so emboldened that they will shoot people in our city streets.
But let’s be clear: While we can all have political disagreements, we must be firm in rejecting Trump’s, or any politician’s, attempt to use racist campaign tactics, like referring to protesters—the vast majority of whom are peaceful– as “anarchists” or downplaying Blake’s shooting—seven times in the back– during a police stop in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to divide White suburban voters from Black urban voters, as though we are not ALL Americans.
By employing the image of the sinister Black bogeyman looting American cities, Trump is reaching for an offensive strategy that has been used for years in American politics. In the decades following Reconstruction, the period after the Civil War, White men desperately concocted this image to subjugate newly freed Black men.
And this trend continued well into the 20th century. Just watch D.W. Griffith’s 1915 film “Birth of a Nation,” which casts the Ku Klux Klan in a heroic light. Or, better yet, Victor Fleming’s 1939 film “Gone with the Wind.” Even the listless Ashley Wilkes joined a vigilante mob, a precursor of the Klan, to raid an encampment of freed slaves they feared threatened the honor of a White woman, Scarlett O’Hara.
This same malevolent, well-honed, racist trope has been used countless times since to win elections. Look up “Richard Nixon southern strategy,” which played on White fears to win the presidency in 1968. Better yet, Google “Willie Horton,” whose ubiquitous image as a scary Black criminal helped elect President George H.W. Bush 20 years later.
Don’t fall for it.
Trump wants to divide us by exploiting what he hopes are our subconscious fears, by making it look like Democrats are going to allow “danger” into your quiet suburbs. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not reality.
This is reality: The fear any Black mother has every time her son walks out the door. The fear that—among other things– he’s more likely than a White person to be stopped while driving; more likely to be arrested and incarcerated than his White contemporaries – and, as tragic deaths like those of Ahmaud Arbery have shown, especially vulnerable to alleged hate crimes.
And let’s look at the other relevant reality: More than 180,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 – and modeling suggests that number could more than double by January.
Now that is something to be scared of.
An economy that has contracted at record levels – and unemployment at rates not seen since the Great Depression.
That is something to be scared of.
It is my heartfelt belief that Democratic candidates Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be able to steer us out of this pandemic, simply by relying on science when they make policy decisions. Look no further than Biden’s simple insistence that Americans wear masks to prevent the spread of the virus. Or Harris’s call for leaders to act on the recommendations of public-health experts. When you vote, I ask you to weigh the unfounded fear you are being encouraged to feel –based on a racist trope– against the very real threat of losing your life, your job or your house amid the pandemic.
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Let’s just face this uncomfortable fact – more White women voted for Trump in 2016 than they did for Hillary Clinton.
And I get it. Some of us (not me!) thought he could do the job. But, nearly four years later, it’s clear he is in way over his head.
He has no idea what he’s doing.
So please, I’m begging you, my fellow pragmatic White women: together, this November, let’s not fall for Trump’s bet that we are more racist than we are smart.