In the aftermath of the presidential election of 2016, many people have experienced relationship blowouts with friends, family, romantic partners, and colleagues over accusations of racism. Many of those who voted for Donald Trump have found themselves accused of being racist, as well as sexist, misogynist, homophobic, and xenophobic. Those making the accusations feel this way because they associate these forms of discrimination with the candidate himself, on account of statements he made and behaviors he displayed throughout the campaign, and the likely outcomes of policies and practices that he supports.
But many of those accused find themselves confused and angry at the accusation, and feel that exercising their right to vote for the political candidate of their choice does not make them a racist, nor any other form of oppressor.
So, who is in the right? Does voting for a certain political candidate make someone a racist? Can our actions be racist even though we dont mean them to be?
Lets consider these questions from a sociological standpoint and draw on social science theory and research to answer them.
When people are accused of being a racist in todays United States they often experience this accusation as an attack on their character. Growing up, we are taught that being racist is bad. It is considered among the worst crimes ever committed on U.S. soil, in the forms of genocide of Native Americans, enslavement of Africans and their descendants, violence and segregation during the Jim Crow era, Japanese internment, and the fierce and violent resistance shown by many to integration and the 1960s movement for Civil Rights, to name just a handful of notable cases.
The way that we learn this history suggests that formal, institutional racism—that enforced by law—is a thing of the past. It follows, then, that the attitudes and behaviors among the wider population that worked to enforce racism through informal means is also (mostly) a thing of the past too. We are taught that racists were bad people who