Perspective: When Presidents Show Their Backsides

Jul 22, 2019

One of my favorite expressions is, “When someone shows you their backside, then you always know what it looks like.” The nation has spent a week debating whether or not Tweets that challenged four U.S. Representatives of color to go back to where they came from if they didn’t like the country were racist. The reactions spanned the gamut, from incensed to dismissive.  


Was it racist? Some will say absolutely. Others absolutely not. Let’s be honest, though. The uncomfortable fact is presidential politics have always been rife with racism.  


Ten of the first twelve presidents owned slaves. Woodrow Wilson promoted the racist film "Birth of a Nation," leading to widespread violence against African Americans. Lyndon Johnson had well documented use of the n-word. Nixon created the Southern Strategy, scapegoating blacks for the problems of the white working class, a strategy also used by Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and Trump. And even though Lincoln believed slavery was inhumane, he also opposed blacks having rights to vote, serve on juries, hold office, and to intermarry with whites.  


So let’s stop acting like a president couldn’t say or do something racist, especially Trump who uses any identity as a wedge. Despite the record, some will still find ways to dismiss the opinions of those of us who have had to deal with the sting and marginalizing of such Tweets. The irony is the foundational value of the nation is dissent, but when that dissent is expressed, only some of us are told to go back to where we came from. And then others have the audacity to ask when will we move on from racism? Maybe we can if we all remember what we have seen.  


I am Joseph Flynn and that is my perspective.