Racism reproduces itself in many ways- the use of imagery is one of the most powerful. This is not a profound thought and as such it should it be lost on anyone– even the most bilious and vile racists. In fact, these very people employ racist imagery with impunity because they know it has the desired effect.

Some of us recoil when we see these images that bestialize the darker races or caricature dark peoples to the point of violent insult. We recite pieties to one another about the “horrid” people who purvey such hate and ease ourselves back into happiness thinking that such images were artifacts of the past. We lull ourselves back into the routines of modern life knowing that “Birth of a Nation” was produced a century ago.

Many people were jarred from their complacence with the entry of Donald Trump onto the world’s main stage. He, and other racist world leaders, openly incite race hate and both use language and conjure images that ranged from Dog Whistle to outright, unambiguous racist incitement. In response to this vile turn of events, many people of color and other minorities took up the cudgels and put their names in the election hat only to be victims of racist blowback. Some have had to withdraw from races in fear and still other sitting officials have had to do the same. All of this in 2018. November 6th will tell us a lot about the degree to which racism persists as the dominant philosophy in the United States. One is reminded here to employ optimism of the will even if the intellect is pessimistic.

I use the word “persist” for good reason. Trump did not invent American racism though he propagated it and benefited from it. He is but a more idiotic, cantankerous and vile avatar of a standard American leadership figure who understands that many, many Americans are fundamentally racist and are sick of having to hide it in public and at work. He has tapped into an existing vein though he has made that vein larger and thicker.

It is fundamentally wrong-headed to think of vile racism to be either a vestige of the Past or an expression of the social philosophies of fringe groups only. These fringe groups have taken the castle.

Not that they weren’t at least at the ramparts before. Racists have occupied the White House throughout the history of the Presidency. To find them, one doesn’t need to go far back in history. To identify them is to puncture the premise of “Make America Great Again,” because a country that was born on the extirpation of a Race and the enslavement of another was hardly ever great. Fast-forwarding the racist narrative to the 20th century, we have “icons” like Woodrow Wilson who screened “Birth of a Nation” in the Whitehouse and who could not stand Black people in his sight. 50 years later, the champion of “The Great Society,” LBJ, reveled in the mass-slaughter of Vietnamese, Indonesians, and other dark peoples. The avuncular apostle of moral rectitude for many, Ronald Reagan, vigorously supported Apartheid and found great success by using racist images of “welfare queens” and Black crack-addicted mothers. Liberal hero Bill Clinton came to power gaining great PR over the execution of a mentally enfeebled Black man in his home state and then proceeded to gut the Welfare programs that helped victims of racism live their meager lives. Clinton’s use of Dog-whistle language was unsubtle enough to remind us of Goebbels’s playbook. The list goes on and on.

Yes, racism has been the calling card of Conservatives and Liberals alike, Republicans and Democrats both. That we’ve been handed Trump and Trumpism was, if not a natural conclusion, certainly one of the few likely statistical possibilities given the racism that pervades the bodies politic and social.

Movies and television – reflectors and shapers of our society–employ racism and racist imagery as a matter of course. The Police drama – the crowd favorite and most predictable genre imaginable—would not exist if not for racism. Moral cops, tortured by years of bearing witness to crime, unable to find real love or succor in family life, apprehend and shoot Black, Hispanic (and recently Muslim) criminals in order to uphold decency and the goodness in society. Since these cops are the persistent, serialized characters, viewers get to know them, understand them, and love them. The minority criminals are transient and interchangeable and therefore disposable. They are ALL guilty until proven innocent. Even when a few turn out to be in reality innocent, more often than they are exonerated posthumously, after we get to see their dead, prostrated bodies splattered over urban concrete.

Yes, without some dead, black male bodies, we don’t have “good” television.

The same is true in movies. Let me be clear- this exact narrative is played out in movies. Mentally anguished white cops go rogue, but for “good” reasons. They have families and can’t make ends meet on the meager pay afforded the Police. They see their own families suffer because they took up a life of service; therefore, they resort to taking bribes and stealing money they find while busting drug dens. Yes, eventually we see that crime doesn’t pay and in most cases the compromised White cops end up dead by the end of the movie. We in the audience are saddened by their tragic demise; after all, we’ve empathized with the tortured cop who was just trying to provide for his beautiful white children and utterly supportive non-character of a wife. Along the way, he murders countless Black men at such scale and with such generic banality that we don’t even notice.

Without a lot of dead, black male bodies, we don’t have “good” movies.

So let’s be clear. We lament Trump and yet indulge in Trumpist voyeurism every day. We say that with Trump we have normalized indecency, even barbarism. True. But we’ve been normalizing it for years. Our need to see dead, black male bodies is just one example of this.

At this juncture, we must defeat the Nazis who are in power. We must storm the castle. But while doing so we must also reject both the philosophies that paved the way for these bigots to assume power and the people who appear like sheep now but are in fact racist wolves.

We owe it to the real dead black males- the Trayvons, Michaels, and Philandos—who died largely because we glared uncaringly at the dead, black male body for so, so long.

Romi Mahajan is a writer from USA

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