During the first presidential debate, President Donald Trump avoided an explicit denouncement of white supremacists and instead asked them to “stand down and stand by.” These remarks were reminiscent of his statement after the deadly 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville when he said that there were “very fine people on both sides.” Racist rhetoric from government officials, including calls to incite voter intimidation and promote civil unrest, are sadly not unprecedented in American history. In fact, the increasing use of social media among white supremacists for hate speech, along with the racial and ethnic tribalization surfacing over the last few years, have stifled the country’s attempts to combat racism and systemic inequalities.
While white supremacist groups are finding a geopolitical landscape that has grown more supportive of their rhetoric and activities, Black Americans are also exercising resistance and resilience in light of recent alarming statements. Like the historic civil rights movement, Black Lives Matter has drawn Americans to grapple with contemporary nationalism. America is now in fragile times that deserve the attention of federal, state, and local policies to confront white supremacy and other historical vestiges standing in the way of racial healing and reconciliation.
On October 14, Governance Studies at Brookings hosted a conversation on the roots of white supremacy, the impact of racist rhetoric during critical moments in history, and how Black Americans, as well as other people of color, have responded and continue to respond. Panelists also offered policy recommendations for how the country can promote racial empathy and redress the symptoms of power, race, and privilege, which will be critical issues facing the next administration.