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This is Paul Hirsch

Paul Hirsch

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When I Was 10, I Spit In My 5 Year Old Black Neighbor’s Face

That admission probably sounds strange, coming from someone raised with progressive values in a liberal household. Believe me when I say I didn’t do this because I was a racist. I wasn’t trying to demean someone of color. I wasn’t trying to subjugate him or demonstrate racial superiority. I was being mischievous, like giving a kid a wedgie on the playground. I was friends with his older brother, and I was picking on a younger kid.

What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t see, was that from his and his family’s perspective, my actions probably created hurt that felt like the pain of racism. I couldn’t understand, because 1) I had no concept of racial oppression from my personal experience, and 2) I was 10; my sense of empathy was just emerging, and I couldn’t see my actions in a more worldly, historic context.

I may never know if my actions created that hurt. I was ashamed of what I did almost immediately after I did it. I ran back to my house and hid, both for fear of reprimand and shame. I was never properly held accountable.

But today I look back at my actions and I can recognize the hurt I may have caused. As an adult, my perspective is greater than my own life experience. I can empathize with someone I victimized in that moment and may have hurt for much longer. I know I wasn’t a racist, but I can see I did a racist thing.

I bring up my experience because it leads to a bigger point about our president. He says he’s not a racist, and I believe that he believes this.

I believe that Trump believes he’s not being a racist when he says everyone was to blame for the violence in Charlottesville.

I believe that Trump believes he’s not being a racist when he says there were fine people on display on both sides of that conflict, including the fascists.

I believe that Trump believes he’s not being a racist when he fabricates a slippery slope argument that removing the statues of secessionist traitors somehow leads to removing statues of our founding fathers.

In reality, refusing to marginalize his extremist supporters is an exercise in racial negligence. Reneging/counterpointing his statements of condemnation for fascist organizations the day after he makes them has racist underpinnings. Defending monuments commemorating, and in some cases celebrating, the Southern leaders who condemned their citizens to war in order to preserve slavery communicates an acceptance of those positions. Those positions are racist.

Maybe he’s actively a racist, maybe he’s not. I’m not sure anyone knows what’s truly in Donald Trump’s heart. But he does racist things, and actions speak louder than words.

I still believe he believes himself when he says he’s not a racist. Aside from political incentives for his soft stance on the white nationalist racist agenda, I believe Trump, like me when I was 10, believes his actions are not racist. He is simply incapable of factoring the impact on others into his self-assessment. He is still that 10 year old.

When a 10 year old does what I did, it’s cruel. When our president does what he did, it is a colossal moral failure on a national scale. It took me a few minutes to process my actions and feel ashamed for it. It’s taking our president a little bit longer…