Catching up on summer happenings, media coverage of the Republican Party’s continued devolution into a political movement serving white supremacy referenced Clean and White. P.R. Lockhart’s Vox story “How Trump used a centuries-old racist trope to attack Baltimore” describes how Trump’s racist attacks on Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) tap into the same 19th century stereotypes described in chapter 4 of Clean and White.
The recent tweets from the president fit into a broader way that Trump often talks about predominantly black cities and neighborhoods, framing these areas as consistently impoverished areas struggling with the highest rates of violence in the world (even when they aren’t even that violent compared to other cities). But it was his claim that Cummings’s Baltimore district is “rat-infested” that got a lot of early attention over the weekend. And it’s not hard to see why: that claim in particular fits into centuries-old stereotypes of black places — and people — as being dirty and unhygienic.
It’s a stereotype that dates back to slavery and the Civil War, when concerns about infectious disease gave fuel to racist arguments that African Americans were more likely to be carriers of disease. And the concept gained even more traction as whites looked to justify the adoption of segregation under Jim Crow laws. “The rhetoric and imagery of hygiene became conflated with a racial order that made white people pure, and anyone who was not white dirty,” Carl Zimring, a historian at the Pratt Institute and author of Clean and White: A History of Environmental Racism in the United States, wrote in 2017.
Zimring notes that by the 1890s, this conflation had become so embedded in popular culture that ads for soap companies not only included caricatures of African Americans, they openly associated cleanliness with whiteness, with some companies using ads that would “explicitly racialize dirt…”
There’s more at the link. Readers curious about just how closely the racism Donald Trump, Josh Hawley, Steve King, and their ilk compares to the constructions used by white supremacists during the rise of Jim Crow can find the paperback here and the audiobook here.
My book isn’t a comprehensive text for explaining white supremacy in the Republican Party and its practices of stochastic terrorism targeting people of color, Jews, LBGTQ Americans and pretty much everyone who doesn’t look, love, or pray like them – readers would be better served checking out Kathleen Belew’s Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary America. But if you want to see the roots of Trump’s “shithole countries” slurs, Clean and White will provide context.