As Kelly J. Baker says, one of the standard complaints from the Trump voters — and many in the media who think white grievances are obviously justified — is that they resent all the damn elites and liberals looking down on them. They’re good people. Decent people. Nice people. They deserve to be treated as such. We should empathize with them, sympathize with them, find ways to assuage their concerns. Baker’s response is that it’s possible to be both nice and racist. I’m going to expand on that.
First off, there are two kinds of nice. There is surface nice — being friendly, talking pleasantly, smiling, not yelling and cursing people you disagree with, wishing someone a good day even if you don’t mean it. Then there’s genuine niceness: being kind, thoughtful, helpful and so forth. Racists, sexists, homophobes, religious bigots can exhibit both or either kind (although I agree with Fred Clark that you can’t oppress someone or deny their rights and be nice about it. More from Clark here).
On the first kind, it’s astonishing how civil people can be when they hate each other. I’ve had reasonably “nice” conversations with people whose views make me puke, and I’m sure mine do theirs. It doesn’t make me like them or think their bigoted opinions deserve serious consideration, it just makes it easier to function in society if we don’t draw blades when we meet.
With politicians, lobbyists, activists, the ability to appear nice can be even stronger (ditto other kinds of salespeople). It’s part of the job, though obviously President Shit-Gibbon gets by without it. Being charming and nice to the press can convince them to go easy on you; it may even convince them that you shouldn’t be written off as an extremist because you’re so gosh-darn nice to them. As in the current example.
(AP photograph from Los Angeles Times. All rights reside with current holder).
The second type of niceness is compatible with bigotry because nice people can extend that niceness and consideration to some, but not all. I’m sure many KKK members were perfectly nice to each other, helped out when another Klansman needed a hand. Likewise lots of them probably loved their wives and kids. They may have been nice guys to white people in general … but that didn’t affect the way they treated blacks, Jews or Catholics. Lynchings, like the ones in Forsyth County Ga., were often a community event; all the white people bonding, neighbors and friends hanging out and posing for photos, while a black man died in a noose.
Some people are perfectly nice even with The Other, until they’re provoked. A black man doesn’t defer to them. A gay coworker puts his husband’s photo on his desk, which is totally shoving his queerness in straight people’s faces!!!! (no, it’s not). A woman talks back or says something online. I’m honestly not sure whether these count as surface-nice or the limited kind of deeper niceness — but as Clark says, it’s not really nice at all. There’s nothing nice about making rape threats, even if you were perfectly pleasant to the woman right up until she crossed you.
The fact someone greets us with a smile and chats amiably does not prove they were nice. Let alone that we need to treat their views as valid and worthy of consideration.