But I don’t need these performers, in a deep past I never experienced, to have—if they had met me (note how abstract this gets)—seen me as whole. What I value them for is the entertainment they provide me as a spectator. My self-image is unaffected by how they would have felt about me personally. It is driven instead by my real-life experiences, actions, and relationships. For me to turn my nose up at Top Hat or Dinner at Eight because the people in those confections wouldn’t have liked me much would constitute a gesture, and an odd one—me slapping back at people, or an era, that can never know I am doing it. I won’t choose this path if it means I don’t get to enjoy the abstract glory of the “Never Gonna Dance” number between Fred and Ginger in Swing Time. Ginger wouldn’t have swung with me—but I can pretend that I’m Fred for a few minutes and then engage in my real life where I can swing with living people, and that does me fine.
In the same way, Black people today may hear Trump claim, bizarrely, that he has done more for African Americans than any previous president, read about the segregationist practices of his and his father’s real-estate properties back in the day, and note that Trump is especially given to calling Black public figures “unintelligent”—and yet still decide that his agenda otherwise appeals enough that they will vote for him even if he wouldn’t quite respect them as individuals. A Latino person can know that Trump referred to immigrants from Mexico as “rapists” but still feel that Trump’s jobs record is more important than his racist sentiments. Unfond memories of life under leftist or socialist leaders such as Fidel Castro may, as it were, trump Trump’s racism in their eyes. After all, before the pandemic, the economy really was humming along in a way that materially affected American lives for the better.
Or, with both Latinos and Black people, they may simply like the man’s charisma. Legions of voters go for charisma rather than what concerns the readers of The New Yorker or Vox, and it has always been thus.
Similarly, to the Black people who helped get Joe Biden through the primaries, his position on busing decades ago and his support for anti-crime legislation that turned out badly for Black communities made him not the devil, but imperfect—and yet a more viable choice as a presidential candidate than quite a few others. These voters weighed, they compared, they addressed ambiguity, and they made a pragmatic selection.
The chattering classes may be surprised that for more than a few Black and Latino people, someone being a racist is often classified as tacky and then some, but hardly marks them as moral perverts unworthy of anything so dignifying as a vote.
This point of view is perhaps easier to understand if we recall that back when racism was more prevalent and more overt, Black voters did not even have the choice of restricting their vote to the candidate who disavowed racism and yet were quite intellectually coherent in their choices. In 1912, W. E. B. Du Bois espoused voting for none other than the nakedly racist Woodrow Wilson, fully aware that Wilson did not “admire,” as he put it, Black people but seeing his policies as better for Black people than Theodore Roosevelt’s—despite the fact that Roosevelt had performed the gesture of having Booker T. Washington dine at the White House. Even as racial enlightenment dawned among whites after 1960, no Black person hanging John F. Kennedy’s picture in their kitchen—and there were a great many—was under any impression that JFK would have countenanced one of his kids dating a Black person, much less consorted with one himself.