Michigan racism expert weighs in on national election

Dr David Pilgrim. Photo courtesy Ferris State University

Dr David Pilgrim.
Photo courtesy Ferris State University


Since the election of Donald Trump, advocacy groups say there has been an increase in intimidation and aggression against minorities and women. 

Dr David Pilgrim is the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.   It’s a collection of five-thousand racist artifacts, Some from years ago. Some from yesterday.   Dr Pilgrim says he’s processing Trump’s win.

(Dr Pilgrim) I was disappointed. I understand there are legitimate reasons to vote for any candidate, some good, some bad, some repugnant. And I knew that there were people who struggled with some of Hillary Clinton’s decisions that she’s made. I knew there were people that didn’t want to see Bill Clinton back in the White House and quite frankly I knew that there were people who opposed quite a few of the policies of the current administration. But even with all of that, to have a candidate elected who said things that a brazen racist would say. If you’ve done the work that I’ve done then you would be at least disappointed if not discouraged.

So many people have said in recent years why do you have a Jim Crow museum We’re living in a new age. What you’ve done is you’ve created this shrine to racism. You’ve created a shrine to a racist past and you’re just picking at the scab that we’re beyond that and watching this election and listening to this election. I know that we are not beyond those things.

(Amy) You arguably would have perhaps a better perspective on racism in America than many other people through your studies and through your museum. Are you surprised at perhaps what this indicates about where we are as a country.

(Dr Pilgrim) Well I think there were legitimate reasons to not vote for Hillary Clinton. But I know enough and I watched enough to know that us versus them, including. Racial us versus them, did play a role.

I don’t know if I would go as far as to say it was a “white lash” but race did matter. And I don’t want to sound melodramatic. But I would be stunned if we did not see more hate crimes in the U.S.

(Amy) And let me ask you more on that here sitting at the beginning of a soon to be Trump administration. What are your fears.

(Dr Pilgrim) Well my fear would be that he would do the things that he said he was going to do. And I’m going to give you hope, and this is really a strange hope, I’m going to hope that he didn’t mean some of the things that he said.  That he heard a voice and and, maybe this is just so cynical on my part, but that he heard a voice a very bad voice, you know a voice of discord and used it as a way to be elected when he didn’t feel that way. By the way he’s already softening or at least appearing to soften on some issues, which means maybe that you know that he said the things that that people would say when they when they have blind ambition. Some of what we heard during this election,  we’ve heard some of that in previous elections and we’ve certainly heard it in the non electoral places in our society, and I think to myself that Donald Trump heard that and knew that there were people out there who would support him and that if you combined those people with the people who had legitimate concerns about Hillary Clinton and about their own personal circumstances, not having a job or not having a job where you could make a decent living,  people that were just nervous about social change. When you combine those groups, he created. Well let us say he created a different kind of coalition

(Amy) You’re concerned he’ll follow through with his campaign promises. You’re hopeful that he won’t.  What do you expect is more likely.

(Dr Pilgrim) I think that he would cherry pick. I think that there are a couple areas where, it would so-called Obamacare for example, I think that there is little or no chance that he doesn’t go after that. I don’t know how emboldened he will feel after that. You know the ban on Muslims the ban on people for example from Syria… You know I hate using cliches but I think he’ll float out a couple of trial balloons to see how people respond and that will greatly inform how he moves forward.