White Resentment: The Grand Bargain of White Supremacy

At the base of that fear was what Smith calls the “grand bargain” of white supremacy, buttressed by paternalism and evangelicalism, whereby the southern white masses relinquished political power to the few in exchange for maintaining their social status as better than the black man.

Ever the dealmakers, these southern white elites bent their culture to their political will, trading democracy for power. When that power was threatened by the civil rights revolutions, they struck another grand bargain—this time with the Grand Old Party—the terms of which have yet to expire.

Initially, the GOP acted on the advice of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona who, in a speech following Richard Nixon’s loss to Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, told fellow Republican leaders, “We’re not going to get the Negro vote as a bloc in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.” To do so, the GOP decided to capitalize on white racial angst, which was not in short supply in the South. However—and this is critical—that decision was but one in a series of decisions the party made not just on race, but on feminism and religion as well, in what is called here the “Long Southern Strategy.”

Once the GOP was seen as the protector of the southern sacraments of white privilege and patriarchy, many southern white voters flocked to it, turning the South solidly red in 1984 for the first time in history.

Fear and rage and resentment, the bread and butter of the Long Southern Strategy, often drive more people to the polls than optimism or likability or hope, no matter where they live.

Poor southern whites have long been conditioned to forfeit a personal battle in the service of winning an imagined war from which they do not benefit.

Source: Maxwell, Angie, Shields, Todd. The Long Southern Strategy. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.

–President Lyndon B. Johnson

Source: LBJ: ‘Convince the Lowest White Man He’s Better Than the Best Colored Man’

Race was not only created to justify a racially exploitative economic system, it was invented to lock people of color into the bottom of it. Racism in America exists to exclude people of color from opportunity and progress so that there is more profit for others deemed superior. This profit itself is the greater promise for nonracialized people-you will get more because they exist to get less. That promise is durable, and unless attacked directly, it will outlive any attempts to address class as a whole.

This promise-you will get more because they exist to get less-is woven throughout our entire society. Our politics, our education system, our infrastructure-anywhere there is a finite amount of power, influence, visibility, wealth, or opportunity. Anywhere in which someone might miss out. Anywhere there might not be enough. There the lure of that promise sustains racism.

White Supremacy is this nation’s oldest pyramid scheme. Even those who have lost everything to the scheme are still hanging in there, waiting for their turn to cash out.

Even the election of our first black president did not lessen the lure of this promise to draw people to their support of racism. If anything, the election strengthened it. His election was a clear, undeniable sign that some black people could get more, and then what about everyone else’s share? Those who had always blatantly or subconsciously depended on that promise, that they would get more because others would get less, were threatened in ways that they could not put words to. But suddenly, this didn’t feel like “their country” anymore. Suddenly, they didn’t feel like “their needs” were being met.

What keeps a poor child in Appalachia poor is not what keeps a poor child in Chicago poor-even if from a distance, the outcomes look the same. And what keeps an able-bodied black woman poor is not what keeps a disabled white man poor, even if the outcomes look the same.

Even in our class and labor movements, the promise that you will get more because others exist to get less, calls to people. It tells you to focus on the majority first. It tells you that the grievances of people of color, or disabled people, or transgender people, or women are divisive. The promise that keeps racism alive tells you that you will benefit most and others will eventually benefit… a little. It has you believing in trickle-down social justice.

Yes, it is about class-and about gender and sexuality and ability. And it’s also, almost always, about race.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 12-13). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

Protecting whiteness was tantamount to protecting an investment. Jobs, promotions, loans—all were easier for southern whites to get, free of competition from an entire oppressed portion of the population who had been denied equal access to education, indeed to everything. So perilous was the idea of a level playing field—and increasingly so as the country entered the economic downturn of the 1970s that “Southern White Privilege” ( chapter 2 ) became the new lost cause for which many were willing to go down fighting. Any policy or government expenditure deemed as providing a leg up for African Americans was understood only as an attack on whites in this zero-sum game. Over the course of the Long Southern Strategy, the coded racial mantras shifted from whites being better suited at governing, to whites having the right to protect whites-only private spaces, to whites being victims of reverse discrimination. But equality feels like an attack when privilege is all one knows. Together, the coded language provided deniability and the urgent threat of potential peril consolidated resistance. Politically malleable, whiteness has proven to be the GOP’s blank check that always clears.

Source: Maxwell, Angie,Shields, Todd. The Long Southern Strategy. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The guiding principle in Mr. Trump’s government is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage — that calculated mechanism of executive orders, laws and agency directives that undermines and punishes minority achievement and aspiration.

Source: Opinion | The Policies of White Resentment

In a way, Donald Trump represents white people’s right to be wrong and still be right. He is the embodiment of the unassailability of white power and white privilege.

To abandon him is to give up on the pact that America has made with its white citizens from the beginning: The government will help to underwrite white safety and success, even at the expense of other people in this country, whether they be Native Americans, African-Americans or new immigrants.

But this idea of elevating the lowest white man over those more qualified or deserving didn’t begin with Johnson’s articulation and won’t end with Trump’s manifestation. This is woven into the fabric of the flag.

For white supremacy to be made perfect, the lowest white man must be exalted above those who are black.

No matter how much of an embarrassment and a failure Trump proves to be, his exploits must be judged a success. He must be deemed a correction to Barack Obama and a superior choice to Hillary Clinton. White supremacy demands it. Patriarchy demands it. Trump’s supporters demand it.

Source: ‘The Lowest White Man’ – The New York Times

The motivation in 2016 was equally nefarious and destructive. Trump tapped into an increasingly powerful conservative base that had been nurtured for decades on the Southern Strategy’s politics of anti-black resentment. Similar to George Wallace’s run for the presidency in 1968, Trump’s supporters bristled at the thought that public policies would provide any help to African Americans and were certain that blacks were getting much more than they deserved from the government while the “average American” was getting much less. The message was clear: They weren’t deserving and weren’t really even Americans.

Source: Anderson Ph.D., Carol. White Rage (p. 169). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Trump’s own racism allowed him to do what other candidates couldn’t: solidify the support of a majority of white Christians, not despite, but through appeals to white supremacy.

By activating the white supremacy sequence within white Christian DNA, which was primed for receptivity by the perceived external threat of racial and cultural change in the country, Trump was able to convert white evangelicals in the course of a single political campaign from so-called values voters to “nostalgia voters.” Trump’s powerful appeal to white evangelicals was not that he spoke to the culture wars around abortion or same-sex marriage, or his populist appeals to economic anxieties, but rather that he evoked powerful fears about the loss of white Christian dominance amid a rapidly changing environment.

Source: Jones, Robert P.. White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (p. 15). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

See also:

Empty the Pews of Toxic Christianity

There is a great exodus taking place in Christian circles. Can it be called a loss of faith? I don’t think so. It is rather a loss of confidence in everything at once. Christianity has always been about “the Word,” but these days, words don’t seem to matter. They’ve lost their power to describe and convince in the face of horrible deeds, from climate-change denial to the persecution of trans people to the wholesale abandonment of Christ’s teachings in favor of abusive meanness. The hard-right white evangelical voter gave us Trump. The church sat silent as industrial oligarchs ruined the earth.

Christianity is improbable. When its cultural presence fades, be that through the Roman Catholic sex-abuse meltdown or because of the Trumping of white evangelicalism, all that’s left is disillusionment. Presuppositional theology—the sort of “apologetics” my late father Francis Schaeffer dealt in—only works if you accept the possibility that some of “this” (i.e., the entire claim of “historical” Christianity) might be true. Fewer and fewer people do these days, outside of the initiated and indoctrinated. The grim “witness” of how Christians have behaved and voted is too heavy a blow for faith in magical thinking to survive. This anthology marks a historic moment as a group of younger writers and scholars have come together to record what is happening (and has happened) to their inner lives of faith. What ties these essays together is one idea: history needs record keepers.

A large part of what this book does is capture a generational exodus from toxic Christianity from the perspective of (for the most part) former believers. What is the usefulness of these essays? They are a record of dissent! They are a record of heartbreak! They are a record of hope based on lives lived, not unattainable magical fixes! They are also a therapeutic reaching out to those (like me) whose neural pathways have been damaged by what has to be called nurtured insanity.

In the age of Trump, whose single most supportive demographic has been and remains white evangelicals, it has become clear that right-wing Christians—evangelicals, radical traditionalist Catholics, and Mormons—are authoritarians who will dismantle democracy before they will give up power.

Source: Stroop, Chrissy. Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church . Epiphany Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I quietly rejected my Southern Baptist upbringing as racist, misogynist, authoritarian, intellectually lazy, and morally and ethically rotten at age eleven. One night, writhing in spiritual torment and cognitive and moral dissonance, I became an atheist and a humanist and haven’t looked back since. I chose moral autonomy. I choose an ending of oblivion rather than submit to one that perversely features eternal conscious torment. I rejected what I considered primitive moral development.

“Empty the Pews” tells the stories of people who left toxic Christianity. Heed these ex-evangelical voices. Empty the pews of toxic churches. If a church isn’t queer-affirming, leave it and tell them why. As ex-evangelicals have been warning us, the Christian Right is the single greatest threat to human rights in America today. Empty their pews, and share your story of leaving toxic church.

#EmptyThePews points to the necessity of abandoning and confronting anti-democratic Christianity. Some religion embraces pluralism, but fundamentalism, in its intolerance, undermines pluralism, and white evangelical Protestantism is a variety of fundamentalism.

Source: If we want to save American democracy, we must have a very difficult conversation about evangelical Christianity | The Conversationalist

Flags and the 4th

Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.

Source: Flag Code

While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing – it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.

Source: How Do You Feel About the American Flag?

By giving everything they hold dear–or perhaps everything they can use as a tool of control–a flag and a pledge, Evangelical Christianity demanded the sort of unflinching and emotional loyalty that most Americans feel on the 4th of July. They saw how Americans proudly rally behind our flag and our Pledge, and knew they could recreate that sort of communal passion with their own.

I associate heartfelt patriotism with white nationalist Evangelical Christianity so much that I’m not even interested in learning how to practice patriotism anymore. In my mind, patriotism means stepping in line, exhibiting unyielding loyalty even in the face of fascism, and sacrificing myself on the altar of the Cause. I won’t do it. I can’t.

I understand viscerally how someone whose life trajectory led to the rejection of an abusive deity can feel compelled to give up not only on that deity, but also on the symbols and rituals associated with the nation that is so often conflated with the divine in Jesus Land, USA. I grew up with white Christian nationalism too. With ritual recitations of the pledges to the American flag, the Christian flag, and the Bible at the beginning of every day in my Christian elementary school, with elementary school talents shows that ended with Lee Greenwood sing-a-longs.

Because the patriotism that I grew up with was tied to authoritarian Christianity, the more I rejected that toxic Christianity, the more I became ambivalent at best about expressions of patriotism. Singing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” is now nearly as awkward to me as singing, “Oh, You Can’t Get to Heaven.” To me now, as the American atmosphere grows ever more suffocating, it feels like the entire country is turning into a Christian school, turning into the oppressive and abusive evangelical milieu of my childhood, from which I have worked hard to escape. To many with less privilege than me (and, despite being queer, I have a lot), it must feel worse than that. Hate crimes are up as Trump and the Republican Party have emboldened their bigoted supporters to act on their hate and resentments; school shootings are more frequent occurrences than the weekly release of a new episode of your favorite TV show; police violence against African-Americans is rampant.

Source: Happy 4th? On the Complicated Problem of Patriotism in Conditions of Injustice – Not Your Mission Field

Likewise.