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:

An Anti-racist Reading List

The opposite of racist isn’t ‘not racist.’ It is ‘anti-racist.’

The heartbeat of racism is denial.

— Ibram X. Kendi

It’s been said that racism is so American that when we protest racism, some assume we’re protesting America.

— Beyoncé Knowles

Now is a good time to read these books, follow these authors, confront our history, and unpack what we need to unpack.

Systemic racism is a machine that runs whether we pull the levers or not, and by just letting it be, we are responsible for what it produces. We have to actually dismantle the machine if we want to make change.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 29-30).

When social scientists describe racism as “systemic,” we’re referring to collective practices and representations that disadvantage categories of human beings on the basis of their perceived “race.” The key word here is “collective.” Much of the racial stupidity we encounter in everyday life derives from the fact that people think of racism as individual prejudice rather than a broader system and structure of power.

The thing about white supremacy is that it socializes all of us to minimize its terror, to systematically deny or underestimate the harm. “We’ve come so far,” “Things are getting better,” “It could be worse”—all of these tropes minimize racial terror. Americans have been socialized to look on the bright side despite centuries of colonial and racial violence, torture, and the oppression of minorities. Our problem is not and has never been overreacting to racial terror. Our problem is the hegemony of under-reaction, denial, minimization. Ours is a society that has always socialized white folks to live in the midst of racial oppression but go on with their lives like normal. At every turn, those who oppose white supremacy have been met with denial, violence, “race card” accusations, or magnificent claims about progress. It seems that in the minds of many white liberals, we should all be celebrating the fact that most of us are not physically in chains. White supremacy wants you to look at four hundred years of uninterrupted racial terror and conclude “Things aren’t so bad.”

Source: Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race (p. 12, pp. 128-129).

Being seen racially is a common trigger of white fragility, and thus, to build our stamina, white people must face the first challenge: naming our race.

White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina.

Source: DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 1-2, p. 7).

White rage is not about visible violence, but rather it works its way through the courts, the legislatures, and a range of government bureaucracies. It wreaks havoc subtly, almost imperceptibly. Too imperceptibly, certainly, for a nation consistently drawn to the spectacular—to what it can see. It’s not the Klan. White rage doesn’t have to wear sheets, burn crosses, or take to the streets. Working the halls of power, it can achieve its ends far more effectively, far more destructively.

The trigger for white rage, inevitably, is black advancement. It is not the mere presence of black people that is the problem; rather, it is blackness with ambition, with drive, with purpose, with aspirations, and with demands for full and equal citizenship.

The truth is, white rage has undermined democracy, warped the Constitution, weakened the nation’s ability to compete economically, squandered billions of dollars on baseless incarceration, rendered an entire region sick, poor, and woefully undereducated, and left cities nothing less than decimated. All this havoc has been wreaked simply because African Americans wanted to work, get an education, live in decent communities, raise their families, and vote. Because they were unwilling to take no for an answer.

Source: Anderson Ph.D., Carol. White Rage (p. 3, p. 6).

History duels: the undeniable history of antiracist progress, the undeniable history of racist progress. Before and after the Civil War, before and after civil rights, before and after the first Black presidency, the White consciousness duels. The White body defines the American body. The White body segregates the Black body from the American body. The White body instructs the Black body to assimilate into the American body. The White body rejects the Black body assimilating into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

The Black body in turn experiences the same duel. The Black body is instructed to become an American body. The American body is the White body. The Black body strives to assimilate into the American body. The American body rejects the Black body. The Black body separates from the American body. The Black body is instructed to assimilate into the American body—and history and consciousness duel anew.

But there is a way to get free. To be antiracist is to emancipate oneself from the dueling consciousness. To be antiracist is to conquer the assimilationist consciousness and the segregationist consciousness. The White body no longer presents itself as the American body; the Black body no longer strives to be the American body, knowing there is no such thing as the American body, only American bodies, racialized by power.

Source: Kendi, Ibram X.. How to Be an Antiracist (p. 33).

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.