This has been a week of tantrums. The last 10 days have been a picture of what it looks and feels like when white men in positions of power feel themselves threatened by a loss of the authority they feel entitled to.
We watched Brett Kavanaugh cry, lash out, bully and deflect in the face of sexual assault allegations because he wasn’t getting what he felt like he deserved. We watched Sen. Lindsey Graham put on an indignant performance of morality at the hearing on behalf of his friend, disfiguring his face like a gremlin and claiming that listening to a woman’s story, was “the most unethical sham since [he’s] been in politics.” We watched thousands of people at rallies cheer on a president who continues to produce a less ethnically aware and inclusive America.
The past few days (years, really) may symbolize a battle lost for people who are hoping to dismantle white supremacy (and its commitment to patriarchy) and move toward a reality where the rights of women and nonbinary folks, people of color and people at the intersections matter. It seems that the more angry and petulant that powerful white men become, the more they get what they want.
But at the end of the day, all of the tantrums we’re seeing should be viewed as evidence that powerful white men can feel their power slipping away and are going to extremes to hold on to it. We who envision a more just America have the powers that be shook, and we may soon have them on the run if we can channel our anger and grief into action.
“All of the tantrums we’re seeing should be viewed as evidence that powerful white men can feel their power slipping away and are going to extremes to hold on to it.”
We’ve seen this same clinging to power before, in 2016, when white people overwhelmingly voted to elect a man accused of sexual assault (among other things) to the presidency of the United States. And we saw it again this weekend when an overwhelmingly white Senate confirmed a man accused of sexual assault to the highest court in the land.
When the vision of white-male-dominated America is thwarted or threatened in any way, the backlash is nothing short of desperate and infantile. They’ll do whatever it takes to maintain control over their way of life, even if it means putting unqualified and equally petulant people in positions of power. CNN’s Van Jones called this phenomenon “whitelash.”
Whiteness at large has a vision for America, one that holds the entrenched values of white, male supremacy that came through genocide, enslavement, land annexation and exclusionary practices. And while the majority of white people would not claim that we ought to return to those times, they look back on the formation of the U.S. with nostalgia for days when things were more simple and easy, especially if you were a white man.
The rallying cry “Make America Great Again” relies on that racist, sexist nostalgic vision that calls on people to pursue a mythological unity that is simply white domination in disguise. This vision manifests as Trump’s America, as a utopia that calls back to the better days of more protected and less challenged white supremacy.
And before someone slams in like the Kool-Aid man with a “not all white people,” sure, some white folks aren’t actively supporting the most openly white supremacist administration of my lifetime. Let me stand and applaud you. But the bar is too low. White supremacy requires no active support, only complacency or tacit approval through apathy.
It is easy to implicate people in power of upholding the structures of white supremacy without recognizing that progressives and conservatives alike passively and actively seek the normalizing of white supremacy. Those at the Trump rallies more actively support their white supremacy, but white liberals reap the benefits while also being able to claim a level of “wokeness” because they can identify structures and white people that they are not like.
Sens. Jeff Flake and Susan Collins are primary examples of people who, though they may critique and disparage Trump as a leader, are still willing to dive in the deep end of partisan politics while claiming to be moderate.
The lesson is that no matter how well intentioned someone is or how much integrity they have had in the past, people are pulled to powers that uphold business as usual. Their votes were not surprising, merely disappointing. Whiteness and patriarchy work together. In the end, they are so closely tied, that to refuse to dismantle one is to continue to perpetuate the other.
“The social norms are being threatened and the privileged will cry and kick and scream and go to the extreme end to maintain dominance.”
Despite complacency and outright support for the status quo, there is a growing number of people in this country actively trying to change things and relieve white supremacy of its power. While some on the right have been emboldened in Trump’s America to show their true supremacist colors, others are feeling empowered to stand up for their rights and dismantle the societal structures that have kept privileged white men in power for so long while keeping women, people of color and others without power disenfranchised.
It seems, as we approach the midterm elections, that we will once again have an opportunity to practice what freedom fighters before us have done: voting, resisting and using our interpersonal relationships to rally each other to systemic and social changes. Good intentions and right politics have never changed the world, voting and action has.
In this political season, it is more important than ever that those who are fighting for a more just and free world choose the revolutionary work of educating ourselves and each other, taking care of ourselves and each other, and then doing what we can to honor our ancestors and get out to the do the work of politics, systemic change and truth-telling. If they did it with extraordinarily less freedom than we did, then maybe we can choose to hope, day to day, that progress yields progress and that history never looks back fondly on those who seek to conserve oppression and hatred.
The social norms are being threatened and the privileged will cry and kick and scream and go to the extreme end to maintain dominance. But the more people they push to the margins, the stronger the marginalized become. If anything, the tantrums and whitelash from the privileged few are proving that maybe they’re too weak and immature to handle the upcoming fight and maybe the rule of patriarchal white supremacy is finally on its way to an end.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.