Whiteness in an era of Trump: Where Do We Go From Here?

From our kitchen tables and Facebook pages to mainstream and progressive media outlets alike, well-intentioned, white Americans are horrified by Presidential candidate Donald Trump's blatantly racist comments and his attacks on Black protestors, Muslims, and Mexican immigrants. He's hanging our country's racist laundry out to dry.

As well-meaning, white Americans, we are used to more palatable forms of racism that mask their racist roots and make us feel comfortable. We've grown so accustomed to seeing the wolf in its thinly veiled sheep's clothing, and so reluctant to see otherwise, that the wolf itself shocks us. But what we need to recognize is that Trump, the Tea Party, and their followers represent a long history of white racialized politics and white supremacy in America that have benefited all white Americans for centuries. The wolf is of our own creation, and it reflects the benefits and privileges we have all accrued. This historical moment of increasing economic inequality and its devastating effects on the white working and middle class have simply brought this wolf and the white racialized anxiety of its followers into the light.

As legal scholar Ian Haney López argues, politics in the post-Civil Rights era has been based on dog whistle politics. This term refers to the use of racially coded language to talk about race, racist ideas, and people of color. In contrast to explicit, state-sanctioned racism of the eras of slavery, Reconstruction, and Jim Crow, in the age of colorblind racism, to talk or act in racially explicit ways has been considered racist. As Haney López explains, white American adapted to this new moment by talking in racially coded terms. Former President Reagan's rhetoric on 'Cadillac-driving, welfare queens' and Sarah Palin's description of President Obama's politics as 'shuck and jive' are examples of dog whistle language, and former President Clinton's Welfare to Work program is an example of a dog whistle policy. As white Americans, these didn't offend us as Trump's explicit language and policy proposals do today; yet, their underlying meaning was the same.

For many moderates, liberal, and progressive white Americans, Trump's crudeness offends our polite, well-educated sensibilities. We're embarrassed by the hordes of white people who show up to cheer him on and vote for him across the country. They lack 'class' and desperately cling to their whiteness like it's the only thing they've got left. Decades of neoliberal policies by Republican and Democratic administrations alike have undermined the economic security that working and middle-class whites were guaranteed before their jobs were shipped overseas, trade unions dismantled, and educational, healthcare, and credit card debts skyrocketed. Yet, despite increasing class inequality, white Americans across classes continue to receive the material benefits of whiteness in employment, housing, and financial markets as well as in education, healthcare, and food and water security in comparison to communities of color.

Thus, rather than attempt to sanitize or censor this new moment of racialized politics by hiding it back in the sheep's clothing, we need to keep it in the light to expose its true nature. As a country, we need a politics that centers race and racial inequity and enables us to talk about and act upon these in meaningful ways. Only this will enable us to transform the racialized culture and political economy of our country that are predicated on the pernicious system of white supremacy that neither acknowledges nor enables the full humanity of people of color.

This change will necessitate transformations from the level of the unconscious mind to the culture, systems, and structures that influence our everyday lives. These are not simple tasks, yet as white Americans who have long benefited from these systems, we have a responsibility to begin working towards them.

First, we need to check the ways in which we (un)consciously fail to acknowledge the full humanity of Black people and other people of color. The Project Implicit does an excellent job towards helping us to look at the ways our implicit biases - "thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control" - function to distort our perceptions of other human beings. This is important for understanding why a return to colorblind and dog whistle politics is not a solution to our current problem of whiteness.

Second, we need to strive towards "accountable solidarity" with Black people and other communities of color. This necessitates developing ongoing relationships with individuals and communities of color, standing in solidarity as they take the lead in solving problems that disproportionately affect their communities, and supporting transferences of power in our communities and the nation. Moreover, given this long, inequitable history, as whites, we need to be held accountable for our words and actions.

Third, we need to actively participate in a process of material redistribution by promoting and voting for taxation, education, healthcare, housing, justice, financial, and food and water policies and practices that enable just outcomes for all. This will require undoing decades of neoliberal policies that have had devastating, yet uneven effects on the lives and well-being of the majority of Americans. It will also necessitate reparations for hundreds of years of slavery, the Jim Crow system, and decades of racialized government policies, as Ta-Nahesi Coates and others have articulated.

Together these measures will begin to move us closer towards the possibility of dismantling our country's racially and economically inequitable system. Given our linked fate in this world, this unequal system hurts us all and leads to devastating, yet unevenly distributed, effects on lives and well-being of communities across our country.