“By his sixth month in office, embroiled in scandal after scandal, a Pew Research Center poll found Trump’s approval rating underwater with every single demographic group. Every demographic group, that is, except one: people who identified as white.”Ta-Nehisi Coates
The First White President by Ta-Nehisi Coates is an essay from his collection of essays due out shortly that is titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy. I wish I could disagree with the content of the article more than I do, but I can’t. He’s voiced a lot of what I think privately in this article. It’s painful to read it and agree with it so strongly. The naked truth being aired in public like that. Shocking.
He was recently on All In with Chris Hayes, one of the few shows I find myself missing since I cut the cable. The first segment is titled You might be a white supremacist. The second one titled In 100 years, people will say we lost our minds carries his assessment of what history will think of the Trump presidency. In my opinion, history will only remember us as crazy if we are lucky enough to survive this flirtation with authoritarianism and white nationalism. Here he is being interviewed on WAMU’s The 1A:
Is Ta-Nehisi Coates being too harsh on white people? I wish I could believe that he was, but I suspect that seeing with the eyes of a black man I would believe he still hasn’t said enough. That, in itself, is a frightening thought to contemplate. To some extent the author is being over-broad in his condemnation of white action as racism. The broader social policy, the wrong-headed economic notion of the zero-sum game, is to blame for the belief that there must be social winners and losers, people who give and people who take. The economic structure crafted to make the zero-sum game a part of human life is where racism manifests; but in the end it is racism that is the cause for blacks and the brown-skinned to be seen as lessor, the natural losers in a zero-sum game.
This is so wrong-headed as to baffle the senses, adhering to the zero-sum game in modern society. When a farmer produces food for the marketplace and sells it, is he the winner or the loser? Are the people who buy the food winners because they get to eat, or losers because they paid for the food? Is he the winner because he keeps his farm and gets to keep working by accepting a money transaction, or is he the loser because he didn’t keep the food for himself? Life is not a zero-sum game beyond the observation that it starts with nothing and ends with nothing, but all that bit in the middle, the part where life is? That is the only part that matters from a personal perspective.
Does a black man care that he is poor because his ancestry led him to this place and time, through mechanisms that he doesn’t approve of and cannot control? No more than a poor white man does, I’m sure. Which is actually the heart of the problem of dealing with structural racism resultant from belief in the zero-sum game. White Nationalism masquerading as the alt-right will attempt to keep blacks in their place for fear of losing what is theirs, and in equal proportion poor blacks will push to escape the place forced on them by institutions that should never have been created in the first place.
I wrote the historical entries on poverty for this blog specifically to bring to the forefront the very issue in contention here. Systemic acceptance of grinding poverty as a necessary evil, a side-effect of the free market. Not just white poverty or black poverty, but poverty of and for itself. Poverty doesn’t have to exist anywhere on this planet. We humans are wealthy enough and understand enough now to be able to make every person on the planet capable of meeting their own needs. All we lack is the will to see this change take place.
The triumph of Trump’s campaign of bigotry presented the problematic spectacle of an American president succeeding at best in spite of his racism and possibly because of it. Trump moved racism from the euphemistic and plausibly deniable to the overt and freely claimed. This presented the country’s thinking class with a dilemma. Hillary Clinton simply could not be correct when she asserted that a large group of Americans was endorsing a candidate because of bigotry. The implications—that systemic bigotry is still central to our politics; that the country is susceptible to such bigotry; that the salt-of-the-earth Americans whom we lionize in our culture and politics are not so different from those same Americans who grin back at us in lynching photos; that Calhoun’s aim of a pan-Caucasian embrace between workers and capitalists still endures—were just too dark. Leftists would have to cope with the failure, yet again, of class unity in the face of racism. Incorporating all of this into an analysis of America and the path forward proved too much to ask. Instead, the response has largely been an argument aimed at emotion—the summoning of the white working class, emblem of America’s hardscrabble roots, inheritor of its pioneer spirit, as a shield against the horrific and empirical evidence of trenchant bigotry.
Packer dismisses the Democratic Party as a coalition of “rising professionals and diversity.” The dismissal is derived from, of all people, Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and White House economist, who last year labeled the Democratic Party “a coalition of the cosmopolitan élite and diversity.” The inference is that the party has forgotten how to speak on hard economic issues and prefers discussing presumably softer cultural issues such as “diversity.” It’s worth unpacking what, precisely, falls under this rubric of “diversity”—resistance to the monstrous incarceration of legions of black men, resistance to the destruction of health providers for poor women, resistance to the effort to deport parents, resistance to a policing whose sole legitimacy is rooted in brute force, resistance to a theory of education that preaches “no excuses” to black and brown children, even as excuses are proffered for mendacious corporate executives “too big to jail.” That this suite of concerns, taken together, can be dismissed by both an elite economist like Summers and a brilliant journalist like Packer as “diversity” simply reveals the safe space they enjoy. Because of their identity.Ta-Nehisi Coates
The basket of deplorables that voted for Trump, friends and family among them, should take a long, hard look in the mirror and recognize the face of modern American racism. I rejected Trump from the beginning. I recognized his race-baiting tactics immediately. He never tried to hide what he was doing, and I remain mystified why anyone, ANYONE voted for him. Why anyone didn’t know what they were voting for, a white nationalist, a racist, someone who started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists. He couldn’t have made it more obvious if he stitched it onto bright red caps that he and everyone around him wore.
Oh, wait, he did stitch it onto hats! Make America Great Again by definition means a return to an America that was more racist than it was in the Obama years. It means more racism because America has never been less racist than it was during the last eight years, and it is only going to get worse as Trump’s administration continues to ramp up the racist rhetoric. This is something he did just last week by announcing the repeal of DACA. The entirety of the history of Hispanics in this country has been a thinly veiled tale of racial exploitation. This really shouldn’t be news to anybody, but even I didn’t understand the full history of the expletive wetback until listening to a segment on the Texas Standard last week.
I’ve said this many times on this blog and elsewhere. When you are working in construction or out on the farm, anywhere there is labor that needs doing in America, you see brown faces out in the sun. The white faces are almost always hidden inside. They’re leading construction from the comfort of an air conditioned trailer, sitting in comfort inside of an idling truck. There are exceptions to this rule, but the presence of those few white faces simply amplifies the disparity.
My father did me a great service when I was a teenager, but I never understood it then. He sent me out in the fields to work one summer so that I could get a taste of what working for a living without an education felt like. I was given over to a friend or perhaps a relative of one of his employees. A one-armed ancient Hispanic man who made me look like a slacker or the complete novice that I was by doing more and better work with one arm than I could with two. He could and did do it day-in and day-out for months and years spanning into decades. He probably died out there in one of those fields. I don’t know because it wasn’t important to me. The lesson was learned never to be forgotten. I wanted to work indoors, out of the sun. I wanted to turn knowledge into profit. I wanted to work smart instead of hard.
The ability to do what I’ve done? The ability to assert one’s knowledge without credentials or any evidence of talent or knack for the process? That comes from being who I was, where I was. If I had been born brown or black, African, Asian or Latino in this part of the world? That sort of assertiveness would have been ground out of me before I was even an adult, back in the time I was born into. That is what white privilege means. Ask Philando Castile if he can carry a weapon like a white man does, if you doubt this is true. Ask Ahmed Mohamed if he’s even allowed to be unusually bright and curious in this day and age. I could probably trot out a million examples of why my experiences warrant the label white privilege, but I would not convince a single Trump voter that what I said was the truth. That is the shame we are living through today.
And so the most powerful country in the world has handed over all its affairs—the prosperity of its entire economy; the security of its 300 million citizens; the purity of its water, the viability of its air, the safety of its food; the future of its vast system of education; the soundness of its national highways, airways, and railways; the apocalyptic potential of its nuclear arsenal—to a carnival barker who introduced the phrase grab ’em by the pussy into the national lexicon.Ta-Nehisi Coates
In 2015, the political scientists Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan L. Hajnal published White Backlash, a study of political trends, and found that “whites who hold more negative views of immigrants have a greater tendency to support Republican candidates at the presidential, congressional, and gubernatorial levels, even after controlling for party identification and other major factors purported to drive the vote.”
While that finding may seem obvious, it isn’t simply a description of existing Republicans, but of the trends driving some white Democrats into the Republican Party. Using data from the American National Election Survey, Abrajano and Hajnal conclude that “changes in individual attitudes toward immigrants precede shifts in partisanship,” and that “immigration really is driving individual defections from the Democratic to Republican Party.”The Atlantic, The Nationalist’s Delusion
The above is offered simply to put paid to the lie that Republicans aren’t the racists in America. By and large, that is what they have become, and Donald Trump is an outgrowth of that increased racism in the party. He embodies and embraces it in ways that a less cynical man would be ashamed of. Trump knows that the average American is a clueless rube just waiting to be fleeced of the few coins in his purse. As long as you say the right things, stand the right way when you say it, these rubes will give you everything they have just to prove themselves right in their beliefs. I personally prefer our leaders to have more going for them than just the color of their skin, the type of sex organs hidden under their clothing. Apparently that is asking too much in this day and age.
Trump and his zero-sum obsession became a bit of a theme on the blog after awhile. I became curious about where and when the term entered my thought processes and I couldn’t track down when I started using it as shorthand for Trump’s racism. I will credit Ta-Nehisi Coates for this simply because I used the term six times in this article, even though it isn’t the earliest occurrence on the blog. In going back to try to find where I started using the term, I discovered that I was spelling the phrase both with and without a hyphen. I have now fixed that inconsistency. while I was at it I also linked the single entries for the phrase in most articles to this book on the subject:
The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together Hardcover by Heather McGhee
Belief in the zero-sum game is the most obvious false belief of racists and white nationalists everywhere. It needs to be called out and destroyed wherever it raises its ugly head. The people who claim not to be racist need to have their belief in this bullshit theory challenged on that basis. If you aren’t racist then why do you believe in the zer0-sum game?
Matthew Hawn, a teacher in Tennessee, was fired for assigning The First White President to his class and for playing this video:
The outgrowth of four years of frontpage Trumpist racism is the anti-CRT movement that got Matthew Hawn fired. It bears mentioning here that the suburbs exist in America specifically because of white flight out of mixed inner-city neighborhoods. White parents not being willing to send their kids to school with black and brown children. That is the basis of the school choice programs as well.
I found common cause with those seeking school choice because I wanted my children not to be indoctrinated into christian theology in Texas public schools, but it was the experience of trying to find a school that wasn’t teaching christian theology in the classroom that informed me on the subject of what school choice was all about. It wasn’t about excellence or Harmony Public Schools would have been embraced by the neighborhoods they were in. It’s about whiteness. Still. After all these long years, it’s still all about whiteness.