By way of background, I read Mark’s blog on white supremacy and then wrote him an email suggesting that while he was correct, he was missing an important piece of the larger picture. After several back-and-forth emails, in which we each refused to concede the other’s superior logic, Mark suggested this guest essay, no doubt because he was tired of dealing with me. I am writing it on Inauguration Day, which seems fitting.
– Kennedy Hudner
Mark, you’re right: white supremacy and all the assumptions that come with it are part of the white man’s basic ‘world view’ infrastructure. It’s just there, like the old wallpaper in your living room. If you are white, you don’t think about it. You only consciously see it if you stop and look, but it is there all the time. The assumptions of white supremacy, or at least white privilege, sit in your subconscious and whisper in your ear that everyone has the same opportunities and if you get the job over someone of a different color it’s becase you are more qualified. It’s just competition. You worked hard to get there. You don’t question that maybe your qualifications were the same or that maybe you had more opportunities for success because of where you grew up and went to school. You don’t question it because you are white and this is just how things are.
And when the power or other rights of the whites are momentarily infringed upon by someone with the audacity to have a different skin color, there is a sense of a disturbance in the Force (to coin a phrase…), a fundamental wrongness, a sense that something vile has breached the inner sanctum. Political leaders of all stripes are aware of this cultural malignancy and have used it to their advantage for centuries. They understand that they can rule if they can give their constituents someone to hate, someone to blame, someone to scapegoat. Blacks, browns, Jews, Muslims and countless other others have been the target of “supremacy” groups since time immemorial. In the United States, our white Protestant majority has in the past also scapegoated Germans, Japanese, the Irish, Catholics and of course, the Chinese. Racism, in all its many iterations, has proven to be a very useful political tool.
Indeed, the truly astonishing thing is not that so many whites are white supremacists, but that so many are not.
In recent decades many American whites took a hard look at the prejudices they grew up with…and rejected them. Or, perhaps more frequently, they became politically active for reasons that had nothing to do with racism and, as a result, found a way to fight the racism they became aware of along their new path.
In very recent times a lot of the impetus for this came, ironically, from the ascendency of Donald Trump.
Trump, first as a candidate and then as President, angered people, dismayed people and frightened them. (Lest we forget, he also won the hearts and minds of half the country, but that is another essay for another time.) Trump drove people into two camps: you either hated him or loved him. Fairly early in the 2016 Presidential campaign, a lot of people were increasingly alarmed by things Trump was saying. Some people – mostly women – quietly decided to do something.
I had a front-row seat to watch the creation of a political action group when my wife and some friends decided they had to do something. Their initial membership was five people. They got hold of a guide on peaceful resistance, then began contacting their elected officials on the local, state and federal levels. Within months, the group grew to 200 people and they saw their first success, flipping some local and state seats from Republican to Democrat. The group reached out to many other action groups at the state and national level to work together. Many thousands of letters and postcards were written, thousands of calls were made. These calls encouraged people to register and then to vote. When they finished one swing state, they moved on to another. Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin. And along the way, their membership grew.
That was one little action group in Connecticut. Multiply that by 5,000 or 10,000 nationwide and you get a sense of the fervor of Democratic political action wrought by Trump.
But a funny thing happens to some people when they become politically active; they become more finely attuned to other things that need fixing, above and beyond the immediate political contest. I am not saying they got politically active because of racism. That would be nice, perhaps even noble, but it probably wasn’t the case for most of us. But you must give Trump credit – he was like coarse sandpaper scraping away our moral and political complacency. And as we got rubbed raw by his lies, his bullying, his relentless narcissism, his cynical opportunism and his autocracy, our newly sensitive political and ethical nerves turned out to be sensitive to all sorts of wrongs in American life. To the wild inequities in the distribution of wealth. To a floundering health care system that clearly disadvantages poor people and many minorities. To the countless number of young Black men – boys, really – shot and killed by police for running away. To overt voter suppression in so many states.
Maybe this is how many of us finally learned to face our own racism, by having it rubbed in our face by the President of the United States. By being embarrassed at how long we had stood on the sidelines. By feeling shame for our inaction.
Which brings us to the 2020 elections. The election results were, literally, a joint effort. Without the Black vote, Biden would never have won the Democratic primary or the general election. There is no doubt about that. (And Biden should erect a monument in South Carolina to thank the entire Black community for saving his primary campaign. Without South Carolina, Biden was toast.) And the Black vote in the general election was augmented by millions of white voters, many of whom worked just about every day since Trump’s election in 2016 to bring about the Biden victory.
So, you’re absolutely right, Mark: from the White Supremacist perspective, the election was ‘stolen.’ But not because of any fraud, but because people effectively united to thwart Trump’s juggernaut. Hidden in that process is a larger truth as well: the Biden victory happened because so many white people were happy and willing to work with Black communities in every state to make sure that a common foe was defeated. Those whites couldn’t have done it alone. The Blacks couldn’t have done it alone. But together they won.
Racism isn’t gone in America, far from it. But Trump brought it out of the shadows, where it’s ugliness could be exposed to light…and scrutiny. Who knows? If we are honest enough, and brave enough, perhaps we’ll actually make progress.