Forget about Those White Supremacists

Becky O'Malley
Friday January 26, 2018 - 05:33:00 PM

We have Donald Trump to thank for finally putting the last nail in the coffin of White Supremacy this month.

Huh? You may well ask. Yes, I know it’s counter-intuitive, but let’s just check the evidence.

On your right: President Donald J. Trump. On your left: President Barack H. Obama.

Case closed.

Herr Dumpf is superior to no one.

Editorial page writers have run out of strong adjectives to describe his shockingly manifest inferiority. Vulgar, stupid, venal. And also, mendacious and unstable. Oh,yes, and racist, if you didn’t know that already, as demonstrated by his language choice when discussing immigration with senators.

After typing all those pejoratives the day of that meeting, I felt obliged to check Google News one more time to see if he’d done any new disreputable things since I read the morning paper.

That very day, he’d coined a new junior-high nickname for Senator Richard Durbin and tweeted it. (Time for teacher to confiscate his phone, isn’t it?)

Defenders of Whites might plead that Donald T. is just one guy, and most other White people and even most Old White Guys are better than that.

Well, by the numbers, when you break down national White voters into all kinds of categories (gender, income, employment, education etc.) the majority in every category voted for Donald Trump, so they all deserve blame for what happened. (Possibly excepting educated White women of a certain age…one small Hurrah for Us, but that’s not enough.)

I’m more than a little fed up with the drumbeat coming from a lot of White lefties that more attention needs to be paid to the grievances of the White working class. It isn’t really a class thing that motivates them. In fact, it looks a lot like a disguised subset of good old White Supremacy. 

There’s a catch phrase usually applied to George W. Bush which also applies to many of the White workers who vote against their own economic interest: “Born on third base, but they thinks they hit a triple.” 

How does this happen? Why don’t members of the White working class recognize that they are, yes, over-used but apt label, privileged

I’ve been chewing on three excellent books and associated recorded author interviews that shed some light on this question. 

Richard Rothstein, now a distinguished scholar, but once a founder of SDS, has documented the systematic way the U.S. legal system has kept the descendants of enslaved Africans poor. For a capsule discussion of his newest book, The Color of Law, which he calls “a forgotten history” listen to an excellent interview with him which was on KPFA last week. 

He recounts in meticulous detail how African Americans have been legally excluded from accumulating family wealth, denied the principal method used by other Americans, home ownership. He describes a whole array of government-backed programs like FHA mortgages and subsidized housing which were provided for European Americans in the 20th Century, including those in the working class, which deliberately left African Americans behind in segregated poverty. 

What were the consequences of such racially biased policies? In another excellent interview on C-Span, Richard Rothstein in conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, Coates and Rothstein discuss this question, which is explored more fully in Coates’ analysis of what happened in the 2016 election, in the essay which forms the epilogue of his newest book, We Were Eight Years in Power. Coates points out there that “White workers are not divided by the fact of labor from other white demographics; they are divided from all other laborers by the fact of their whiteness.” Many White beneficiaries of government financial support think they’ve earned those perks, and that Blacks have only themselves to blame for being excluded. 

That might seem like the bad news, but guess what? It’s also the good news. In one of my past lives, marketing imperfect early computer technology, I learned that you could profitably turn a bug into a feature—there’s always something positive to say about anything. 

How to use this as a political strategy is the theme of a book by Steve Phillips, Brown is the New White: How the Demographic Revolution Has Created a New American Majority. Published just before the 2016 election, it’s packed with numbers and graphs, all of which contribute to his central point, shown by Figure 1, the pie chart on page 5: Composition of the New American Majority (Percentage of All U.S. Eligible Voters). 

The graphic shows Progressive People of Color at 23%, Progressive Whites at 28%, Other Whites at 43% and Other People of Color at 6%. In other words, people of color and progressive Whites working together can win with 51% of the vote, regardless of what those ignorant Others might do. 

Phillips’ book was full of excellent advice about how this could have been accomplished, but unfortunately much of it was ignored by those who managed the 2016 Democratic campaigns. However, and here’s where things start looking good, his strategy seems to have worked like a charm in Alabama in 2017. 

In a New York Times op-ed this past December, Phillips analyzed how Doug Jones had been elected to the Senate in the preceding month. 

His headline question; Democrats Could Claim a New American Majority. Will They?

His contention: “The Alabama special election for the Senate affirms that the coalition that elected and re-elected an African-American as president of the United States remains a majority of the country’s population. By combining a large and inspired turnout of voters of color with the meaningful minority of whites who consistently vote progressive — even in a state like Alabama — Democrats can win across the country. 

“A majority of people who voted for Doug Jones in Alabama were black — 56 percent, in fact, according to the exit polls. Mr. Jones’s stunning election victory highlights the path to victory for Democrats. The question is whether they will be smart enough to follow it.” 

He notes that in this race the establishment White Democrats spent most of their money trying to persuade white voters to vote for Jones, but it was the efforts of Black organizers, especially women, which brought in the votes which were needed. 

Thanks, Steve, I’m proud to claim my membership in the meaningful minority. And as you point out, even in Alabama there are Whites who consistently vote progressive. (I also wonder what percentage of the Meaningful White Minority are women.) 

I acknowledge that it’s long past time for us White folks to work on correcting the glaring misconceptions of our fellow Whiteys who voted for Trump, but meanwhile there’s absolutely no need to pander to them in the vain hope of winning elections. Now that Donald Trump has demonstrated that White Supremacy is the religion of losers (to use his language), I for one would prefer to ignore the sullen members of the White working class who made the mistake of voting for him because of misplaced racial hubris. I’d much rather work with my Black and Brown sisters as I’ve done in the past on making sure that all the right people in the New Majority, have their chance to vote. More effective, and a lot more fun.