Unbearable Whiteness

Changes are coming. The Obama Era is ending – eight years with a well-educated whip-smart articulate and often eloquent president, both meticulous and cautious, and generally gracious and polite, or at least careful, who actually listened to other points of view and then argued back. Many found him reasonable, sometimes infuriatingly so, but he was No-Drama Obama – he played the long game and won. We did get something like universal health care. Iran just shipped its enriched uranium back to Russia. We’re no longer in Iraq, for better or worse. We’ll talk with Cuba now, rather than pout, and the economy has recovered as much as it could recover, given its current structure and our current politics. And there were no scandals – no hot and heavy sex with a fetching young intern, no Scooter Libby going to jail for lying to Congress – none of that stuff. Benghazi was badly handled, but had been handled as well as it could be handled. The IRS was badly managed but not out to get the Tea Party. What else was there? There was nothing. It was actually quite boring, although there are still rumors that Obama sneaks out now and then to smoke a cigarette. And, by the way, we didn’t start a major war to change the world.

Many found Obama refreshingly reasonable. Others saw him as an angry black man who divided the country, pitting everyone against the white man, favoring blacks and Hispanics and gays, and Muslims – he thinks we should accept a few Syrian refugees and the Israelis should stop building new settlements on what everyone else says is Palestinian land. Well, the last four presidents have said the same thing about those settlements, but Obama means it, or something. He hates straight white Christian men, who love Israel – Jesus Land. Obama was black (and still is) and tore the country apart. Straight white Christian men got screwed, and now Hillary Clinton will continue his work – and women will start taking men’s jobs too. Listen to talk radio. Watch Fox News. They’re not very subtle about this.

That made this sort of thing inevitable:

Some registered voters in Iowa received robocalls Saturday from a white nationalist super PAC that urged them to support Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

“I urge you to vote for Donald Trump because he is the one candidate who points out that we should accept immigrants who are good for America,” Jared Taylor said on the robocall, paid for by the American National Super PAC. “We don’t need Muslims. We need smart, well-educated white people who will assimilate to our culture. Vote Trump.”

Taylor is the founder of the white supremacist magazine American Renaissance.

But it gets better:

The robocall included two more endorsements from a conservative Christian talk show host and the head of the white nationalist American Freedom Party. Reverend Donald Tan, a Filipino-American minister and host of Christian talk show program “For God and Country,” encouraged Iowans to vote for Trump by citing scripture. ..

The robocall was closed out by American Freedom Party chairman William Johnson, who identified himself only as “a farmer and white nationalist.” Johnson, who founded the PAC that paid for the robocall, notes that Trump did not authorize it.

He didn’t have to, as some things are obvious:

The American Freedom Party had issued a press release Friday announcing the launch of the robocall campaign, calling Trump its “Great White Hope.”

Jared Taylor also serves as a spokesman for the Council of Conservative Citizens, which was cited in the manifesto written by Charleston shooter Dylann Roof as the group that opened his eyes to what he saw as the scourge of black-on-white crime in America. Roof went on a shooting rampage at a historically black church in June, killing nine parishioners.

Things are getting ugly out there, and maybe that’s Obama’s fault, for being a bit too black for some people’s tastes, but Dexter Thomas, in a year-end op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, gives the view from the other side:

“White people, come get your boy.”

Depending on how you read that line from comedian W. Kamau Bell about Donald Trump, you might take it as a joke. Or you might take offense. But Bell meant it as a call to action – because Trump is not a Republican problem. He’s a white-people problem.

Thomas’ argument is straightforward enough:

Trump is a particularly embarrassing figure because of whom he purports to represent. His rhetoric might appeal most to white nationalists, including former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke, but his target is not the fringes. Instead, as Duke says, Trump’s campaign is an appeal to “the values and interests of the European-American majority.”

White people should feel insulted by this. They should feel ashamed – as white people – of Donald Trump. Whites need to stand up and say that they will not allow Trump to hijack their culture, or to conduct his racist politics in their name.

Still, that’s not enough. The second part of “getting your boy” goes beyond distancing yourself from him. A community must take responsibility for any damage that has been done, and take steps to correct it.

Yes, damage is possible:

One sign of a possible shift from anger to action has already emerged: last week, a Richmond, Calif., man was arrested on charges of making explosives with the intent of harming Muslims. A post on his Facebook account said that he would follow Trump “to the end of the world.”

There are more and more stories like that all the time, but there is hope:

This phenomenon is underscored in a viral video of a self-described “redneck” named Dixon White. Speaking from his pickup truck, White delivers an impassioned, expletive-laden rant – aimed at other white people. He minces no words: “Let’s take a little bit of white racial responsibility,” he said. “I’m saying we’ve got an evil called white supremacy in this culture.”

“If you hear something racist stand as a white American, take some responsibility,” he said.

White’s drawled speech may well have had the effect of throwing some white people off balance just long enough to actually listen to his message.

On the other hand:

Conversations about racism in the white community don’t always go so smoothly. Last week, rapper Mac Miller, who is white, posed a challenge to his followers. “Dear White People who listen to rap music,” he asked, “what have you done for the #Blacklivesmatter movement?”

Responses ranged from appreciation to sarcasm. One: “I faved some tweets.”

Yeah, well, there is a long way to go:

One of the biggest barriers may be apathy. Too many whites are satisfied with things as they are – probably because the system seems to work for them. Even as recently as July, after the protests in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore, 40% of whites said in a Pew poll that “our country has made the changes needed to give blacks equal rights with whites.” Some want to take things further. In another poll, taken after Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the United States, 40% of whites said they would support requiring Muslims to register in a national database.

Even for whites who find Trump’s rhetoric repulsive, joking about him, or even rejecting him, will not be enough. They now need to turn their focus to the society that allowed him to come to prominence. Particularly among whites who prefer to view themselves as “color blind,” there is a dangerous attitude that the best way to make racial injustice go away is to not talk about it.

That’s not an option with Donald Trump:

As Trump’s rise shows, it is possible for whites to organize around a political and cultural ideal. This year, a community has begun to organize around their whiteness and a desire to return to a (largely fictional) vision of what used to be, to “make America great again.” The challenge now is for whites who care about social justice to create an alternative movement.

In short, white people, come get your boy. In fact, things are getting worse. Now it’s Hispanics. Donald Trump is making a lot of noise about Ted Cruz having been born in Canada, and Salon’s Amanda Marcotte addresses that:

There’s an elaborate rationale for why questioning Ted Cruz’s citizenship is not racist, involving his birth in Canada to a father who is an immigrant. (As with Barack Obama, birthers do not appear to believe women have a meaningful American citizenship they can bestow upon their children.) But at this late date, is there a person standing who actually thinks that birther conspiracy theories are anything but a comically convoluted way to express skepticism that any non-white person can ever legitimately be an American?

Do not forget, after all, that many birthers believe that Malcolm X, who was born in Nebraska, is Obama’s biological father.

This isn’t Trump’s first toe dip into trying to peel votes off Ted Cruz by reminding voters that Cruz is Hispanic. Trump has also been questioning whether Cruz is really an evangelical Christian while making a play for that lily white evangelical Iowa Republican voter base.

“To the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba,” Trump has added to his stump speech.

Marcotte is puzzled:

On its surface, it’s a weird thing to go after, and not just because of the overwhelming evidence that Cruz, whose father is the living embodiment of a wackaloon snake handling Bible thumper, is a true believer. It’s also because Trump himself is most certainly not an evangelical. He claims membership in a mainline Presbyterian church, though it seems that he’s not seen in the pews as much as you’d think for someone who claims the Bible is his favorite book.

Under the circumstances, it’s safe to assume that Trump’s blather about evangelical authenticity is just another form of race-baiting. “Evangelical” is just a code word for “white” and this is Trump playing the “not one of us” card against the Cuban guy.

Marcotte goes on to show that Cruz is a race-baiter in his own way, but there’s more:

It’s clear that racial anxieties are reaching a major peak in conservative circles these days. The situation in Oregon, where a self-appointed militia has taken over an unoccupied federal building that exists mainly to hand out pamphlets to birders in the summer, is another demonstration of this. Whatever the ostensible reason for the takeover is, the underlying racial anxieties that are actually motivating this are pouring forth. Ammon Bundy told the media, “The Black Lives Matter movement, they can go and protest, close freeways down and all that stuff, and they don’t get any backlash, not on the level that we’re getting.”

The narrative here driving this is pretty obvious, really. The idea is that white people are an oppressed group and that the failure of the federal government to give white dudes millions of dollars of land, for free, is a violation of their rights equal to – let’s face it, they think it’s far beyond – killing unarmed black people or forcing black people to live under segregation.

Her conclusion:

It’s only the first week of 2016, and it’s clear that, for the next few months at least, the discourse is going to be dominated by a bunch of conservatives having a massive temper tantrum over the fear of declining levels of white dominance. It’s still almost a month to go before the Iowa caucuses – much less the rest of the Republican primaries – so there’s good reason to fear this temper tantrum is going to get uglier before things finally get better.

And that leads to an extraordinary narrative just published in the Guardian, from Stephen Marche, the tale of a white guy from Canada who decides to drive down to Iowa to attend both a Donald Trump rally and a Bernie Sanders rally that opens with this:

You feel your whiteness properly at the American border. Most of the time being white is an absence of problems. The police don’t bother you so you don’t notice the police not bothering you. You get the job so you don’t notice not getting it. Your children are not confused with criminals. I live in downtown Toronto, in one of the most liberal neighborhoods in one of the most open cities in the world, where multiculturalism is the dominant civic value and the inert virtue of tolerance is the most prominent inheritance of the British empire, so if you squint you can pretend the ancient categories are dissipating into a haze of enlightenment and intermarriage.

Not at the border.

My son’s Guyanese-Canadian teacher and the Muslim Milton scholar I went to high school with and the Sikh writer I squabble about Harold Innis with and my Ishmaeli accountant, we can all be good little Torontonians of the middle class, deflecting the differences we have been trained to respect. But in a car in the carbon monoxide-infused queue waiting to enter Detroit, their beings diverge drastically from mine.

I am white. They are not. They are vulnerable. I am not.

So, as he expected, he gets through the border easily enough, and then there’s America:

For people who love to dwell in contradictions, the US is the greatest country in the world: the land of the free built on slavery, the country of law and order where everyone is entitled to a gun, a place of unimpeded progress where they cling to backwardness out of sheer stubbornness. And into this glorious morass, a new contradiction has recently announced itself: the white people, the privileged Americans, the ones who had the least to fear from the powers that be, the ones with the surest paths to brighter futures, the ones who are by every metric one of the most fortunate groups in the history of the world, were starting to die off in shocking numbers.

Marche is more than puzzled:

The Case and Deaton report, Rising Morbidity and Mortality in Midlife among White Non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st Century, describes an increased death rate for middle-aged American whites “comparable to lives lost in the US Aids epidemic”. This spike in mortality is unique to white Americans – not to be found among other ethnic groups in the United States or any other white population in the developed world, a mysterious plague of despair.

In one way, it was easy to account for all this white American death – “drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis”, according to the report. It was not so easy to account for the accounting. Why were middle-aged white Americans drinking and drugging and shooting themselves to death? The explanations on offer were pre-prepared, fully plugged into confirmation bias: it was the economy or it was demography or it was godlessness or it was religion or it was the breakdown of the family or it was the persistence of antique values or it was the lack of social programs or it was the dependence on social programs.

Case and Deaton call it “an epidemic of pain”.

That’s something to think about:

On the I-94, you do find yourself asking: what the fuck is wrong with these people? I mean, aside from the rapid decline of the middle class obviously. And the rise of precarious work and the fact that the basic way of life requires so much sedation that nearly a quarter of all Americans are on psychiatric drugs, and somewhere between 26.4 and 36 million Americans abuse opioids every day. Oh yes, and the mass shootings. There was more than one mass shooting a day. And the white terrorists targeting black churches again. And the regularly released videos showing the police assassinating black people. And the police in question never being indicted, let alone being sent to jail.

And you know what Americans were worried about while all this shit was raining down on them? While all this insanity was wounding their beloved country? You know what their number one worry was, according to poll after poll after poll?

Muslims. Muslims, if you can believe it.

And then there’s the Trump rally:

Trump let the tension build; the angry absurd men and the cheerful, helpful women hollered. Trump! Trump! Trump! I could barely imagine the pleasure the muted sound of his chanted name, from backstage, must have been bringing the man.

When he finally took the stage, the crowd surged; their phones surged. It was an orgy of phones. The men behind Trump scanned the crowd with their phones. The cameras in the back were recording everyone recording each other. Trump was the only person not holding a screen, the absence that brought desire. He started roaring, as everybody in the crowd stopped to check the footage they had gathered.

Trump started out with the clip he knew would appear on the news the next morning – Joe Biden had dropped out of the race and Trump approved of his decision because Biden never had a chance and Trump wanted to face Hillary. The mainstream media adroitly handled, Trump began his disquisition on the subject dearest to his heart: his own success.

The Burlington rally marked the 100th day he had led the polls. He read the polls, poll after poll. He paused only to ask the crowd how great the polls were. “Beating Hillary nationwide do you love that?” The crowd approved of his approval numbers. And so he moved on to the more qualitative aspects of his greatness. His opponents just weren’t winners. “I speak from the brain but I also speak from the heart,” he said, rambling like a rich know-it-all uncle – “I’m bringing back the jobs from China!” – with brief digressions into self-pity: “Macy’s was very disloyal to me. They don’t sell my ties anymore.”

He described, in twists intermittently frank and self-deluded, the brilliance of his own capacity for political manipulation. He talked to the people he was spinning about how cleverly he was spinning them. So he declared “I’m a good Christian” and that if he became president “we’re going to be saying Merry Christmas”, but then he couldn’t stop himself from acknowledging the cleverness of his Christian electioneering: “I walked on to a stage with a Bible, everybody likes me better.” Trump brought meta to Burlington, Iowa. And he did not deny the crowd that taste of celebrity they desired. What would he say to Caroline Kennedy, the ambassador to Japan? “You’re fired!” “You’re fired!”

A few spectators started to drift out to beat the traffic and Trump shouted about the silent majority and about how he says what nobody else dares to say and about how he will end free trade and how Mexicans are car thieves (big laugh) and how he wants a piece of the action from the Keystone pipeline and how he’s going to help women’s health and how America used to be emulated. “The American Dream is dead but I’m going to make it bigger and stronger!” he shouted. At this moment he appeared to me the way every celebrity I have met in the flesh does, like a living pagan idol awaiting sacrifice, a puff-faced Baal. “We’re going to win so much,” he promised before leaving the stage to Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It”.

That’s just a taste of it. The many chats he has with the locals after the rally show that many of them consider Trump a total jerk, unlikely to do anything he says, but he will do. They’re white. They’re used to getting screwed over. There’s a lot of despair in the air, and then there’s the Bernie Sanders rally:

The same specter of angry white people haunts Saunders’s rally, the same sense of longing for a country that was, the country that has been taken away. The Bernie crowd brought homemade signs instead of manufactured ones, because I guess they’re organic. They waved them just the same. They were going to a show. They wanted to be a good audience.

The fundamental difference between the Trump and Sanders crowd was that the Sanders crowd has more money, the natural consequence of the American contradiction machinery: rich white people can afford to think about socialism, the poor can only afford their anger.

So they got this:

Eventually Bernie wandered out. The phones went up. The phones went down. “Enough is enough,” he shouted, leaving blank what there’s been enough of. And then he talked about how he wanted to end the war on drugs and campaign finance reform and government that isn’t for plutocrats, and how they were going to build a revolution (such an embarrassing word to hear uttered out loud), and America was going to be a social democracy, by the people of the people.

Sanders’s exasperation was the principal fact to be communicated, more than any political content. Trump was about winning again. Sanders was about having lost. The vagueness of American politics is what astonished the outsider. It’s all about feelings and God and bullshit. Sanders actually uttered the following sentence out loud: “What we’re saying is when millions of people come together to restore their government we can do extraordinary things.” Nobody asked what he meant. Nobody asked for numbers. They applauded. Better to take it in the spirit in which it’s given, like a Catskills resort comedian.

There was a kind of emptiness to it all, at both rallies:

As despair has suddenly spread like a fabulous mist over the white people of America, as the white people die off in their unprecedented numbers, the commenters are surprised, a bit, but they have no plan of action. No policy proposals aim at ameliorating the conditions of white people.

How could they? If you believe the Case and Deaton report, white people are victims of their own privilege – literally. Their cherished right to own guns and the vast increase in the ownership of weaponry means that their suicide attempts are more effective. They have more access to opioids because doctors are more likely to trust white people with them. They have the money to make themselves lonely and drink.

I remember reading a passage from Bell Hooks once, the kind that circulates on Facebook because it sounds slightly unusual in its predictable virtue. “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males,” she wrote, “is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage is psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves.”

Her compassion is admirable, glorious even, but also inaccurate. No one is more emotional than a piece-of-shit white man. They are sentimentality personified. How else can so many be moved to rage over the absence of a Christmas tree on a Starbucks cup?

Marche then drove back to Canada. He’d seen enough. The brief Age of Obama was coming to a close, and these particular white folks had misunderstood it anyway. The world really was closing in on them, or closing down on them. Trump reminded them of that. Bernie Sanders said the world was closing down on everyone, except the very rich, removing race from the equation, as if it mattered. And, as they say, darkness fell. And now it gets darker.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Unbearable Whiteness

  1. Rick says:

    About W. Kamau Bell’s “White people, come get your boy”:

    “Donald Trump isn’t a Republican issue or a rich people issue or a human issue. Donald Trump is a white people issue. Whenever Ben Carson says batshit crazy nonsense, Black people rise up, and let him know that he needs to STFU. Whenever Raven-Symone pops off, we put her cap back on. We even handled Rachel Dolezal for you. Yes, we also make jokes and come up with clever memes and hashtags, but at the core of all that is that we are letting these people know that they are embarrassing us as Black people.

    It is time, white people, for you to finally step up and recognize that you also (even more so) have a responsibility to your race. It is up to you to silence Donald Trump. Don’t just insult him and make fun of him. You have to connect it to your race. Recognize that he is embarrassing you as a white person. Simple snark won’t win here. You have to feel it. You have to use words like “as a white person” and “he is an embarrassment to my race.”

    Stop acting like Trump isn’t the pinnacle and the result of America’s history and tradition of white supremacy. And again, P.S.: Simply put, white people, come get your boy.”

    Not a chance, Kamau.

    First of all, I am not one of those people who thinks black people should “take care of their own.” If you feel like telling Ben Carson he’s wrong for thinking a Muslim shouldn’t be president or whatever, be my guest. But please don’t do it because he’s “embarrassing Black people.” I feel qualified to tell Carson the same thing, and I don’t care if he’s disgracing his race or not. His race is just fine. It’s not his race that’s saying something stupid, it’s him.

    Yes, yes, I know! White people have always told black people they should speak up when other black people misbehave. First of all, white people shouldn’t tell you that, and second of all, you shouldn’t listen to them.

    Furthermore, even if none of that were true, Donald Trump’s major transgressions are so wide-ranging, they are hardly confined to racism, particularly not just anti-black racism. And while so many of us white people may always be saying not everything is about race, and so many black people reply that “everything is about race”, you have to understand that this may be true if you are part of minority, particularly one that has suffered historical persecution, it’s not to those of us in the majority. You’re probably much more aware of Donald Trump being white than I am. In truth, the fact hardly ever occurs to me.

    While it can easily be argued that Barack Obama and Jesse Jackson and Alan Keyes are “famous black people”, Donald Trump is not a famous white person. Yes, technically, he’s famous and white and even a person, but unless you’re a person of “non-whiteness”, it’s hard to see “whiteness” as being one of Donald Trump’s distinguishing features. So no, my own whiteness notwithstanding, I can’t be held responsible for Donald Trump — even if I could control him, which I can’t.

    So here’s the deal:

    I will not be holding you responsible for everyone of your whole race, so please don’t hold me responsible for mine.


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