What does the presidential campaign tell us about being a good citizen and divisions among whites?: What will happen afterwards?

October 8, 2016

 

 

We have reached a new low in this campaign season, if anyone thought it wasn’t possible. This election season is intimately related to racism and sexism but I think there is an aspect that has not been fully explored- internal divisions and conflicts among white Americans (specifically men). Trump’s campaign has been as much about exploiting internal divisions among whites and within whiteness, as exploiting antagonism between/across 'racial' groups. As someone who thinks about intersections of race, class and gender regularly, I am surprised there are not more explicit discussions of how the rise of Trump is related to poor and less educated whites, specifically white men feeling abandoned by more highly educated middle and upper middle class whites, specifically men. They feel they have been abandoned by this group in favor of non-white racial groups and women. People often reduce this to a class issue, but it is not just about class differences. It is about the value, meaning and entitlement to things that these poor whites attach to being white. It is about the value, meaning and entitlement conferred by their whiteness, and often manhood, changing and diminishing. It is way to assign blame for failing to achieve the American dream. Indeed, different groups of whites are attaching different meanings to what it means to be a good citizen. For some that means embracing diversity in terms of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation and religion and letting those groups have more of a shot at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This is a version of the politics of respectability, but among whites, and specifically men. The whites excluded from this discussion, or more properly those who are the subject of the discussion, feel stigmatized by these shifts which suggest they are “less-than” because of their way of life or their beliefs. They are challenging this new view of what it means to be a respectable white person. To have conversations about divisions in whiteness also means having to admit that racism and sexism are woven into the founding of this country and the compact on which it has relied. Intra-White relations have informed the compromises made between this country’s “original citizens”- white men -- and “others.” And because they were woven into the fabric of American society, they are difficult, if not impossible, to extract, from that fabric. Indeed, “peaceful” intra-White relationships have been integral to the “smooth” functioning of this country since the end of the Civil War often at the cost of minority (folks of color and women) rights. The New Deal, and its exclusion of blacks, is but one example, the rolling back of civil rights legislation, a process still playing out, is another. My fear is that just like during the post-Civil War era, and just like in the post-Civil Rights era, in this new era of intra-white racial conflicts, the rights of minorities will ultimately be compromised and used as a bargaining chip to reunify white Americans. I have been hopeful that I have been hearing more people talk about systemic racism. Either way, come November, whatever the results, the folks who have been activated don’t go away.

Please reload

University of Maryland, College Park

© 2015 by Dawn M. Dow. Created with Wix.com

  • Facebook Social Icon
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon