The state of the states at the moment gives most of us cause for deep concern. Just over a week into Trump’s term and we’re already seeing the likes of Steve Bannon have his way over domestic policy. Many have drawn parallels between the Trump administration and the rise of the National Socialist Party of the ’30s, but there’ll be plenty of time for that in another post. It’s been discussed by many already, and most of the steps in the rise to power have already happened. Instead I want to shift the focus to the rise of white supremacy.
As a kind of cultural renewal of sorts, lately I’ve been rewatching films that centre around a call to arms over a single issue. Shortly after the Inauguration it was Dr Strangelove, and last week it was American History X. People talk about incremental gains of power, but don’t seem to see how this may happen. None of happens suddenly, unless we’re complacent. That’s the main message behind American History X (although it takes a long time getting to that point.) We can try to trace back the rise of fascist and racist tendencies to a single traumatic incident or a charismatic figurehead, but white supremacy comes with a smile and reassuring words. After reliving relatively recent events, the film cuts to a scene at the dinner table where an impressionable teenage boy is talking about sociology assignments, only to have his father, his heroic firefighting father, bring it into question, casting doubts about the value of and motivations behind affirmative action. His points seem reasonable and measured, giving reassurance to his white family, living just above the poverty line, that there’s a reason they are struggling. Let’s not deny that there’s white poverty in the USA, and that poverty divides people who should really be uniting (next film on the list is Dogville.)
What happens next is that the father is killed by a black man, and his son becomes a white supremacist. That’s what most people would say is the turning point in his life, but it can’t be. He was a white supremacist before his father’s death, and indeed it was his own father’s hate speech that lead him down that path in the first place. (It’s worth acknowledging that on some level, racism and xenophobia are at least in part inherent to our nature.) The ideas surrounding white supremacy and its social acceptance are imparted very early in life. When you’re sitting around the kitchen table, basking in the glow of your role models, without any opposing views, it’s easy to accept that you’re caught in a race struggle. Not everyone finds such reassurance in their parents’ views, indeed you only have to look as far as the Westboro Baptist Church to find examples of children who “broke free”. It’s when there’s a lifetime of reinforcement that feelings of hate and alienation turn into violent actions.
That’s the context in which we should be seeing the rise of the white supremacists today. They’ve been surrounded by the people they love and admire, sharing a common outlook, and now they finally feel bold enough to speak up and to make their voices heard. This is not a campaign of persuasion, it’s one of awakening. Of course there are tales of people being talked into adopting a white supremacist ideology (often feeling they’d been tricked through sophisticated wordplay) but that’s not the same as attaching a political stance to one’s own internal emotional convictions, and they’re usually few and far between. There are enough people who have always felt that there are too many Muslims in the USA, that when Trump declared “We need a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States while we figure out what the hell is going on.” there wasn’t enough opposition to stop him from winning the election. His supporters nodded along, they didn’t find themselves in the thralls of a revelation.
At the 2016 election the stage was set for Trump. After eight long years of a black Democratic presidency, the white supremacist vote was primed to coronate Trump. (Consider the following: while many liberal people are currently asking how to oppose the rise of this new régime, the ultra conservative wing of the Republican party were equally perplexed about how to defeat the unprecedented success of Obama.) When Hillary Clinton joined the race for President, Trump saw his chance. The Republicans did not win this election, the Democrats lost it (although that’s yet another blog post.) By repeatedly attaching labels to Obama and his presidency, Trump was able to speak out to that sizeable minority in the swing states that would give him a slender electoral majority. He owes his success to appealing to the fear and hatred of Mexicans, of Muslims, and of women. It’s no surprise that Bannon has free reign and is acting as puppet master.
Within a week of taking office, Trump announced the blanket ban on Muslims entering the USA from certain nations (conveniently leaving out those with which he has business deals, but again, not fodder for this blog post.) It’s hard to gauge what the real purpose behind this ban is. It’s clearly ludicrous and unsustainable (“while we figure out what the hell is going on” is so poorly defined it has no end in sight) and yet it’s in force. Some think it’s a first step in testing the American people to see what they’ll tolerate. If they stand idly by while these rights of passage are taken away, what else will they accept? Alternatively it may be the case that this is what Bannon has wanted for decades and is only now finding himself able to enact such measures. On the other side of the world, and much closer to home, the US-Mexican border will be lined with a wall. Again, this is an attempt to keep the USA as white as possible, a nation of whites for whites.
So far, all this seems fairly obvious. The question that keeps returning is what can we do about it? The reality is not pleasant. We find ourselves under the thumb of these new white supremacist masters, but the important thing to remember is that we outnumber them. For every neo nazi skinhead out there, there are ten decent white people, some of whom will stand up for the rights of others. Some isn’t enough. If we’re to retain any moral high ground and dignity we need to speak out and remind everyone just who is in the majority. I mention white people because although we can’t do this without a multi-ethnic base of support, we also can’t do it without the white majority. It’s obvious that we need the support of Latino, Muslim, and African American organisations to oppose white supremacy, but if the white Anglo-Saxons stay quiet then we’ve already lost. As long as there’s an argument about how race determines a person’s worth we need to retaliate by saying that white supremacy diminishes us all.
When someone sees me in the street they should be asking themselves if I’m a white supremacist or not, because only by challenging that assumption can we hope to eradicate the hateful divisions we see. As long as there’s white supremacy in our politics I want to keep having to fight and oppose it, and for its mere presence to bring shame on those who are born white. It’s not just harmful to those who are not white, it’s offensive to those who are, and no white supremacist ever acts in my name. White isn’t right, it’s far right and alt right. It’s alright to be white, but never alright to be all white. I don’t want the colour of my skin to matter (although it always will) and the only way I can see that changing is to be on the receiving end of racism for once. If that’s the only way to energise sane white people, then so be it. Prove you’re on the right side of this. Don’t hide in the shadows.