Fair warning, I use a lot of we/us in this piece to refer to White Progressives and #NeverTrump Conservatives because that is the intended audience of this writing. I will admit upfront that this is an imperfect piece of writing, and I welcome any and all attempts to refine my thinking on the matter.
I want to push back against something that has been creeping up in my newsfeed lately which is the call to make peace with Trump supporters by looking past the things that divide us and focus on common ground. Normally I’m all about making nice-nice with people (being a softy liberal and all), but I don’t think we can, in good faith, ignore White Supremacy if we are to have a meaning reconciliation that isn’t just unity around mutual Whiteness that throws people of color under the bus.
Just so that we’re all on the same page, I want to be very clear about what I mean when I say White Supremacy, and to do so I’ll borrow this quote from legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley:
By “white supremacy” I do not mean to allude only to the self-conscious racism of white supremacist hate groups. I refer instead to a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.
The New York Times put together a handy illustration of White Supremacy in response to the #OscarsSoWhite campaign back in February. That such disproportionate representation of White people in positions of social, economic, and political power does not strike most White folks as unusual or bothersome reflects the internalized belief that this is the normal and natural order of the universe.
Conversely, when a state of White Supremacy is disrupted (such as by the election of a Black President or by the increased prevalence of people of color in previously segregated communities), it is taken as evidence that something has gone terribly wrong and must be corrected. As the adage goes, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”
Thus the potency of a slogan like “Make America Great Again” which promises a return to the nostalgic era in which White men were in control of the levers of power in this country, and people of color were more firmly locked into a permanent underclass away from White communities.
This is not to say that all or even most Trump supporters identify as White Supremacists or racists. I do not believe that to be the case. You do not need to identify as a White Supremacist to support White Supremacy in your words and actions.
This is also not to say that preference for White Supremacy is unique to Trump supporters. I think it is endemic in America and affects the vast majority of (if not all) White people, including White Progressives.
I am also not saying that Trump supporters are unkind in their everyday interactions. While the rise in hate crime correlating with Trump’s prominence is not to be ignored, I do believe that most Trump supporters are just as capable of politeness and decency as anyone else. However, politeness and preference for White Supremacy are not mutually exclusive.
What I am saying is that the ease with which a large proportion of the voting public fell in line behind a demagogue who scapegoats people of color as a threat to social order reveals a preference to return this country to stronger form of White Supremacist society. Even for those whose stated priorities are other aspects of the Trump platform, the vote represent at a minimum a blasé attitude towards White Supremacy. Likewise, the rapidity with which White Progressives have called for a unity that ignores (and thus leaves in place) White Supremacy reveals this same willingness to throw people of color under the bus by perpetuating a White supremacist social order.
It is for this reason that I reject and call others to reject this false peace which perpetuates White Supremacy. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”