The Eternal Narcissism of White Privilege
The nomination of Donald Trump by the Republican Party has spawned a growing body of punditry seeking ways to explain Trump’s rise without directly addressing racism, bigotry, and xenophobia.
The explanation du jour cautions critics of Trump supporters, arguing that Trump is attractive to working-class whites who have legitimate fears.
The simple answer is that these people–my people–are really struggling, and there hasn’t been a single political candidate who speaks to those struggles in a long time. Donald Trump at least tries.
The four-year-old Joel frets about his mother: “She’s not looking at me. No one ever looks at me.”
The consequences of white privilege include that privilege is both ever-present and thus invisible — much as we says that fish don’t understand water.
And thus, while working-class whites have suffered because of disaster capitalism and the vast majority of the policies implemented by the Republican machine they support, the narcissism of privilege among working-class whites in the U.S. blinds them from two powerful and damning facts:
- White privilege buoys all whites in comparison to black and brown people in terms of socioeconomic opportunity and wealth as well as shielding whites from the negative consequences of the U.S. judicial system and policing. Just as two examples, whites who dropped out of high school have the same employment opportunities as blacks with some college, and blacks constitute only about 12% of the U.S. population, but mass incarceration impacts 2207/100,000 blacks compared to 380/100,000 whites.
- Working-class whites have supported Republicans for ideological reasons linked to religious and racial bigotry — while disregarding how that commitment has been self-defeating to their own interests. As Neil Gross explains: “Union decline [as a subset of many economic factors, I want to add] has left the [white] working class politically and economically vulnerable, and it’s this vulnerability Mr. Trump has been able to exploit.”
This “O, crap!” moment for working-class whites isn’t without merit, but it comes with the same sort of false logic found in the South where whites shout for blacks to “Get over slavery” while clutching and waving the Confederate battle flag and screaming “Tradition!”
Again, as a life-long Southerner, I am compelled despite my own skepticism about organized religion, especially the fundamentalist kind of my home region, to proclaim that working-class whites need to have a Come-to-Jesus moment.
First, while recognizing the power of white privilege regardless of socioeconomic status is essential, working-class whites must forefront the concerns of black and brown people who suffer disproportionately for the mere fact of their race in the U.S.
Next, working-class whites must form a solidarity with all people who share their social and economic needs: working-class status is more significant for equity in the U.S. than religious or racial differences.
And finally, working-class whites must reject the “Make American Great Again” mantra since there is no compelling evidence to support either that the U.S. was once great or that somehow the expansion of freedom and equity beyond whiteness is anti-American.
Again, in a blazing display of illogic, while working-class whites remain committed to mythologies such as “a rising tide lifts all boats,” they have politically resisted expanding* marriage rights to homosexuals, social and economic equity to black and brown Americans, equal pay for women, American citizenship for immigrants, the end to mass incarceration for recreational marijuana use — all of which raising the tide for everyone in the U.S. by growing freedom.
If we concede to the mainstream whitewashing of Trump and his supporters; if we continue not to name bigotry, racism, and xenophobia; if we only attend to anything once it becomes a white problem — we are failing the very thing the Right and conservatives are so quick to shout about: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The “yes, but” narcissism of white privilege once again is shouting over #BlackLivesMatter, and their ring-leader is the king of shouting over substance.
Working-class whites need to put on their grown-up pants, sit down, listen patiently, and wait their turn — finally.
* And ideologically refuse even to acknowledge these inequities exist or matter.