The Fragility that is White Supremacy
White supremacy is not an ideology that has resurfaced under the United States’ 45th administration — rather, it has evolved and manifested itself more prominently now that the chances of being policed and reprimanded have significantly slimmed. Despite what some would argue, this notion did not cease to exist after the signing of the emancipation proclamation nor after the inauguration of Barack Obama.
In Toni Morrison’s article, titled “Mourning for Whiteness,” not only does she highlight the contemporary, collective struggle faced by immigrants coming to the United States that requires them to eliminate their “fealty to their native country and regard it as secondary, subordinate, in order to emphasize their whiteness,” but her prominent point is a topic that should be more openly discussed: how the hold whiteness has very incrementally weakened over time and how white people .
Even in the first decades of America’s “founding,” white supremacy has woven itself in the minds of its people, who yearned to be uniquely defined and formally recognized as a progressive and just nation. Although many former Europeans viewed this as an opportunity to culturally reestablish themselves, this ‘shedding’ of culture seems to be more prevalent for immigrants who fail to phenotypically represent what Morrison defines as the “unifying force” that is whiteness. A looming question seemed to remain: with the United States’ gruesome history of Native American genocide and African American enslavement, how could they proclaim “all men are created equal” and “liberty and justice for all?” Not only did they need recognition, they needed justification.
White supremacy devotes significant effort towards its self-preservation. This is evident throughout history and present day; scientists and politicians cunningly incorporated notions of white supremacy in their respective fields of work — eugenics, the pseudo-science rooted in social Darwinism, and legislation today, such as the recent executive order barring immigrants from entering the Unites States are just two examples of the implications of white supremacy.
Morrison elaborates on this process of ‘mourning’ whiteness, pointing out the flawed logic in the peculiar institution of white supremacy, by noting its obvious frailty. Denoting them as “sacrifices,” she mentions how white supremacy has driven people to compromise their “human dignity” and “risk the appearance of cowardice.” Although it seems easy enough for white supremacy to evoke feelings of hatred, resentment, and bitterness, one must realize that those who benefit from white supremacy are victims, too, under its reign — this is not, however, comparable extent to those who do not enjoy the privileges attributed with white supremacy. Their ostensibly hate-fueled words and actions are actually terrified.
The disheartening outcome of the 2016 United States Presidential election was only possible because of the fragility that is white supremacy. As Morrison so poignantly emphasizes: the mere thought of inclusion and diversity overcoming the current system we live under is the precise impending fear for white Americans, eliciting such a visceral reaction that they ignored the red flags that he proudly waved in the nation’s face and cast their votes both against their own interests and towards his campaign — one that disguises its violent intentions toward the vulnerable as a façade of strength.
But is this behavior irrational? Morrison argues that the reaction of those benefiting from the implications of white supremacy in the face of its imminent demise are doing what is expected of them; who, in their right mind, would voluntarily cede the convenience that is whiteness — to never have to worry about being treated as a second-class citizen, about being racially-profiled, about becoming another unarmed victim of state-sanctioned violence. Relishing in these privileges is concomitant.
The entire 45th administration, not only its orange front-man, is comprised of white supremacists (no exaggeration here). Steve Bannon, the Chief Strategist, is an firm believer in preserving the white identity. Betsy DeVos, a billionaire who literally bought her position of Secretary of Education, only sees a future in nonsecular, privatized education. Although these are only two examples, the other members all come from privileged backgrounds. None are accurate representations of the middle-class they ostensibly vow to protect. The administration has repealed the Affordable Care Act (or more famously known as ‘Obamacare’), barring access to healthcare for millions of citizens, implemented a pay freeze to federal employees, and other acts so unprecedented, we scan news outlets with bated breath, awaiting what incredulous tweet or act will come from him and his cabinet of ineptitude.
In the face of the irrationality of his entire campaign and first month of presidency, Morrison encourages mourning even those who contributed to the election of this administration and the administration itself, which recognizes how the vulnerability of the institution of white supremacy is toxic to all and not just those it serves to benefit.