Why are White People so Angry?
This country was founded on two diametrically-opposed myths, the second coming symbiotically and weirdly out of the first, like a siamese twin struggling to free itself from its host.
The first myth that underpinned the American ethos was White Power. In this land, White People could be free — to own Black slaves. While embracing the George Washington ‘freedom fighter’ mythology, which justified revolution and violence (directed against empire and taxation, mind you!), the early Protestant American mythology simultaneously embraced — hell, encouraged — what we could call the American Dream 1.0: that you, too, could become a slave owner one day!
No wonder many White Americans still tacitly, and sometimes even explicitly, embrace White Exceptionalism, and are angry when its memetic roots are pointed out and threatened: they literally believe, even if it’s sometimes unconscious, that White People deserve to be superior — and that this ‘truth’ is implicit in the definition of America.
The second founding American myth, which rose obliquely out of the diseased flesh of the first, was what we would consider the more ‘modern’ and publicly-proclaimed American Dream: that anyone (White), with enough hard work, can ‘make it’ here. This is the ‘Land of Opportunity’ myth — the American Dream 2.0.
All American history emerges as a life-or-death struggle between these two myths.
The first myth, created by violent White Protestant revolutionaries who wanted political freedom while owning Black slaves, is still the (often unconscious) foundation for modern American conservatism.
This second myth, founded by other types of (less-psychopathic, if not always less violent) White Protestants, is what led to religious tolerance, the ‘acceptance’ of immigration, Ellis Island, etc., and forms the backbone of modern American liberalism and progressivism.
What’s important to understand here is that these two competing founding myths originally intertwined into a sort of Hegelian dyad that did not just ‘pull America part’, but at the same time, like tectonic plates creating new land, formed it.
In its own twisted, ironic way, ‘Manifest Destiny’ was born out of the intersection of the two myths, where a belief in White Exceptionalism coupled with a nascent version of the ‘anyone (White) can make it here’ mentality to encourage poor White People to go West — to slaughter their way into new lands.
The tragic irony of history, though, is that without Manifest Destiny there would be no Ellis Island. Because, while White westward expansion was disastrous for indigenous and non-White people, its aftermath created the first real concept of a ‘unified America,’ a true nation that transcended a loose association of states and required a real “Federal Government.” This tension — between Federal and State — mirrored the tension between the anti-slavery and pro-slavery camps, and fed directly into the Civil War, where slavery (the motivating force for Southern secession) was seen by Lincoln and co. as the primary existential threat to the definition of America.
In the wake of the Civil War and the establishment of an overarching sense of a trans-state, all-encompassing “America,” the second American myth — that ‘anyone (White) can make it here with hard work’ — expanded throughout the land. This ‘Federal’ version of the American myth passed down to the ancestors of second- and third-wave White European immigrants, many of whom became more liberal and progressive than their White counterparts who had been in the US longer. This is why you will almost never talk to a modern liberal or progressive who advocates for ‘states’ rights’ — because they equate ‘equal opportunity’ with federalism.
Unfortunately, while the second American myth — the ‘land of opportunity’ — rippled out to gradually include other White European immigrants, like the Irish, Italians, and even Jews, it only partially extended to non-European immigrants like Asians, Hispanics and Latinos, etc., and, far worse, never reverberated back to include African Americans, whose ancestors had been here from the ‘beginning’.
It is still very hard for White people to accept Black people into their American Dream myth. This is because, for White People, this country’s two founding myths are not only historical-political movements but active psychological impulses, like Christ vs. Satan. All White Americans, no matter how ‘liberal’ on the outside, have to wrestle with being taught —infected — with the competing beliefs that 1) white people are superior and deserve to own Black slaves and 2) America is the land of opportunity, and anyone can make it here if they work hard.
A White American cannot look at a Black American and not think, in some twisted, buried fragment of their psyche, I should own you. This sickness is rarely, if ever, talked about, especially by White People.
Historically, the push-pull of the cognitive dissonance between the two myths ironically fostered modern liberalism, but the dichotomy is no longer needed. Now, the competing myths just pull our country apart, pull White families apart (read Faulkner), and pull individual White consciences apart. A terrible polaric tension, like a bad headache you can’t get rid of, is the historical and day-to-day reality for modern White Americans. We can no more ignore the continued presence of the first myth inside of us than we can pretend that we are unbound by gravity on the earth’s surface.
America was founded by White People who believed they were racially superior to Black People, and their White ancestors — even if they are Irish, Italian, Jewish, the children of ‘immigrants’, etc. — still have to wrestle with that psychosis.