Running on Identity Politics

Making whiteness a tangible object

Donald Trump won due to drawing upon an overwhelming share of the white vote by appealing to identity politics. Identity politics is when voters group together based on a common social background to form a political alliance. Donald Trump was not the cause of this racial divide in America, but he exploited it ruthlessly and efficiently to which voters, encapsulated by his vision of an America for white people ran by white people, elected him to office. Trump was often the center of intense criticism by the left for his explosive rhetoric against minorities. From the very beginning of his campaign he targeted Mexicans, that rhetoric later expanded to Blacks, Asians and Muslims. Ever since the 1964 civil rights act, white people have seen their racial privilege dwindle in power to a weak fraction of what it once was. This reality, stoked by conservative media’s slowly evolving rhetoric of reverse discrimination that invokes fear of the other caused a debate in this country which pit every political issue as a struggle between whites, and the other. Trump was a symptom of this as he internalized these white ideals and vocalized them on a national stage for others to rally around. This gave a green light to those who were harboring these feelings but kept these feelings closeted because they felt they were in the minority or for fear of rejection. Trump was unabashed and unfiltered and said all the things they dared not say. Giving more power to those who believed their power was being revoked by those who they considered other; immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQ community. He played into the socio-economic fears of white Americans by making extensive use of racial scapegoats and then promising to address those issues in a straight forward way. He asserted Mexicans were the reason for the loss of jobs and the perception of the increase in crime. He asserted Muslims were the reason for the increase in worldwide terrorism. He asserted that all issues were the fault of enemies of the white race and he alone was the cure. In Sara Ahmed’s A phenomenology of whiteness she poses the question of what the results would be if we noticed whiteness.

“If whiteness gains currency by being unnoticed, then what does it mean to notice whiteness?”

Throughout Trump’s campaign trail we watched as whiteness became a physical, visible, at times tangible something, or an “essential something” as Ahmed put it. The idea of reverse racism started to gain momentum again and those who believed that the spread of equality meant that they were being targeted and discriminated against grew louder and louder. Ahmed states that whiteness as experience disappears as it is experienced, you can see this coming into play when those that are white claim to have experienced oppression, these people claim to have never benefited from white privilege, that they have received the same opportunities as all other people and given no extra advantages due to their skin color. Since these people are born into it being able to see it in action from their own point of view is a difficult task. Similar to trying to see your nose, which is always visible, but your brain eliminates it to clear your line of sight; this is called “unconscious selective attention.” Bits of information that aren’t useful in the sensory realm are overlooked. A white person’s privilege could be viewed in much the same way. It does not negatively interfere with or threaten their day to day lives so it becomes background information that goes unnoticed by their own self conscious. This continues until they are confronted with the prospect of others achieving equality, typically packaged by the media as the other gaining something at their expense and then their power, which is experienced by them as merely existing, becomes threatened. It is only then that their whiteness is obvious to them but not as a thing of privilege but as right that is on the verge of being violated and removed. Trump’s campaign ran on a promise of protecting these rights to those who truly believed that this monolithic group of the other was out to eliminate them. Promising to uphold the views of those who were not only white but also those that were Christian, heterosexual, and cisgendered he was able to rally the support of enough minorities to push him over the finish line to victory. As bodies that fit into the normative roles they too benefit from certain amounts of privilege. These groups also felt threatened by the idea of things outside of their self-prescribed norms being given the same rights which they operated under. Being able to rally around someone who had promised, and upheld those promises, to advocate for the perceived injustices and violations against the true America they loved so dearly empowered them. This served to validate their misguided ideas that they are the minority group at risk of genocide. White America has always operated under the perception that things were equal amongst all people because that is how America operated for them. There was no perceived injustice against white people until the advantages that they received were exposed and measures were taken to rectify them by redistributing the unequal power back to the disadvantaged people.