Saying Goodbye to a Slaveholding Democracy in 2021…

The question no one is asking following the failed insurrection in the U.S. Capitol last Wednesday is, Did Donald Trump succeed in co-opting the United States?

And the answer is yes, and by controlling the racial divide in America with its origins rooted in slavery but maintained by social and economic inequities.

America has long stood on two sides of the same coin of whiteness. Either abolitionist or confederate, privileged and supremacist, rage and fragility. The extreme version of this high-stakes divide is rooted in the oligarchy of the American South and part of American democracy.

Whiteness, broadly and fundamentally, is not just about racial identity and perceived and beneficial rule of white over blacks originating from the South. Rather, it is the acceptance of predominancy when the oppressive politics orchestrated mostly white and historically slaveholders affect whites alongside blacks. Trump’s appeal to whiteness was as old as the slave codes devised by slaveholders to keep black slaves oppressed and overseers working.

What Wednesday should remind us is that there was more than a breach in our government when unmasked mobs of pro-Trump supporters barraged Congress ripping the fabrics of democracy. It was an antebellum political struggle mirroring the structures and antagonism of old but often unspoken. The more events that transpire, the more realization we acquire; the more we get close to the truth: It is not denial but the silence that keeps Americans living and hiding in the shadows of slavery.

Silent racism is what moves across institutions, and for as long as slave catchers became police, slaveholders as politicians, and female abolitionists as social workers. (And let’s not be ignorant of what truly ignited this Trump revolution: a slave descendent becoming the first black First Lady of the United States!)

Thus, what does not surprise me about democracy at the dawn of the most diverse administration in American history is that Trump’s militia left many Americans either outraged, traumatized, or gloating over the outright fetishism of violence and blood lust. But what is most disconcerting to unpack is how we perceive this collision of the American past and present before getting closer to a more unified future.

Consider interpreting two countermovements and their relationship with 18th-century slave codes. Black liberation movements and the alt-right regimes across American history illustrate different ends of the American experience. Any form of slave resistance was a problem among slaveholders and poor white laborers in the colonial South, from which Black Lives Matter (BLM) represents.

To white immigrants, whose ranks were commonly second to slaves, slavery gave them social and economic status. Still, these whites were likely underemployed, uneducated, and faced similar treatment to blacks we see today. In a post-racist America, or what we believed to be, one can not help but notice the similarities between the poor working-class then and now.

Just like the slaveholding class in the 18th-century, Trump is the epitome of wealth and power in the American South, manipulating lower working classes, but in this case, to terrorize and overthrow the government. However, this slaveholder mentality in American democracy has circumvented the fear of black resistance and shared power from one generation to another and across professions where social controls deprive people of color.

As an MSW holder, I am often questioning myself what part do I play, as a social work leader, in abiding by the resistance of conflict-driven social change. The more I protest in Washington, D.C., and Portland, Oregon; the more I realize that no matter how much progressives and liberals reimagine institutions in American society free of racism, it will be difficult to end it when we do not intentionally address and dismantle disparities.

If a revolution were to successfully occur in the United States, a critical starting point of social and economic reformation should begin in a profession known for dealing with problems of poverty and inequalities. And that is social work. Social workers are the ones who carry the brunt of the responsibility to protect the social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of public services. But what makes this profession so problematic is how misguided savorism strengthens the urban-rural division of poverty, leaving many rural communities underrepresented.

Needless to say, it is no coincidence that the same states with the lowest welfare spending have a lower cost of living and a lower percentage of households receiving public assistance are Trump’s largest voter base. These states included but were not limited to Georgia, Utah, South Dakota, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Nebraska, Virginia, and Idaho.

So as we simultaneously call to defund the police, we need to take a racial and economic equity lens to the inadequacies across rural and small-town, not just urban or metropolitan areas. The first step to challenge the system is to create and expand recruitment strategies in social work education and practice in rural communities and begin to get to the roots of racism in America. This era is a pivotal time in American history that represents the bad, worse, and ugly of American fascism, but also an opportunity to build America back in a better way until it is no longer blinded by colonialism. In the wake of this new Biden administration, the time to find the loose thread that unravels an entire colonized system is now.

To be continued…

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It is without question that an ideal efficient market, the sum of adequacy and equitability, is a utopia: one that does not marginalize and fail to empower and create trust and safety among its consumers. It’s just how we get there, is not a black issue but a societal one.

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Shauntia White, MSW

Shauntia White, MSW

Founder, YSocialWork, Inc. | TIAA/Do Good Institute Fellow, University of Maryland

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