White People Elected Trump. Now What?

Trump supporter holding a “Make America Great Again!” rally sign

Last night’s electoral win for Donald Trump was the logical conclusion to a combination of the United States’ racist genesis plus decades of relentless right-wing organizing.

Many white folks across the country are reeling right now — shocked that the country could elect an avowed racist, misogynist, xenophobic bully. Unfortunately, last night’s election results aren’t so shocking for folks of color who live that reality every day.

White progressives across the country, especially, are waking up in disbelief. And while we can’t pretend that last night wasn’t also a punch in the gut for us, it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone who’s paid attention to progressive organizing over the past eight years.

The strategies the left has used have not worked.

For decades, white leaders on the left have engaged in an avoidance strategy on the topic of talking race with white people — and this election cycle was no different. Even as racist rhetoric and even racist policy platforms were being used as an explicit organizing strategy by Trump’s campaign and by associated right-wing groups, white progressives refused to talk about race. Instead, the Democratic Party and other organizations doing electoral work spoke about race in coded language, when they talked about race at all.

In this vacuum, white supremacists have continued to build their numbers and influence. Today, at this very moment, there are more chapters of the Ku Klux Klan than there are chapters of Showing Up for Racial Justice — and that’s not even counting other white supremacist/nationalist groups, militia groups, that have caught hold across the country over the past few decades.

We are losing, and the cost of losing is high.

In this moment, white people of conscience need a different strategy for organizing other white people in this country. That strategy must engage millions of white people in a direct and honest conversation about race and the economy in this country, grounded in our values, that moves people to collective action at a scale never seen in our lifetimes. We must be making real investments in transformative organizing in rural and working-class communities — communities that have been left behind by elected officials and targeted for recruitment by the alt-right. Now is the time for white people of conscience to act — it is time to dig in, it is time to be bold, and it is time to start making up for centuries of lost time.

Erin Heaney and Heather Cronk are interim co-directors of Showing Up for Racial Justice Action (SURJ Action), which can be found online at www.surjaction.org.