It’s been a long time since I last blogged, but Trump’s election left me speechless. Then I read the latest Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report on white supremacists and was suddenly struck by how pathetic their beliefs are. I’m better because my skin is white? Skin color isn’t even one of my accomplishments. It’s like little kids boasting “I’m older than you are.” Wouldn’t it be more valid to base one’s worth on something internal? Probably that’s what experimenters realized when they tried to correlate white skin with larger brains, more refined morality, etc. Their attempts, now discredited, are an admission that skin color is a feeble basis for superiority.
Do we need white supremacy to compensate for our individual disappointments? My mother based her superiority on the triple bulwark of race, ethnicity, and religion. We were WASPS, “not Catholic, not Irish,” she often added, to reinforce the point. But mother had few personal accomplishments, and her ambition was to be rich and a member of high society. She was thrilled when I dated the grandson of IBM’s founder, ate steak with his family, and drove around his property in an antique car. She was furious when I turned down his invitation to go yachting because I’d already promised the day to a young man of lower class.
I can understand that she resented my failure to bring her status. I can understand that she was not content with having kept me well-fed, clothed, and educated. I don’t understand what kept her from trying to find herself and to take pride in her own accomplishments. By ninth grade, I had an inkling of what I might accomplish and no longer needed to rely on being a WASP. But perhaps personal disappointments—unemployment, poverty, and a sense that the American dream is no longer possible— lie behind today’s resurgence of white supremacists.
Of course, supremacy denotes power. For our own safety, we’d like to be members of the group in power, and, in America, that’s people with white skin. I’ve certainly benefited, and I’m well aware of the institutional injustices that people of color have been powerless to prevent. It’s natural to fear that people who don’t look like us won’t share our interests and so will trample us if given power. White people, black people, Latinos, Asians, Muslims—all of us want to protect ourselves. Trump’s “Make America great again” was a familiar appeal to white supremacy. But did white people win?
Trump really represents Wall Street, corporate interests, and billionaires. Look at his cabinet nominees—certainly mostly white (and male) but all members of the 1%. Look at his policies. Trumpcare would have reduced by millions the number of people who have healthcare while letting each of the nation’s 400 richest families save $7 million per year. Medicare, Medicaid, and social security are on the chopping block. Investment brokers who handle retirement funds will no longer have to put their clients’ interests ahead of their own compensation or company profits. Banks may risk our savings. The Environmental Protection Agency is being decimated, and global warming, which threatens our existence, is denied.
The 1% is now supreme, the group with power. They do not share our interests, and they will trample us. People of color will be hurt the most, as usual, but so will the rest of us. For all our whiteness, we are watching our social safety nets disintegrate while the richest among us get tax breaks.
White supremacists have been duped. Skin color has nothing to do with values. If we want supremacy and its power to protect, we must band together with people who may not look like us but who share our interests. We’ll need a platform that rises above the divisiveness of race, ethnicity, and religion—a platform based on the need for shelter, sustenance, and security. And we must vow to vote in such numbers in 2018 that no elected official dare ignore us. Paradoxically, our success will give each of us a sense of personal accomplishment.