The Fate of Our Nation May Rest on Our Ability to Talk About White Grievance (Draft)

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” Abraham Lincoln said that, and I agree with him. I’ve talked a lot about the Russian threat, but, really, I’m confident the threat would be relatively small–that we could deal with it effectively–if we were more unified, instead of polarized. If I had to name the biggest threat to our country, I might choose polarization–specifically, polarization revolving around race. I’m no historian, but my sense is that race has been an existential threat from the founding, and the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement or Barack Obama’s election hasn’t extinguished this threat. At the same time, my sense is that racism, especially the belief that whites are superior to non-whites, may not necessarily be the major threat now. Instead, what I would like to suggest is that
white grievance–the sense of anxiety and resentment white Americans have towards losing their majority status to non-whites–might be the greater threat, especially if far more white Americans feel this grievance, to some degree, instead of believing whites are superiority or white nationalism. In this thread, I’d like to do two things. First, I want to explain the reasons I think racial tensions pose an existential threat to our country. Second, I want to explain the difference between white grievance and white supremacy and the reasons I think understanding and expressing these differences when we talk about race is vital to extinguishing the threat.

Distinguishing White Grievance From White Supremacy and White Nationalism and Why That Matters

What’s the difference between white grievance, white supremacy, and white nationalism? Here’s my understanding: To my mind, the former is a natural, human response towards the loss of power–social, cultural, economic–that accompanies the loss of majority status. Since we’re talking about the U.S., I’m using the term “white grievance” because white Americans are, and have been, in the majority, and their majority status is declining or perceived to be on the decline. It’s important to remember though that grievance towards losing power is universal, not specific to white Americans. For example, I would expect the residents of a predominantly African-American community to feel fearful and angry at a massive influx of Somali refugees that lead to dramatic changes in the languages, clothing, food, festivals, businesses, religion of that community. Violence or institutional discrimination may not occur against the Somali immigrants, but I would expect at least some African-Americans to feel fear, resentment and even some level of hostility towards these refugees–specifically for dramatic changes occurring because of the latter. Or imagine a work place in the 1990s making a dramatic shift towards computers, creating significant changes in status and power among the employees–with the more computer savvy (usually younger) employees gaining more status and power and the less computer savvy (older) losing both. I would expect the less computer savvy to also feel aggrieved–angry and resentment at the workers gaining power. The employees could be of the same race, and I would expect these feelings of resentment.

In contrast, race is central to white supremacy and white nationalism. According to my understanding (and maybe I’m wrong), white supremacy is the belief that whites are superior to non-whites, and white nationalism involves the idea that white Americans are the “real” or “true” Americans, while non-whites are either illegitimate or not fully legitimate Americans. From what I understand, people who embrace white nationalism also embrace white separatism, the idea that whites should live separately from non-whites–and should remain “pure.”

While I believe understanding and making the distinction between white grievance and white supremacy/nationalism/separatism is crucial, in reality, I don’t think there are clear cut demaractions between these phenomena. My sense is these beliefs and feelings can blend together in variety of ways–with some of the beliefs being present in varying degrees. Some individuals may reject white supremacy/nationalism/separatism, and only experience very minimal feelings of grievance. Others may experience more intense levels of grievances, leading higher tolerance or rationalization of white supremacy, etc. Later I want to explain why making these distinctions is crucial, but for now I want to recognize that the situation isn’t clear-cut or binary.

Another point I’d like to make before moving on is that all of the above could lead to racist behavior and racist policies. That is, behavior and policies that discriminate against individuals of certain racial groups. White grievance could lead to racist rhetoric and behavior, even support for racist policies–even if the individual rejects white supremacy, etc. But it also may not lead to those things. In my view, while I believe designating white supremacy as racist is appropriate, I don’t think white grievance should be labeled as such. Why?

What I’m suggesting is to address race relations using this framework–address the white Americans who feel this sense of grievance, and do so in a way that distinguishes these feelings from racism. Feeling anxious and angry because of changes that diminish one’s status and power doesn’t make one a bad person, but holding racist beliefs generally does. Because of this, thinking and talking about these feelings is critical. To lump the white Americans who are struggling with social changes into the same category that includes the KKK or Steve Bannon is a dead end that will never lead to a solution, and will likely make things worse.

If my assumptions are correct, the solutions will involve finding healthy, constructive ways to deal with the negative feelings that come from these social changes

Other articles and sources to read:

From Salon: White Identity Politics and the Shutdown Vicious Racism Got Us Here

The following thread is a by a historian. Recommended:

4 thoughts on “The Fate of Our Nation May Rest on Our Ability to Talk About White Grievance (Draft)

  1. I wanted to share quick thoughts on a campaign ad that Trump tweeted on his twitter account and the idea of sending troops to the border to stop immigrants from coming into the country. Specifically, I want to discuss, in a good faith way, what might be going on in the minds of those who find both things appealing. I want to exclude explanations that point to racism or any other evil intentions. First, here’s Trump’s tweet:

    Also, here’s a tweet criticizing the notion of sending troops to the border:

    I think there are many people who would sympathize with the ad and the notion of sending troops to stop the caravan of immigrants. Some, perhaps many of them, will find aspects of the ad distasteful. For example, they may not believe that the majority of immigrants are murderers, and they may object to fear-mongering tactics of the ad. And yet, there are aspects that they would sympathize with. Off the top of my head, here are some possibilities, as well as their thought process about these issues:

    1. They may be deeply worried about the changes that are going on in the country–specifically, the loss of power and status by white majority. The caravan might be a symbol of that, and sending troops to the border and decrying Democrats for being soft on the border can also signal that the someone cares about these things and is fighting to stop it.

    2. They may believe that the changes are happening too rapidly, and that the Democrats don’t care about the pace of change. I might have the most sympathy for this view. I do think change that occurs too rapidly can be destabilizing and bad. However, I also think that people who use this argument may not just object to the rate of change, but the actual changes themselves–changes that would cause a group to lose their majority status.

    Assuming these things are true, I would like to examine the following questions, with Americans that fit the description above:

    1. Do immigrants, in this case, specifically the ones coming from Latin-American countries, make our country far less safe? Are we letting in a lot of criminals?

    If there is strong evidence that the answer is no, then it’s reasonable to question if the politicians are being dishonest and attempting to whip up fears in order to maintain or gain political power. In other words, they’re attempting to play the voters.

    2. Is the rate of change happening to quickly? I’m not sure if this could be answered in an objective way. That is, this ultimately be based on a matter of perception. We could look at the rates of immigration and compare them to other times in history and to other countries. But assuming, we couldn’t really agree on this, here’s the next question I’d ask…

    3. Would the changes be acceptable if they occurred at a slower rate? If one saw more non-whites in a community, heard different languages spoken, saw different restaurants or public celebrations–would one be comfortable with this? This is a critical question in my view, and I’m not sure if we would get honest answers.

    But if many of those who sympathize with the ad and sending troops would not be comfortable with the social and cultural changes I described, then that’s something we have to closely examine and discuss. Specifically, what are the reasons that someone is uncomfortable and/or opposes these changes, and what are the implications? We should all be able to agree the idea that whites are superior to non-whites would not be a good reason. In other words, if the opposition to social and cultural changes–immigration–is based no white supremacy, then such an opposition would lose legitimacy. I would hope what I’m saying isn’t controversial by the majority of those sympathizing with ad and sending troops to the border.

    What are some other reasons? One possible reason is a discomfort and a sense of resentment at the loss of social, cultural, and possibly economic power. I have sympathy for these reasons. Resenting the loss of power is a human reaction. I think most people, regardless of color, resent the loss of any type of power. However, what we should ask is whether this justifies specific policies like–sending troops, building a wall, deporting illegal immigrants who have lived here for years as productive, law-abiding citizens, separating children and parents at the border, leading to parents never seeing their children again in some cases.

    Additionally, while some may feel resentment at the loss of power, we should note that the resentment is directed at groups of people who are gaining power and status in our country. Opposing this because they look different, practice different religions, celebrate different customs, etc. seems highly problematic. To wit, doesn’t this contradict the American ethos that all men are created equal, that we are to be judged by the content of our character, not the color of our skin. While resentment at the loss of power is understandable–and doesn’t necessarily make one a racist or evil–should that resentment lead to preventing the social and cultural changes that I describe above? If one allows the resentment to do this, aren’t we moving close to denying people of growing social and cultural status based on their race and culture? Is this consistent with our American values? Is this the type of America we want to be?

    Now, I can think of a problem with what I’m saying–and perhaps those who like Trump may also raise this objection–namely: What if the changes themselves lead to radical changes–for example, changes to the American values I’m citing? I would respond to this with a question: Suppose we create and require assimilation programs–that is, ways that immigrants can learn about the history and values of the country, and learn English? That is, if immigrants were to successfully embrace core American values, would the objection to social and cultural changes vanish? If not, that would suggest that resentment (or something worse) is the source of resisting change.

  2. Comments and thoughts off the top of my head.

    His research has discerned a general assumption among many GOP voters that elections are already rigged against them, via a shady alliance between minority voters and the Democratic Party that goes well beyond voter fraud and includes what is in effect vote buying via government handouts.

    I’d like to ask those who feel this way a question: Don’t government handouts benefit (poor) whites as well?

    A part of me thinks that ideas like Democrats creating policies that only help non-whites and that non-whites are voting illegally in huge numbers are symptoms of resentment at losing their majority status (or outright racism). That is, they’re looking for ways to justify and explain this resentment and anger.

    The alleged mass killer at a Pittsburgh synagogue is said to have acted on a belief that a caravan of immigrants was coming north, under the guidance of nefarious Jews, to overrun white people in the U.S. His action, a racist mass murder, was monstrous….

    …By this reasoning, the nonwhite citizens who are “in the tank” for Democrats are similar to the alien horde pressing toward the nation’s vulnerable “open” gates. The alien inside and the alien outside are twin elements of the Democrats’ effort to multiply Democratic votes.

    I have several thoughts, here:

    1. The conspiracy about the immigrants reminded me of a New York Times Daily podcast that discussed the rise of anti-semitism in the U.S. The podcast also brought up the concept of “white genocide,” which is the belief that increases in non-white population and interracial marriages will cause white population to diminish and disappear. There are racist elements of this–e.g., white genocide is objectionable because whites are a superior race. There is also a crazy conspiracy element to this–e.g., Jews are bringing in non-whites to make “eradicate” whites.

    My guess is that only a small percentage of whites feel this way. However, there could be a bigger group that responds to some elements of this idea. While this group may not view increases in the non-white population as “genocide,” they may see it as a decline in their influence and status–and that makes them anxious and resentment. The idea of interracial children may seem scary and alien–creating a social and cultural world that is new and confusing. How will they fit into this world? Will they be treated well?

    In my view, we have to help these people deal with this resentment and fear in a more constructive way. Part of this involves not demonizing them for their reaction. Another part of this is helping them see and experience that non-whites aren’t so different and alien as they may thing, and that children of mixed ethnicities are something positive to be embraced.

    2. If Democrats are appealing to non-whites to get their vote, why can’t Republicans do the same? Shouldn’t they do that? And if not, why not? Do white Republicans not want the GOP to create policies that help non-whites?

    If Democrats’ political power stems from minorities, why isn’t this seen as a political failure by Republicans–versus something nefarious and unfair by the Democrats?

    The broader electorate may be ready to reject GOP control of at least the House on Tuesday. Perhaps that will deter Republicans from advancing their race war. But it’s possible that they’ve steeped in their resentments for too long, and traveled with Trump too far. They may not want to go back, or even know how to.

    I think the way out of this is to talk about white grievance in a way that doesn’t automatically equate it with racism. As far as I can tell, no national leader is discussing this.

  3. Thread from Tom Nichols that I want to comment on. Here’s the thread:

    Counter-intuitive though it may seem, Trump winning was a political disaster for the white working class, especially older whites. They were once pandered to in elections; now it’s no longer possible to indulge the pretense that their concerns are economic – or fixable. /1

    That’s because there’s no ground for a policy fix or a compromise with people whose basic position is that they want America to be white, sorta Christian, and frozen in 1963 – except with 2018’s drugs, sexual liberty, govt transfer payments, ESPN channels, and internet porn. /2

    (emphasis added)

    (I just want to interrupt and add that males having more power should also be added here. Back to the thread…)

    That’s why I’m tired of people declaring conservatives (like me, Boot, Rubin, Wilson and others) who still believe in limited government, fiscal responsibility, a superpower foreign policy, and individual freedom to be “not conservatives” because we won’t pander to populists. /3

    Who’s more liberal? Us, or the working class Trump voters who are always looking to Daddy to excuse them for out-of-wedlock births, their embrace of a defeatist foreign policy, rampant drug abuse, chronic underemployment, and endless demands for government solutions? /4

    This “it’s not your fault, the system has it in for you” bullshit pioneered by Bannon and weaponized by Trump is something conservatives castigated liberals for saying to minorities years ago. And rightly so: it deprives people of agency and responsibility. /5

    If sucking up to small-town populism – the worst melding of ignorance and self-pitying, insecure nationalism – is now “conservative,” then the word has no meaning. Conservatives were once prudent, incremental, patriotic, and stoic. (Like, say, the President who just passed.) /6

    Yes, we were also hidebound, resistant to needed change, overly cautious, too wrapped up in our sense of tradition, and often indifferent to the struggles of others. (We were also the counterpart to progressives who needed the sensible ballast of prudence and judgment.) /7

    Conservatives and liberals need each other to make progress. What we’re seeing with Trumpism, especially two years in, is neither conservative nor liberal. It is a stubborn demand that the world treat white working class adults like children. To coddle them with soothing lies. /9

    (emphasis added)

    Comments:
    1. Our country does need conservatives and liberals to make progress–or to go about making progress in the best way.
    2. Trumpism has changed the nature of the conservative-liberal dichotomy. The tension involves illiberal/authoritarian/enthno-nationalism, on one hand, and liberal democracy/rule of law/pluralism on the other.

    So enough with the woes of the Iowa farmers who fear black and female presidents, or New Hampshire townies who fear immigrants without ever seeing one anywhere near them. That’s not “conservative” any more than Occupy Wall St guys taking dumps on police cars are “liberal.” /10

    I don’t know what it’s going to take for Generation Fox to figure it out. I now seriously doubt they will come to their senses, if they ever had any. (This is why I have very little hope that anything Mueller or anyone else says is going to move that 30-40%.) /11

    (emphasis added)

    What I’m suggesting in this thread is that these white supporters of Trump need therapy. This should first involve communicating that feelings of resentment and fear at social and cultural changes does not necessarily make them a racist. That is, make a clear distinction between white resentment and racism, acknowledging that racism is bad but feeling resentment is not.

    Next, I think we need to talk about ways of coping with these changes, dealing with this resentment in a way that is not destructive–that doesn’t lead to supporting a person like Trump or the type of policies that are cruel and un-American (e.g., prosecuting every illegal immigrant, which leads to separating parents from their children).*

    That intransigence is the disaster for the white working class: because it shows there’s no point in trying to compromise with what were once legitimate concerns about taxes, foreign affairs, education, etc. They’ve traded that agenda for mindless Trumpian ethno-nationalism. /12

    Yes, there’s no point if most of the Trump supporters really don’t care about these things.

    That kind of political agenda can’t be reasoned with. It can only be defeated. And realizing that this is no longer a rational political debate is not good for America (or Europe, or anywhere else), but that’s how it has to be. /13x

    The problem, as I see it, is that defeating the agenda (and Nichols mentions voting as a way to do this) is that this won’t make white resentment go away. I think it’s only going to prolong it. I feel like talking about this resentment without demonizing those who feel it is an important way to deal with and eventually exorcise these feelings.

    Here are some tweets from someone who responded to Nichols:

    I agree with most of this, except I think the most difficult thing for you (Boot, Rubin, et al) to come to terms with is that, in terms of intensity, the US right has always been racist. That’s what motivated the ground troops, not prudence, stoicism, & fiscal responsibility.

    Sorry, that’s too simple. Put it this way: US conservatism got as far as it did because resentful whites (both working class AND suburbanites) saw that the small gov’t/low tax/foreign belligerence agenda, in practice, aligned with protecting white power.

    If I were in your shoes, I would be thinking about how much electoral juice prudence, stoicism, & fiscal responsibility have once you strip them of white resentment. How many people were really in it for that aspect of conservatism? Current evidence suggests: very few.

    What I like is the way Roberts recognizes that “racism” may not be the best term, so he switched to “white resentment.” I agree with his main points about conservatism. I would add that I think there is another group of Republicans, maybe the most influential, who are wealthy and represent business interests. My sense is that the conservative ideology, policies, and philosophy don’t matter to them, unless it helps preserve their wealth and power.

    *Edit

    Voting for Trump may make one feel good because he’s raging against the changes that are occurring; he’s giving a very loud voice to the resentment towards non-whites, and the fear towards Muslims and immigrants. And he’s creating the impression that he’s fighting against these changes.

    But we have to show that there is a better alternative to dealing with these feelings. We can acknowledge these feelings, and not demonize the people who feel them and show them another way. The other way involves working through these resentment, anger, and fear; and talking about why this is a better alternative to supporting Trump and his policies.

    Off the top of my head, I think part of this discussion has to include American values and ideas. Are white Americans more American than non-white Americans? Do we want a country based on one’s race, religion and gender–that is, should we see white Christians as true Americans while non-white, non-Christian Americans should be considered less American? Is that the type of America we want to live in? Should this be what it means to be a real American? I do not believe this is American, and I do not believe this is a defensible position. I also that only a small number of white Americans will feel this way. (If I’m wrong, then we have more white nationalists than I thought.)

    If I’m right, then white American (Christian males) have to work through their feelings of resentment–they shouldn’t affirm and elevate these feelings. They’re not evil for feeling these things, but they shouldn’t allow these feelings to cause them to support un-American politicians and policies.

    More later.

  4. Is this racism, white grievance, or both?

    I don’t know. It could be several combinations of those options. My main point is that it may not be racism (white supremacy), and I think we should focus on those who are driven by grievance. These people may support the type of actions above out of this intense resentment and fear. If the support is largely emotional, then I’m suggesting we help the work through these emotions, which includes not demonizing them for these feelings.

    After that, I’m hoping we can examine the type of policies above. Why exactly would we take out “Madison and Millwaukee?” Can we agree that taking them out because they’re largely non-white would be wrong? Can non-whites rise in social, cultural, and economic status? Can non-whites, non-Christians be just as American as white Christians? If not, why not?* I think this kind of discussion can help people think through their values and beliefs and maybe expose the ones that are not really compatible with American values and the American creed.

    *Edit

    What’s the reason for keeping Muslims out or a harsh crackdown on illegal immigration? Does the reason involve national security and safety? If so we can examine to what extent both groups pose a threat.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *