White Supremacy in the Age of Trump

Roundup
tags: racism, Charlottesville, Trump, White Supremacy



Keri Leigh Merritt is an independent historian in Atlanta, Georgia. She is the author of Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South. Follow her on Twitter: @KeriLeighMerrit.

Since before the election, poor white voters largely have been blamed for the rise of Donald Trump. Although their complicity in his election is clear and well established, they’re continually targeted as if their actions are the primary reason Trump won. Yet higher-earning, college educated whites supported him not just electorally, but in other important ways as well.

It’s quite easy to brand the working class as the most rabidly xenophobic and racist group of whites. Whether they’re brandishing Confederate flags or vociferously vowing to “Make America Great Again,” their beliefs about white supremacy are completely exposed for the world to witness. It’s much harder to see how those atop the economic pyramid not only greatly benefit from white supremacy but actually use racism to their advantage — generally from behind the scenes.

In short, when we hold the working class responsible for white supremacy, other whites are absolved of racial wrongdoing. By allowing the spread of civic ignorance, by propagating historical lies and political untruths, and by engendering an insidious form of racism, upper class whites are undoubtedly just as culpable — if not more so — than working class whites in the quest to maintain white supremacy.

Certainly, there is no apology for the racism of working-class whites, nor any excuse; but we should seek to understand the ways in which white supremacy and power are completely intertwined. Throughout American history, the economic elite have used vile forms of racism to perpetuate the current hierarchy — politically, socially and economically. White supremacy is most commonly conceptualized as a way for lower-class whites to feel socially superior to people from other ethnic backgrounds. More important, though, white supremacy is a tried-and-tested means for upper class whites to grow their wealth and power.

Whether pitting laborers of different races against each other, stoking racial fears through a sensationalistic and profit-driven media or politically scapegoating entire nationalities, America’s white elite have successfully modernized age-old strategies of using racism to prevent the formation of a broad coalition of people along class lines. ...




comments powered by Disqus