Toussaint column: The politics and dangers of white resentment
When I was about 6, a neighbor’s white terrier turned on me and — for reasons I couldn’t begin to understand — ripped open a bloody gash beneath my eye. Even though decades have passed, I’m still wary of small white dogs.
I wonder if people of color feel that same flinch of fear around white people?
I’m pale enough to have never been mistaken for anything but a Western European mutt, unless you count comedian Don Rickles calling me a “Mormon broad.” (Which makes the same point.)
I have always carried the invisible backpack of white privilege: I wasn’t born into money, but I have never worried about the police arresting me without cause. I attended neighborhood schools that were always good ones, watched TV shows about people who looked like me, and was never stereotyped as violent or lazy. In short, I had the privilege of almost never having to think about race.
Since watching videos of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, though, I have been thinking about it a great deal. Specifically, I have been asking myself, “What makes gangs of white people behave like packs of wild dogs?”
Virtually all of us white folks are descended from voluntary immigrants; our forebears weren’t kidnapped and dragged away in chains. Our families weren’t broken up, sold or deported. Most of us were able to enter the U.S. legally, without crossing killing deserts or being smuggled in by gangsters preying upon the weak and desperate. We don’t fear lynching. Nearly all of us have been able to follow our religious views without persecution. We can pretty much live where we want, travel where we want. Vanishingly few of us have ever gone hungry.
Despite all that, there’s no doubt that “the politics of white resentment” fueled both the election of Trump and the attendant rise of white supremacy. While resentment over vanishing jobs, poverty, losses of class and social rank are shared by white males and females of all ages, the acts of violence — ranging from the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City to the vehicular homicide inflicted on Heather Heyer — have been committed by young, white males.
I’m not alone in wondering why. Recently, seeking answers, essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah dug into the background of Dylan Roof, the white supremacist who shot and killed nine black citizens during a prayer service at Charleston, South Carolina’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Ghansah’s query, printed in Gentlemen’s Quarterly under the title “A Most American Terrorist: The Making of Dylan Roof,” noted that Roof and other far right terrorists are young, white, undereducated and “armed to the teeth” for the race war they believe is coming. They’re “extremely socially awkward … until their eyes are opened to the fact that within the world of white supremacy, they can find friends.” Young white supremacists call that radicalization process “weaponized autism.”
While in jail, Roof wrote, “Even your most brain-dead white person can see that there is nothing to look forward to … nothing good on the horizon.”
That the blame for an empty future is focused on people of color, immigrants and Jews is nothing new. That’s been going on since Reconstruction. What has changed is technology: The internet has enabled dangerous, disaffected young men to easily find one another, share a philosophy of hatred and plan violence. Simultaneously, media coverage of both protests and the election hastened the decline of what the radical right calls “political correctness.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center counted almost 900 incidents of hate or bias in the 10 days after the presidential election, then counted 1,094 incidents in the first month after the election. The 2016 hate crime tally rose 20 percent from the prior year, according to SPLC. As lack of social censure has declined, hate crimes have continued to rise.
We muzzle vicious dogs so that they don’t injure people, and social science has shown that it’s similarly important to muzzle vicious speech. Even in packs of wild dogs, animals that betray the social rules, straying from canine political correctness, get disciplined by pack leaders.
What we got from the White House instead was a whitewashing of an event that, seen on videotape, was horrifying. Despite Trump’s assertion, “fine people” weren’t marching to protest a statue’s removal; marchers didn’t even mention the monument. They did chant Nazi slogans such as “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.”
Frankly, fine people who find themselves in such a situation leave. And recognize swastika-waving behavior for what it is. Treason.
To call it anything less not only denies history; it dishonors the 416,800 American service men who died in World War II fighting to defeat Nazism.
Nicolette Toussaint of Carbondale writes a monthly column.