the "eldritch energies" of whiteness
September 7, 2017 11:55 AM   Subscribe

"The foundation of Donald Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy." Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic on Trump and the history of the denigration of blacks to shore up the social position of (especially, poorer) whites.
Indeed, the panic of white slavery lives on in our politics today. Black workers suffer because it was and is our lot. But when white workers suffer, something in nature has gone awry. And so an opioid epidemic among mostly white people is greeted with calls for compassion and treatment, as all epidemics should be, while a crack epidemic among mostly black people is greeted with scorn and mandatory minimums. Sympathetic op‑ed columns and articles are devoted to the plight of working-class whites when their life expectancy plummets to levels that, for blacks, society has simply accepted as normal. White slavery is sin. [Black] slavery is natural. This dynamic serves a very real purpose: the consistent awarding of grievance and moral high ground to that class of workers which, by the bonds of whiteness, stands closest to America’s aristocratic class.
[Content note: use of the racial slur redacted in quote above, by member of the targeted group]
posted by praemunire (95 comments total) 125 users marked this as a favorite
 
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” - Lyndon Johnson
posted by Navelgazer at 12:37 PM on September 7 [41 favorites]


This essay is amazing. It covers a lot of ground; it's written with great confidence and intensity; it takes some savage swipes at Trump; and it made my pale hide feel really uncomfortable -- which I believe is The Point.

Coates just comes out and says what others (mostly white) have side-stepped or shied away from stating so bluntly: the system is racist to the core. Each time he suggests swapping "white" for "black" after describing a situation, I wince.

I am going to let it simmer for a day, then read it again tomorrow.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:40 PM on September 7 [47 favorites]


It really sums up and then goes well beyond the things I've always wanted to say whenever I feel that Mefi discussions of current cultural politics are straying into "but the poor working class! People in Boston look down on their sandwiches! It's only natural that in response they should kick the nearest person of color!" territory.

For those of you interested in doing more reading about the particular historical topic in an academic framework, the classic study here is Edmund S. Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom. (It's an older work, though; I'm sure there are more recent ones.) One of Coates's real strengths is taking a historical phenomenon and tracing its relentless operation down to the present day, in a vivid and compelling way.
posted by praemunire at 12:47 PM on September 7 [15 favorites]


I was struck by this Twitter comment : "A less disciplined writer might spend half this article explaining what parties should do strategically. Coates doesn't. Also: nobody knows. " Coates' essay is fierce and moral, which is its strength. It does not, though, touch on the reality that it's important to acknowledge everything he says, and then still go out and win more elections. I disagree that 'nobody knows' how to do that. A black man was elected POTUS twice. All is not lost.
posted by twsf at 1:00 PM on September 7 [19 favorites]


Props for the use of both eldritch and orcish. Also I think I liked this article more than Mark Lilla's recent one against identity politics. Democrats aren't going to win by abandoning core principles to capture the white working class. Of course, nobody does know how they can win, but at least TNC is being honest about the problem.
posted by fraxil at 1:09 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


Props for the use of both eldritch and orcish.

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes absolutely no attempt to conceal the fact that he's a giant nerd, and I love it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:15 PM on September 7 [51 favorites]


Of course, nobody does know how they can win

It's worth keeping in mind that 3 mil + popular vote margin. The problem was not getting the majority of those who voted to vote for the Democratic candidate. The problem was a system specifically created and constantly tinkered with to dilute urban, etc. votes. Now, that is the system we have, but it's not the system we have to have forever. Even losing all those white demos, and even though, IIRC, whites generally have the highest voter turnout, Clinton still took home the popular vote.
posted by praemunire at 1:17 PM on September 7 [31 favorites]


The world's thinking since Nov. 8 is shaped by what was triggered because of the votes of fewer than 100,000 people in 3 states. The search for the ONE reason Clinton lost is childish. It's race; it's the Russians; it's Comey; it's her limitations as a candidate; etc. etc. Again, a black man was elected President of the United States twice. Clinton won 3 million more votes in 2016. Everything Coates says about race in the U.S. is true. But he has been quite open in interviews that he doesn't hold out much hope. I just disagree. We can win elections. We can diminish racism. It requires hard work. It requires unsparingly looking at ourselves in the mirror - individually and as a society. But that's where we start. It isn't where we end.
posted by twsf at 1:25 PM on September 7 [21 favorites]


I've said it probably half a dozen times here, but I'll say it again: Some day, there will be an asterisk by pretty much every nonfiction Pulitzer of the 21st Century, and at the bottom of the page: * -- Inexplicably, not Ta-Nehisi Coates.
posted by Etrigan at 1:26 PM on September 7 [19 favorites]


I don't think Coates is purporting to describe the single reason for Trump's victory. E.g., while the article doesn't really address it much, it's clear that he's aware of the gender dynamic operating, as well. I think he'd say that Trump's brand of whiteness was a necessary condition to his election, but not a sufficient one.
posted by praemunire at 1:31 PM on September 7 [13 favorites]


We can win elections. We can diminish sexism.
posted by Oyéah at 1:32 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


FFS it isn't sexism vs. racism, it is heteronormative white patriarchy vs everything else.
posted by grumpybear69 at 1:44 PM on September 7 [81 favorites]


it isn't sexism vs. racism, it is heteronormative white patriarchy
...which is (D) ALL of the Above,
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:57 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


FFS it isn't sexism vs. racism, it is heteronormative white patriarchy vs everything else.

this is a really important point. that "heteronormative white patriarchy" is ALL the isms. it stands against everything that is not white, not male, not het, not cis, not "abled", not born-in-da-USA. this is the core understanding of intersectionality and why we all need to fight for the rights of all against the ism-ists.
posted by supermedusa at 1:59 PM on September 7 [24 favorites]


and hope it will all wendell. jinx!
posted by supermedusa at 2:00 PM on September 7 [1 favorite]


We can win elections. We can diminish sexism.

When white women across this nation are pulled from their vehicles by law enforcement and beaten or shot with the same frequency black folks of any gender suffer, I'll happily entertain this whatabout-ist detour. Until then, I'd suggest we perhaps should stop behaving in exactly the same fucking manner Coates describes white Liberals always acting in the article and actually, you know, discuss his article.
posted by Chrischris at 2:03 PM on September 7 [60 favorites]


...which is why I say emphatically that "Identity Politics" is the invention of White Cis Males and their main complaint is that it's no longer exclusively their domain.

Ta-Nehisi Coates makes absolutely no attempt to conceal the fact that he's a giant nerd
He went to work for Marvel writing the new Black Panther comic and proved that he's quite knowledgeable of the source material. He could probably beat MC Frontalot in a nerdcore rap battle.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:09 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


I think it takes a lot away from this essay to view it in a framework of "what should liberals/Democrats do to win more elections." If anything, one conclusion is that not nearly enough energy has been expended over the past 50 years solely focused on the unadulterated goal of fighting racism. Pointing out how close Clinton was to winning is kind of tangential to the point. Obama actually did win, twice, and it led directly to Trump's rise and a more dangerous time for people of color than we've seen in recent memory.
posted by parallellines at 2:31 PM on September 7 [45 favorites]


This article is just...jesus. There's so much there that it's hard not to pull-quote the entire article and write it in bajillion point font across the entire sky, but these paragraphs to me were killer:

An analysis of exit polls conducted during the presidential primaries estimated the median household income of Trump supporters to be about $72,000. But even this lower number is almost double the median household income of African Americans, and $15,000 above the American median. Trump’s white support was not determined by income. According to Edison Research, Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points. This shows that Trump assembled a broad white coalition that ran the gamut from Joe the Dishwasher to Joe the Plumber to Joe the Banker. So when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class. Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent. Hillary Clinton’s did, in states as disparate as Florida, Utah, Indiana, and Kentucky. From the beer track to the wine track, from soccer moms to nascar dads, Trump’s performance among whites was dominant. According to Mother Jones, based on preelection polling data, if you tallied the popular vote of only white America to derive 2016 electoral votes, Trump would have defeated Clinton 389 to 81, with the remaining 68 votes either a toss-up or unknown.

...

The focus on one subsector of Trump voters—the white working class—is puzzling, given the breadth of his white coalition. Indeed, there is a kind of theater at work in which Trump’s presidency is pawned off as a product of the white working class as opposed to a product of an entire whiteness that includes the very authors doing the pawning. The motive is clear: escapism. To accept that the bloody heirloom remains potent even now, some five decades after Martin Luther King Jr. was gunned down on a Memphis balcony—even after a black president; indeed, strengthened by the fact of that black president—is to accept that racism remains, as it has since 1776, at the heart of this country’s political life. The idea of acceptance frustrates the left. The left would much rather have a discussion about class struggles, which might entice the white working masses, instead of about the racist struggles that those same masses have historically been the agents and beneficiaries of. Moreover, to accept that whiteness brought us Donald Trump is to accept whiteness as an existential danger to the country and the world. But if the broad and remarkable white support for Donald Trump can be reduced to the righteous anger of a noble class of smallville firefighters and evangelicals, mocked by Brooklyn hipsters and womanist professors into voting against their interests, then the threat of racism and whiteness, the threat of the heirloom, can be dismissed. Consciences can be eased; no deeper existential reckoning is required.


White people need to reckon with what the fuck just happened. The white-working class dialogue post election has driven me batshit because it's just another condescending form of scapegoating and blame escaping. We are all complicit. There is something fucking rotten in the heart of white America, and ergo intertwined into all our systems and processes and norms. And until we look at it with clear eyes and name it for what it is - white supremacy - it'll just keep being swept under the rug. White America is fundamentally racist, and will absolutely burn the world down to protect our unearned privilege (the "bloody heirloom" from the essay). The bit where Coates talks about how the eroding of white status is an emergency while black Americans living in the same or worse conditions made me see flames. How much fucked up shit we've accepted as normal and reified as normal when it's not affecting white people.
posted by supercrayon at 2:33 PM on September 7 [76 favorites]


I hope this essay is required reading in American history classes 20 years from now, assuming our nation survives that long. I can't possibly convey how wonderful it is to have the case against the fetishization of "white working class" voters made so persuasively and so forcefully. Coates pulls no punches against monsters like Trump and David Duke or useful idiots like Nicholas Kristof and Mark Lilla, but he also goes after ostensible allies like Daniel Patrick Moynhian, Joe Biden, Larry Summers, and even Obama. All of these people have played a role in the campaign to define racism down and to explain it away as something more sympathetic.

It's pretty telling that the best that The Weekly Standard can do in response to Coates is this dreck, which consists mostly of complaints about the nerdy references, along with a pathetic attempt to disprove just one of Coates' claims (that Trump "has made the awful inheritance [more] explicit" than any previous President). This rebuttal hinges on the idea that Trump is less explicitly racist than Woodrow Wilson (calibrate your faint praise meters accordingly), but it's pretty clear to me that Coates' point was "Trump being elected president more explicitly demonstrates the power of racism", not that Trump's racist words and actions have been more explicit than Wilson's (though I think that's at least worthy of debate, especially if you judge each according to the baseline level of explicit racism in their respective eras.) But I doubt the Weekly Standard flunky bothered to read past the first paragraph, so I'm not surprised they'd just search for the first out-of-context claim he can refute, knowing his readers won't read it either.

I can't wait to see how the Chaposphere responds to this.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:36 PM on September 7 [23 favorites]


I can't wait to see how the Chaposphere responds to this.

why did I look
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:53 PM on September 7 [10 favorites]


All I've seen is some tweets from R.L. Stephens conceding some points from Coates but complaining that he doesn't offer any solutions, like that's Coates' job or something. And the usual smug "no true leftist" dickishness from Emmett Rensin. I want to see them take the time to go point-by-point with his arguments, not just tweet out hottakes.
posted by tonycpsu at 3:06 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


Very powerful article.

Apparently, the creation of scapegoat after scapegoat after scapegoat is necessary to gain the kind of power that these men want. Whenever it looks like they're losing their stranglehold, here comes another bout of textbook scapegoating, fear-mongering, whipping up whites into a frenzy of racialized violence.

What I find surprising is that so many [white] people, when they hear Trump (or whoever) scapegoating Obama or black people or Mexicans or whoever else, don't get a shiver and wonder when they're going to become the scapegoat, too. I guess they truly believe that they're special? That nobody would ever come for them? I guess it's like Coates says at the end, that one of the most dangerous things is that so many whites have drunk the poisoned white supremacist Kool Aid, and really think they're teflon. And what do I know, maybe they're right.
posted by rue72 at 3:15 PM on September 7 [22 favorites]


Apparently, the creation of scapegoat after scapegoat after scapegoat is necessary to gain the kind of power that these men want.

And, as the digression into the "Chaposphere" above goes to show, this is not exclusively a right-wing phenomenon. Trying to apply three-century-old European political alignments to modern American politics has always seemed a bit foolish but never moreso than now, when it seems like what we really have are a white-wing and an "everybody else"-wing.
posted by tobascodagama at 3:22 PM on September 7 [13 favorites]


> Also I think I liked this article more than Mark Lilla's recent one against identity politics.

You think? Mark Lilla is an idiot and Coates ripped him a well-deserved new asshole.

A great piece—thanks for posting it, praemunire.
posted by languagehat at 3:26 PM on September 7 [11 favorites]


a big question is whether it is better to shout Coates's undeniably correct observations from the rooftops, or to elide them like Obama often did if that's what it takes to win elections.
i don't know the answer.
posted by wibari at 3:34 PM on September 7 [3 favorites]


For people wondering about Left reactions:

Bhaskar Sunkara:
Coates explicitly dismisses class struggle, saying that white workers have been both the *agents* and the *beneficiaries* of racist struggle.

This guy has an open anti-socialist agenda now, it's like having a debate with a particularly smart vital center-type Cold War liberal. Read and argue with TNC (I enjoy reading him) but understand the terms.
Aldolph Reed on Coates, Sanders, and Reparations. (Over a year ago, so not about this piece)
posted by Joseph Gurl at 3:51 PM on September 7 [8 favorites]


I think it takes a lot away from this essay to view it in a framework of "what should liberals/Democrats do to win more elections."

Yes. Yes. Yes. TNC is much too important to be reduced to a political strategist.

He witnesses, in all the senses that word bears.
posted by PMdixon at 3:52 PM on September 7 [16 favorites]


Guys I really don't want this thread to turn into a "let's relitigate the left!" thing, I'm sorry if what I pullquoted contributed to any way in that. I think the topic of white supremacy and the whitelash that led to the election of Trump are important enough to discuss that we could maybe keep to that topic rather than riffing on the "chaposphere" or whatever?
posted by supercrayon at 4:32 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Coates explicitly dismisses class struggle, saying that white workers have been both the *agents* and the *beneficiaries* of racist struggle.

A weird thing for someone to say. That doesn't make him an anti-socialist, it makes him someone with a grasp on a fairly obvious point of history. From the days of indentured servitude down to the present, when a Trumpist bitching about teachers' unions surely isn't picturing white men when he thinks about who teachers are, white workers have benefited from having a permanently subjugated group against which to define their superiority.
posted by praemunire at 4:35 PM on September 7 [42 favorites]


Ta-Nehisi Coates has the eloquence of a well directed dagger, reflecting the world around it, as it goes in deep. This is a memorable article and succinctly reduces the preposterous, outcome of the 2016 election to that one inescapable fact, the numbers reveal.

I can't even listen to Jeff Sessions speak without remembering life in the South, and the obdurate presence of patriarchy, racism, sexism, cloying misogyny, followed by a church service, and Sunday dinner with more of the same, before the cobbler and tea. I remember blinking through a number of dinner table discussions incredulous.
posted by Oyéah at 5:36 PM on September 7 [11 favorites]


praemunire: "A weird thing for someone to say."

Indeed. I'm not very familiar with Bhaskar Sunkara but I gather that he's the main guy behind Jacobin. Is he implying that white workers have *not* been both agents and beneficiaries of racist struggle? I mean, this seems like it should be a pretty uncontroversial point and TNC provides a few concrete examples in the article itself.
posted by mhum at 5:45 PM on September 7 [10 favorites]


Casual reminder not to scapegoat the South. Coming to you from Minnesota, where I am sitting eleven miles away from a place that used to be a sundown town. Come on.
posted by clavicle at 6:16 PM on September 7 [16 favorites]


ndeed. I'm not very familiar with Bhaskar Sunkara but I gather that he's the main guy behind Jacobin. Is he implying that white workers have *not* been both agents and beneficiaries of racist struggle? I mean, this seems like it should be a pretty uncontroversial point and TNC provides a few concrete examples in the article itself.

I am certainly no Marxist scholar, but as I understand it, the class struggle is the ultimate lens through which power in society is viewed. So, anything that frames white workers as anything but victims is a bit suspect in classical Marxism.

It seems fairly obvious to me that Marx wasn't American, and was writing in a very particular time and place, and that none of this means that the ultimate truth of the morality of socialism is invalid, but YMMV, I suppose.
posted by Automocar at 6:21 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Nikhil Singh (not a "Chapo head" by any means) hosts a brief, thoughtful discussion of the Coates piece on his FB timeline.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:24 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


From Singh:
Steven Sherman offers this important rejoinder to why the focus on shifts in "wwc" voting patterns is by no means pure "escapism," but a genuine political question, even if the larger point about pernicious whiteness holds: "Donald Trump's election did not mark a shift in voting based on race among white people. He improved by all of one percent on Mitt Romney's total among white people, winning 58%. He improved on Romney's total among African Americans by 7 percent, winning 8%. Trump also improved on Romney's totals among Asians (up 11% to 29%), and Latinos (up 8% to 29%)although there are some disputes as to how accurate exit polls are among the latter. Where you do see big shifts is in social class as measured by education or income combined with race. Trump improved among whites without a college degree by 14%, while Clinton improved among whites with a college degree by 10%. Understanding Trump's win very much depends on understanding why whites without college degrees, particularly those with household incomes less than 100k, voted for Trump (Clinton improved on Obama 2012 by 9% among households making 100-199k, although the NY Times doesn't break that out with race. Trump's most dramatic improvement income wise was among those with less than 30k, which he improved by 16%). This is what is colloquially known, is even called by some academics, "the white working class." There's is nothing wrong with focusing on their move towards Trump (either from Obama or from non-voting, difficult to tell without more research)."
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:30 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


The argument in this article will scare people because it violates a few bits of received wisdom about what happened in the election:

Hillary didn't lose, Trump won.
[White] voters weren't misled, they chose this.
We cannot unite over class as long as we struggle with race.
This is not a fluke, it is the inevitable culmination of American history.

These are scary ideas, and people will be scared by them and react accordingly.
posted by mpbx at 6:41 PM on September 7 [31 favorites]


Casual reminder not to scapegoat the South.

Less-casual reminder that the only person to mention the South was speaking of their lived experience and in no way "scapegoating". Come on.
posted by Etrigan at 6:44 PM on September 7 [20 favorites]


Yeah, good thing no one's calling for mandatory minimums. Because if they were, Coates would look like just another hack.
posted by jpe at 6:50 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Nope, nothing but compassion for this epidemic.

I guess Coates has seen how easy it is for Trump to lie and wants in on it.
posted by jpe at 6:52 PM on September 7


Coates demolishes most of the hot takes about the "white working class". Something that should hammer it home:

Trump won whites making less than $50,000 by 20 points, whites making $50,000 to $99,999 by 28 points, and whites making $100,000 or more by 14 points.


The majority of white people in pretty much every demographic is a problem-- but notice where the spike is: the $50-100K slice, which is people making more than the median household income, but who aren't in the top 10%. That's the middle class.
posted by zompist at 6:59 PM on September 7 [16 favorites]


> Yeah, good thing no one's calling for mandatory minimums. Because if they were, Coates would look like just another hack.

A proposal, not a law. One that went nowhere, and is going nowhere.

> Nope, nothing but compassion for this epidemic.

A state law, signed into law by a cartoon villain of a governor. Nowhere equal to the scale and scope of the federal mandatory minimums for crack cocaine.

Try harder.
posted by tonycpsu at 6:59 PM on September 7 [39 favorites]


Hillary didn't lose, Trump won.
[White] voters weren't misled, they chose this.
We cannot unite over class as long as we struggle with race.
This is not a fluke, it is the inevitable culmination of American history.


lee drutman on the US political economy's doom loops:
Our politics is now both regionalized and racialized in ways that we haven't seen in a long time. As we separate into our separate, all-encompassing tribal loyalties, we're falling into three very dangerous and related self-reinforcing cycles: 1) the disappearing trust doom loop; 2) the disappearing electoral legitimacy doom loop; and 3) the growing inequality doom loop.

[...]

How then, do we unscramble this? First, we have to understand the features of our current politics that are making this situation worse. Three conditions stand out:
  • Our winner-take-all system of elections
  • The expanding powers of the presidency, and the federal government generally
  • The outsized importance of private money in politics
[...]

It seems unlikely that America will literally break apart as it did in 1861, despite the growing bull market for such predictions... A more plausible vision involves the slow dissolution of the United States. The federal government grows ever more dysfunctional because of deep political divisions. A growing number of states descend into gridlock because of their own urban-rural splits. Meanwhile, a limited number of one-party blue and red states put in place ever-more radical political visions. The United States recedes as an international actor, while large states like California, New York, and Texas increasingly operate independently on the world stage, signing accords and treaties.

There are certainly ways in which this dissolution could turn out to be relatively peaceful; if I’m feeling optimistic, I can imagine it diffusing some of our current political animus. But the strength of Washington, DC, in our constitutional system creates hurdles for such quasi-federalism.
but if "American politics is now the politics of spite and group hatred. And spite is a negative-sum game...even worse than zero-sum [status competition]" that has taken over, then it may be too late assembling coalitions... unless the politics of spite (and zero-sum competition) can be prevented from spreading and reversed -- with intentionality -- otherwise folks tend to divide.
posted by kliuless at 9:26 PM on September 7 [11 favorites]


American politics is now the politics of spite and group hatred.

Now ? FFS. We had a goddamned war over owning people. Jim Crow and Woodrow Wilson and KKK as an actual political party. What's happening now isn't new, and I'm surprised at people who seem to be surprised to find ~30% of the population or so is racist as fuck.

The trump phenomena is the reverberating echo of our racist past. Every 50-60 years or so, the whites gotta fight for their right to party oppress people. And every time they do, they lose more ground on the rebound.

What's happening now is troubling. And bad. But, it's been worse, and that was overcome. TNC is right that we elected Obama, and popped the corks on our "post racial society" as though it were that fucking easy. It aint, and we've been slacking.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:33 PM on September 7 [24 favorites]




I can't wait to see how the Chaposphere responds to this.

This thread by Lana del Raytheon is really good, and makes us remember the trends that Obama started or made worse that the current president is now continuing:
As a Lovecraft fan, this framing of white supremacy as "eldritch" sounds cool as hell, but ultimately, it casts it as some invincible force.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:55 PM on September 7 [7 favorites]


This thread by Lana del Raytheon is really good,

I was here about to post it. One piece of information that is incomplete in that thread is the presentation of the uh, surprisingly high african-american, asian, and hispanic votes for Trump. this is used as evidence that ... something.
Looking at 2016 compared to 2012, it would appear that Trump was more attractive to minority groups, representing a losses from Obama (and I guess the failures of the Obama presidency to deliver real progress for minorities). But looking at 2000 and 2004 puts these into trends, indicating there was something unique about Obama, esp. in '08,and that Trump's share of minority vote is within normal range for Republicans.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:05 PM on September 7 [10 favorites]


It seems to me that Coates is simply loudly calling for a recognition of the "bloody heirloom," the original sin of the United States, and our country's continuing oppression of black folks. It should not be at all controversial that whites of all classes have been "both the agents and beneficiaries" of it.

I don't think that Coates is proposing a political strategy, and that's what the champions of the left are sniping at him for. While it's possible to share his understanding and at the same time put forth a "left" political program, it's uncomfortable for that part of the left who are acutely aware that people they think of as natural allies, the white working class, may be more lost to them than they think. And they're uncomfortable with the idea that Sanders's exclusive attention to economics could in any sense be wrong.

But Coates is not writing a political platform, and does not except Obama from criticism either—his scope here is not the entire politics of the US, but the deliberate avoidance of a discussion of white supremacy across the political spectrum. That's one of the reasons why the above-cited Lana Del Ray thread is tendentious.
posted by lackutrol at 11:07 PM on September 7 [23 favorites]


more...
-"The main beneficiary of the welfare state is older white Republicans—by a long shot."
-"Racial wealth differences cannot be explained by education, employment, or income. Economists estimate that, by far, the largest factors explaining these differences are gifts and inheritances from older generations..."
posted by kliuless at 11:11 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Uh, "Raytheon," of course.
posted by lackutrol at 11:15 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


Uh, "Raytheon," of course.

Hey, if Taylor Swift can be a computer security expert, Lana can be a leftist culture critic.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:20 PM on September 7 [4 favorites]


Eldritch doesn't mean "invincible," it means "eerie, uncanny, otherworldly," with a strong overtone of "sinister." Imbued with unholy magic. Seems about right to me. (Also, weird for a socialist [IIRC] to be complaining about others treating certain historical forces as irresistible. Just sayin'.)
posted by praemunire at 11:31 PM on September 7 [9 favorites]


Also:

Our politics is now ... racialized in ways that we haven't seen in a long time.

One of Coates's most basic points is that our politics has always been racialized. It has always been the concern of the state to control brown bodies as brown bodies. When people like the one quoted complain about "racialization," what they're actually referring to is the phenomenon of increased visibility of whiteness as a construct, as something other than the natural default. Which makes them very uncomfortable, as they'd prefer to live in the world where whiteness is transparent, unmarked, default. Unfortunately, that's a world that only white people, and only some white people, can live in full-time.
posted by praemunire at 11:39 PM on September 7 [38 favorites]


And TNC is dead right about that.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:58 PM on September 7 [2 favorites]


There is something fucking rotten in the heart of white America, and ergo intertwined into all our systems and processes and norms. And until we look at it with clear eyes and name it for what it is - white supremacy - it'll just keep being swept under the rug.

When I take a macro view of America and its inherent racism, the analogy I think about is falling asleep while really really drunk. Bear with me.

You're drunk and fall on your bed, probably fully clothed. You want to sleep, but the bed is spinning and the room is spinning so you put a foot on the floor, and that makes it better. For a while. But the spinning comes back again and the nausea is coming, but you are so tired and just want it to go away, and you manage to pass out for a few minutes but wake up and still feel spinny and sick and you know you need to puke but damn you're just so tired and can't do it...

That's America. We didn't stay awake and sober up after the Civil War; we didn't do the hard work of eliminating racism right then (actually, the introduction of African slaves in the first place is analogous to going out with the bros and getting "fuuucked up" at the bar; staying sober at home would have precluded all this madness). But instead we buried it, we kept blacks down, we went to bed drunk.

There has been progress. The Civil Rights Act, the end of Jim Crow. We put one foot on the floor, and realized in some way that we were in a bad place...but went right back to sleep.

We're still trying to go to sleep. The rise of Trump is the equivalent of a nightcap shot of whiskey to make all this indecision go away away away. But America as whole is going to have to get up and make that hard, long trip to the toilet and the long, hard act of purging the sickness within. The good news is that, afterwards, we'll all feel much better and be much better off. If only we could get off this spinning bed.
posted by zardoz at 1:24 AM on September 8 [12 favorites]


On the eve of Charlottesville, I posted a blog entry arguing: "Wow, Trump's appeal is really about racism and white supremacy; that we see all this police violence against black people and all some in the conservative bubble can think is that Black Lives Matter activists are dangerous thugs: that speaks to something dangerously out of whack!" So I agree with TNC's analysis... up to a point. Yes, he's clear that racism intersects with a lot of other issues, and I agree that white supremacy is a BIG thing out of whack in the country and in Trumpism.

Some on the left have complained about "issue silos" where people isolate, as if in silos, different issues, and the white supremacy behind Trumpism does not live in an isolated silo.

I've been meaning to write a follow-up: that anti-intellectualism is also a deep part of Trump's appeal, and that this is not just an economic thing, as in the appeal to the "white working class". Someone can be well off financially and yet anti-intellectual. You see it in the statistics. Trump supporters are not particularly poor. TNC makes the point that across all sub-demographics, whites gave Trump a majority of their votes. But the difference between Trump support from whites with and without a college education is about 35 points. That's huge. And what's underlying that? Maybe college-educated whites are less racist. Or maybe college education is a marker for an underlying trait that is even more predictive of which whites went for Trump and can explain why.

Obama wasn't just our first black President. He was also intellectual, thoughtful, and nuanced. Given more to detached analysis than instinctive shooting from the hip. He was biracial too, and it's obvious that he came by his nuanced thinking, his ability to appreciate that many sides to an issue can be legitimate, partly through his experience navigating different racial worlds.

Some of the backlash against Obama came from his intellectual air. There's a strong anti-intellectual tradition in the U.S. And the anti-intellectualism intersects with the racism. Racist and anti-intellectual Trump must have bristled not only at watching a black president, but a black president with such incomprehensible mental habits. For simplistic thinkers, cranky Archie Bunker types, nuanced thought is only a pose by which people look down on you (such people can't imagine reality itself being nuanced.)

Nuanced thought also appears effete to some of this mind-set. They want a president who will act like an action movie star (of course also many of those were racist! Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, etc.) They want action, not talk; and if there's talk it should be straight talk, getting right to the point in plain language. And so this intersects too with the misogyny and homophobia. (As the complaint of the smart guy in Idiocracy goes: "You talk like a fag and your shit's all retarded.")

This mental habit enables racism. Mental inflexibility doesn't allow such people to imagine life for people with different backgrounds. It doesn't allow people to continue to view themselves as basically good and yet to admit that they benefit from systems that are not.

So the racism intersects with anti-intellectualism a broader authoritarian, bordering on fascist, mind-set, that generally seeks scapegoats, and that exploited simplistic-thinking personality traits in fascist Spain, Italy, and Germany without the particulars of American history and racism.
posted by Schmucko at 2:41 AM on September 8 [14 favorites]


That was absolutely brilliant.

If I have any quibbles, it's that he didn't hammer home the extent to which white supremacy's systemic structure of privilege and oppression is toxic at all levels of society and in nobody's best interests. This is not a zero-sum game - the material benefits to the vast majority of white people are superficial at best, but the damage runs deeper than I think many of them realise. Furthermore, considering the political history of white supremacy without naming it explicitly as a tool of Western capitalism is definitely an omission, because the two have always gone hand in hand, whether you're talking about plantation slavery or the plundering of Africa's mineral wealth.

That's probably a whole other article though. Thanks for posting.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:46 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


considering the political history of white supremacy without naming it explicitly as a tool of Western capitalism

I think Coates does this explicitly because he wants to reject the "It's not really about race; it's about class" arguments, because they don't take into account how much easier it is, on a personal and individual level, to code-switch (and actually switch) classes. I'm a middle-class (passing for) white person. I will never, ever know what it's like to be Black in America. But I might win the lottery, or (more likely) I might go completely broke because of medical bills.

This is not a failure of critiques of capitalism or other class-based arguments. They are simply arguing something different. Coates knows what it's like to be Black in America, and he writes about that.
posted by Etrigan at 3:28 AM on September 8 [19 favorites]


I think Coates does this explicitly because he wants to reject the "It's not really about race; it's about class" arguments, because they don't take into account how much easier it is, on a personal and individual level, to code-switch (and actually switch) classes.

No, it's not really about class, but class is sure as hell baked into it. This might be as uncomfortable a truth to Coates as it is to anyone else. Look, I know TNC gets way too much flak from the bro's for not being left-wing enough, and I'm quibbling with an otherwise amazing piece of writing (none of which I disagree with) but it reads to me as an authorial sleight of hand.

I agree that he's quite right not to emphasise it, but ignoring the economic context altogether ultimately elides the crucial political dynamic of white power, which can only truly function by first creating an artificial hierarchy of ethnicity and then by using socioeconomic structures to enforce it. White working class resentment doesn't exist in a vacuum here, far from it, it's one of the prime modes of enforcement. Focusing on racism as a cultural phenomenon papers over the machinery that uses it as a political force, which, if I'm not mistaken, is what the article is supposed to be about.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 4:50 AM on September 8 [2 favorites]


but aren't middle class whites resentful as well? and rich whites? why are middle class whites and rich whites excused from racism? they seem to be the ones driving over people with cars, etc

sure, let's talk about how class affects the mode of racism, enforcement. but why leave out most of the racists and most of the enforcement by only talking about working people?
posted by eustatic at 6:08 AM on September 8 [13 favorites]


> Now ? FFS.

> One of Coates's most basic points is that our politics has always been racialized.

why is it coming to a head now?
Before Barack Obama, niggers could be manufactured out of Sister Souljahs, Willie Hortons, and Dusky Sallys. But Donald Trump arrived in the wake of something more potent—an entire nigger presidency with nigger health care, nigger climate accords, and nigger justice reform, all of which could be targeted for destruction or redemption, thus reifying the idea of being white.
black folk became too uppity, hence the whitelash. but then i think we're back to status competition is a dick.
posted by kliuless at 6:19 AM on September 8 [4 favorites]


It's not class, it's that under white supremacy, ANYTHING that any non-white person has is considered "undeserved" and "stolen." That's why [white] people talk about how slaves should have been grateful to their masters for feeding and clothing them and maybe letting them sleep in the Big House. And that's why the Nazis felt fine about taking "back" everything the Jews had before expelling and murdering them. And that's why there's so much hate toward affirmative action.
posted by rue72 at 7:13 AM on September 8 [20 favorites]


"White" being context-based to exclude the current societal scapegoats, of course. Since that's the definition of white, really -- someone who is NOT the scapegoat.
posted by rue72 at 7:14 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


Since that's the definition of white, really -- someone who is NOT the scapegoat.

To quote Coates himself from half a decade ago:
...the idea of race in American life has never been a rock, but clay fashioned as the racists of every generation need it to be.
posted by Etrigan at 8:01 AM on September 8 [10 favorites]


black folk became too uppity, hence the whitelash.

New Orleans 1876.

Wilmington 1894.

Tulsa 1921.

Etc etc etc.
posted by PMdixon at 8:14 AM on September 8 [5 favorites]


All the people here going "B...b...but class!!" are just reinforcing Coates's point. Maybe let go of your socialist security blanket for a minute and just listen?
posted by languagehat at 8:14 AM on September 8 [32 favorites]


TNC interview on NPR that continues this discussion, with an emphasis on race and class
And there's a broad agreement, I would say, across the Democratic Party from folks who are more centrist like Obama and Clinton, and folks who are further left like Bernie Sanders, that the real issue is actually economics — that there isn't some bastion of racism to be found in the white working class. And I don't think there's a particular one to be found in a white working class. I think there's a particular one to be found in white America in general.
posted by gladly at 9:07 AM on September 8 [20 favorites]


Point of clarification: I'm not saying this is "all about class", or "the real issue is economics", I'm saying that institutionalised racism is enforced through structural inequality, as it always has been wherever it's reared its ugly head. The white power machine depends on that inequality for its survival, because when it comes down to it, that's the only effective way to elevate one race over all the others.

If you're serious about fighting a white supremacist regime like the one that white racist Americans of all social classes elected last year, you ignore this at your peril.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 10:00 AM on September 8 [8 favorites]


surprisingly high african-american, asian, and hispanic votes for Trump. this is used as evidence that ... something. Looking at 2016 compared to 2012, it would appear that Trump was more attractive to minority groups.

That's a little misleading. If you look at the crosstabs what you find is that Clinton lost a few percent more than Obama among african-american men, hispanic men and a lot of white men. Clinton held her own compared to Obama among minority women.

Clinton faced the same problem as Obama from white racists. They always vote Republican. But she had the additional burden of being a woman and the sexists made all the difference.

So when you say that Trump was more attractive to minority groups, you need to clarify that to being minority men. Not most minority men but along with a boat load of white men, enough to change the election.
posted by JackFlash at 10:01 AM on September 8 [17 favorites]


Except, JackFlash, Trump also won among white women.
posted by ipsative at 11:46 AM on September 8 [1 favorite]


Except, JackFlash, Trump also won among white women.

And so did Romney. Among whites, race trumps everything. That was no different for Obama or Clinton. What is important is that men shifted from the Democratic column to the Republican column.

There is a perverse sort of intersectionality. Among minority men, a certain number rank the fact that they are men over the fact that they are minorities.

Going back to the original claim that Trump was attractive to certain minorities, it wasn't that they were minorities. It was that they were men and Trump's opponent happened to be a woman. Minority women stuck with Clinton in the same numbers as for Obama.

And Trump won an even greater percentage of white men than Romney because they had two reasons to vote for him -- race and gender.
posted by JackFlash at 12:16 PM on September 8 [9 favorites]


So when you say that Trump was more attractive to minority groups, you need to clarify that to being minority men.

If you read a few words past where you cut off the quote, the man of twists and turns is saying that Trump wasn't particularly attractive to minority groups. Going back to Carter (using the Roper links from above), Trump had the third lowest vote share amongst African-Americans; the only two times the Republican did worse, he was running against Obama. Over that same time period in the 10 elections before Trump, an average of 31% of Hispanics voted for the Republican. Trump got... 31% of Hispanics; in addition to having average performance, he also had the median performance.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 1:56 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]




more game theory -- hell (and heaven!) is other people, no exit :P
posted by kliuless at 5:20 PM on September 8


Of course, the most hilarious part of all these "he's an anti-socialist!!!" criticisms from the Economics-Is-All wing of the Left is that Coates was actually a fan of Sanders and his policies and whenever he poked his head out during the election season (which mostly avoided doing) he was very much not Team Clinton. But I suppose that's all OK until he steps out of the party line, then he must be one of those Dreaded Centrists.

Our politics is now both regionalized and racialized in ways that we haven't seen in a long time.

I have to repeat praemunire's point: our politics has always been racialized, and when someone bemoans that racial tension is exceptionally high now then they've only demonstrated their lack of knowledge about US political history. You see it more now because more people are actually speaking up, both through those triggered by Obama and the POC building resistance movements, but the undercurrents and dogwhistles and voting patterns have always been there.
posted by schroedinger at 8:32 PM on September 8 [10 favorites]


also it is profoundly bizarre to watch opinions of TNC on the Left go from him universally being considered a Voice Of A Generation to half of them now viewing him as an anti-socialist plant. TNC's opinions and observations haven't changed in the time between Between the World and Me and now. Is this because a chunk decided in the past year that the rise and election of one of the most openly racist candidates in history is not about race? Or are we seeing the spotlight put onto a chunk of the Left that hadn't had the freedom nor publicity to spout their views before?

It's weird that just as Trump's rise has empowered the openly white supremacist set, so have we seen the parallel empowerment of the section of the Left that is determined to portray white supremacy as the result of anything but white supremacy.
posted by schroedinger at 8:43 PM on September 8 [9 favorites]


the Economics-Is-All wing of the Left

This is an accurate characterization of no meaningful American Left organization in 2017, fwiw. Here's the DSA's Maria Svart in 2015:
One of my favorite DSA T-shirts reads, “We organize with class.” It sums up what makes us different from other progressive activists. We understand that the capitalist class has an inherent interest in exploiting the working class and has structured society and all of our institutions accordingly. Yet, we also recognize that the ruling class shapes institutions and social relations not just to regulate and control people based on their position in the economy but also on their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and other categories. In other words, based on other aspects of their identity.

For example, we women are taught from birth to be caretakers—of children, of men, of elderly relatives. In our capitalist system, we receive no economic support for carrying out these tasks. This has implications beyond the family, in that traditional women’s work, even when women are paid for it, is more devalued than that of men. Thus, child care, elder care, home health care, and food workers are some of the lowest compensated workers in our economy. It is to black feminists Kimberlé Crenshaw and those from the Combahee River Collective that we owe the insights of intersectionality, the idea that dominant groups use various aspects of our identities to exclude the subordinate groups from power and decision making and that these intersections of identity must be taken into account along with class when organizing for political power.

In other words, we don’t ask people to leave parts of themselves outside the door when we’re creating our political movement. We know that our unity is in fact stronger when we better understand the complexities of what we’re fighting, so we need everyone’s insights. We know that black women experience sexism differently than white women because of racism, and black women experience racism differently than black men because of sexism. Similarly, all men benefit from male privilege, but black men benefit less than white men because of racism. It’s a similar dynamic with class: working-class people have a common interest against capitalism, but precisely because racism and sexism exist alongside with and intersect with capitalism, we are vulnerable to the divide-and-conquer tactics of the economic ruling class.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:44 PM on September 8 [4 favorites]




That's a little misleading.


You're right JackFlash. Lana Del Raytheon's argument (that I summarized in the section you quoted) is quite misleading. Looking at the breakdowns by year prior to 2012 like you and I did is necessary to understand voter patterns.

I'm glad we agree on this.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:37 PM on September 8


And me too. Sorry if there was a misunderstanding on my part.
posted by JackFlash at 10:37 PM on September 8


It's weird that just as Trump's rise has empowered the openly white supremacist set, so have we seen the parallel empowerment of the section of the Left that is determined to portray white supremacy as the result of anything but white supremacy.

Yeah, I guess this is why I find the insistence on separating these two interdependent variables kind of frustrating, whether it comes from white leftists who think they're colourblind, or from a writer as smart as Coates.

I'll side with Coates on this every time, but I also see a danger in reinforcing the message that this entrenched economic framework has nothing to do with it, it's all achieved through the complicity of white people, and white people are all racist by definition. There's no doubt a lot of truth in that, but it's exactly the kind of divide-and-rule tactic that keeps the white supremacist industrial complex afloat. The fact is that very few of us have much control over the system we're participating in, and one way or another we're all in that same boat.

No white person alive today will ever know what it's really like to live without white privilege, but some of us know a thing or two about the corrupt economics of white supremacy and the culture it operates in.* We seriously need some joined-up thinking on this.

* citing my experience working in the oil industry in South Africa under apartheid, circa 1990
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 2:45 AM on September 9


Yeah, I guess this is why I find the insistence on separating these two interdependent variables kind of frustrating...

I see a distinct difference between "insistence on separating" and "intentionally not addressing" and find your insistence on "Well, sure, race is important, but..." to be far more frustrating. Coates is writing about race. Period. He is not sidestepping class out of a desire to downplay its importance, nor because he wishes to see Black people elevated at the expense of the poor. He is doing it because this article, this one thing, this particular argument, this single collection of thoughts, is about the effect of race on the election of Donald Trump and its coming on the heels of the Barack Obama Presidency.
posted by Etrigan at 3:12 AM on September 9 [16 favorites]


Etrigan: honestly, there is no "but...but...but..." in my argument here, its an "and!!!and!!!and!!!" Historically, the economic component is a vital part of the constellation of racism that he's talking about - it completes the picture. The fact that he leaves the question open ended is doesn't detract from either argument, it just leaves room for further debate. Maybe it's an omission, or maybe it's part of its power. Either way, it's something to think about.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 3:57 AM on September 9 [1 favorite]


It's not class, it's that under white supremacy, ANYTHING that any non-white person has is considered "undeserved" and "stolen."

You can see examples of this pretty much anywhere, but glaringly so in sports. While it used to be something to be dismissive of, and example of a hack looking for an angle, the standard division, where black athletes are spoken of as naturally athletic, gifted, etc, and white athletes are a product of "grit," "determination," and "hard work" is, and always has been, an example of the idea that white people deserve what they have because they came to it through hard work, and any achievement by a black person must naturally be suspect.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:52 PM on September 9 [7 favorites]




This is an accurate characterization of no meaningful American Left organization in 2017, fwiw. Here's the DSA's Maria Svart in 2015:

Recognizing that racism exists is not the same as prioritizing policy and messaging that seeks to remedy its disproportionate effects. Also, while I am a fan of a number of leaders in the DSA, unfortunately the opinions of the leadership are hardly representative of all--or even the majority--of the most vocal and active critics of so-called "identity politics". Including many of the DSA's own members.

Like, the fact that people on the left are accusing Coates of being anti-socialist for writing this piece, especially when his past statements have shown he is emphatically not, is nuts and indicative of how deeply the issue of race divides progressives.
posted by schroedinger at 11:26 AM on September 10 [12 favorites]


Understanding populism's requisite anti-pluralism (via)
The right-populist construction of national identity offers a criterion for membership in the “homogeneous, morally pure people” that is based on distance from an implicit cultural ideal of Americanness. Insensitivity to citizenship or legal nationality is a side-effect of the populist’s primarily cultural test of inclusion. Somalian Muslims with poor English rank dismally on the populist’s Great Chain of Americanness, but there are plenty of American citizens of who fit that description. The possibility of this kind of mismatch between legal and cultural/moral citizenship is essential to the internal logic of populist politics. An exclusive notion of “the people” that discounts juridical technicalities allows populists to psychologically de-nationalize fellow citizens, and this catalyzes a morally alchemical transformation: democratically unconscionable measures to disenfranchise political opponents become duties necessary to the achievement of popular “sovereignty.”
A new study shows Trump fans can be easily coaxed into being more racist - "This kind of white resentment is often blamed for putting Donald Trump in the White House, and his continued high approval rating among white voters."

The growing gap between black and white workers' wages in the US is getting harder to explain - "The most important question is, then, how much of this 'unexplained' gap between black and white workers is down to discrimination? The short answer: probably most of it."

Is culture or economics at the root of our strange politics?
There is no shortage of studies identifying the characteristics of those who support the populist insurgencies, at individual and/or aggregate levels (typically of voting districts or sub-national regions)... In the US, for example, the highest level of Trump support was not in the lowest income groups — but the biggest swing towards Trump was measured there (as well as in counties with higher unemployment, slower job growth and lower earnings).

What has to be explained, in other words, is how a certain group of voters in several countries switched in short order from voting for the liberal centre to the populists, such as... those in the US switching their allegiance from Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 to Trump in 2016. Above all, these groups have become conscious of themselves as a political group, self-identifying as the “forgotten” men and woman of the “real”, “genuine” population whom elites have betrayed.

The fact that this has happened before, in the 1930s, and that it has happened so fast, in just a decade, makes it implausible to see the phenomenon as, at root, a function of the social changes in the west since the 1960s. What needs to be told is a story of how economic changes have helped awaken a class consciousness of sorts, for a group with certain cultural values.
How economic change created populism's army of the 'left behind'
To understand the economic and cultural forces that power the populist insurgency across the west, we need to explain one big phenomenon: economic change has led to strikingly similar groups, in one country after another, consciously identifying themselves in angry opposition to traditional parties and in search of political leaders (who have unfortunately made themselves readily available) to channel their frustrations. Those frustrations, in turn, are both economic and cultural...

When economic rewards are tied to positions that are artificially restricted, everyone depends on the gatekeepers that determine access. The more barriers, the more connections and credentials (broadly understood) matter. So as many western economies have become less competitive, the unconnected and the uncredentialed have naturally been pushed aside...

To sum up: the big economic changes transforming western societies during the past three to four decades have worked against the low-skilled, against the uncredentialed and those lacking social connections to economic gatekeepers (ie “the elite”), against those loyal or tied to places in decline, against those less comfortable with changing themselves or the change in the world around them, and finally against men with traditional conceptions of men’s and women’s work.

Put all those characteristics together and you see that they delineate particular communities: people who benefited most from the heyday of labour-intensive industry and postwar social democracy — lower-skilled native men — and who have lost the most from the big economic changes since then — the uncredentialed and those (in particular men) most set in old ways and places.
posted by kliuless at 6:14 AM on September 12 [5 favorites]


Idylls of the Liberal: The American Dreams of Mark Lilla and Ta-Nehisi Coates (via)
It is no great insight on Coates’s part to recognize that Trump explicitly framed people of color as national enemies and gave them no reason to vote for him. He appealed to the white supremacist impulses that are still powerful for a portion of the white population (not a majority, but the portion of the white population which votes, and the portion within that which voted for Trump).

There is no denying this. [But] we are not about to get rid of white people. This country is full of them. Coates is not wrong when he implies that insofar as they are caught up in the social formation of “whiteness,” they are an intrinsically reactionary force. The relevant question is how to subdue this force.

Fortunately the answer is clear: the abolition of whiteness. This is not the same thing as the abolition of white people. In fact, it is impossible to abolish whiteness unless the people currently coded as white recognize their responsibility to participate in this project—in short, becoming “race traitors.”

Treason to the white race, in fact, is in the interest of the vast majority of people classified as white. This should not be taken to mean that the privileges granted to white people by white supremacy are not real—they are all too real, and many white people enthusiastically participate in white supremacy to preserve these privileges. However, for the white people who are not owners of capital, white privilege is a poisoned bait. As the black communist Harry Haywood wrote in his 1948 book Negro Liberation:
It is not accidental… that where the Negroes are most oppressed, the position of the whites is also most degraded. Facts unearthed and widely publicized… have thrown vivid light on the “paradise” of racial bigotry below the Mason-Dixon Line. They expose the staggering price of “white supremacy” in terms of health, living and cultural standards of the great masses of southern whites. They show “white supremacy”… to be synonymous with the most outrageous poverty and misery of the southern white people. They show that “keeping the Negro down” spells for the entire South the nation’s lowest wage and living standards. “White supremacy” means the nation’s greatest proportion of tenants and sharecroppers, its highest rate of child labor, its most degrading and widespread exploitation of women, its poorest health and housing record, its highest illiteracy and lowest proportion of students in high schools and colleges, its highest death and disease rates, its lowest level of union organization and its least democracy.
These words could be written again today with only the most minor modifications. And they explain why Mark Lilla and Ta-Nehisi Coates are ultimately mirror images of each other, in their failure to recognize that overcoming white supremacy is not an “identity” issue, one which is restricted to the interests of a particular racial group, but rather at the center of a universal program for emancipation.

Whiteness is not magic. It is also not a psychological disposition or a particular type of body. It is a material social relation, as material as that of class. It is absurd to try to determine in the abstract which of these relations is primary. It is instead necessary to study a very specific concrete history—the history of plantation slavery and the development of capitalism in the United States—to explain both kinds of social relation. Capitalism is a fundamental target of any emancipatory struggle not because of some kind of priority of the “economic” over the “cultural” (whatever these would mean as essential categories), but rather because in actual history, racism has been an integral component of capitalism.

This is why, even when opposing the most reactionary expressions of identity politics, socialists should never make the mistake of thinking Mark Lilla is on their side. If socialists fail to actively oppose white supremacy, they allow capital to wield one of its deadliest weapons. In order to build a mass anti-capitalist movement—in order to foster the kind of solidarity, commitment, and collective action that is required for social transformation—it is necessary to oppose every expression of racial hierarchies and divisions which are visible in our society and reassert themselves in our movements. This is not to make movements “safe spaces,” but to make them expansive and powerful; it is not for white people to act as “allies,” but for them to reject the privileges conferred by whiteness in order to be able to act as comrades. Wherever racial oppression threatens the safety of a portion of the multiracial working class—whether it is an ICE raid, a police killing, or a fascist rally—socialists must be at the front lines in our collective defense.

[...]

As historian Jacquelyn Dowd Hall has demonstrated, it was the “black-labor-left” coalition of the 1940s which lay the groundwork for the legislative achievements of the 1960s, famously represented by Socialist Party Member, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and core organizer of the 1963 March on Washington A. Philip Randolph. Hall offers us a corrective to the reductive narratives of both Lilla and Coates:
Historians have depicted the postwar years as the moment when race eclipsed class as the defining issue of American liberalism. But among civil rights unionists neither class nor race trumped the other, and both were expansively understood. Proceeding from the assumption that, from the founding of the Republic, racism has been bound up with economic exploitation, civil rights unionists sought to combine protection from discrimination with universalistic social welfare policies and individual rights with labor rights. For them, workplace democracy, union wages, and fair and full employment went hand in hand with open, affordable housing, political enfranchisement, educational equity, and an enhanced safety net, including health care for all.
By ignoring social movements and fixating on politicians, Coates distorts both the history of mass anti-racist movements and the potential for their contemporary growth. Socialist movements exist in the United States due to the courageous efforts of black socialists, communists, and trade-unionists. It is a legacy which must be carried forward today, and Coates does the struggle against white supremacy an enormous disservice by hiding it behind the liberal contempt for Bernie Sanders.

The red herring on which this manipulative narrative turns is the question of the “white working class.” Coates cites everyone from Sanders to Lilla as apologists for the “white working class,” whose racism and complicity in Trump’s power they deny by pointing to economic anxiety and frustration with elites.

Here Coates makes a peculiar move. He demonstrates conclusively that this argument of Lilla and Sanders is wrong. He points out that a Gallup study of pre-election polling data shows that voters “who supported Trump generally had a higher mean household income ($81,898) than those who did not ($77,046),” and they were “less likely to be unemployed and less likely to be employed part-time.” In other words, as Coates correctly concludes, “when white pundits cast the elevation of Trump as the handiwork of an inscrutable white working class, they are being too modest, declining to claim credit for their own economic class.”

But despite proving that the so-called “white working class” is not actually Trump’s base, Coates insists that for whites, racial solidarity takes precedence over any other political interest... to invalidate the possibility of class solidarity across racial boundaries. Even after showing the research which should shatter any belief that this monolith exists, Coates clings to the chimerical figure of the white working class, in order to exclude it from anti-racist struggle.

This is because Coates appears to lack any interest in seeing that struggle succeed. His demand is for moral repentance, not liberation. But instead of asking whites to feel guilty, we should demand the abolition of whiteness, a project in which they have a responsibility to actively participate. As long as Coates is unwilling to embrace the multiracial mass movement that can abolish whiteness, he and Lilla will forever be left to fight over the throne of a kingdom that remains unchanged. As usual, it is up to the nameless and faceless commoners to make history, rather than to appeal to the conscience of the king.
posted by kliuless at 1:49 AM on September 14 [3 favorites]


Jesus, that article is a load of condescending hot garbage, a bunch of straw men set up by someone in desperate need of an editor.

This reads like an essay by a freshman undergrad: flowery phrases hiding specious argument, barely-concealed self-aggrandizement as it wonders at its bravery in criticizing more talented authors, a desperate, desperate need for editing, and such a profound lack of understanding of what it being critiqued that one suspects the author read Cliff's notes and reviews online in lieu of actually reading the work themselves.

I decided to pick a good spot to start on a point-by-point refutation of this crap, but honestly, I've had to quit because trying to address the full extent of this nonsense would require an essay as long as the article itself. I think this could all be summarized as "next time read the piece you're criticizing, my dude."
Despite the gingerly placed historical references, in Coates’s telling whiteness has no history. (1) It is a malevolent force which surges from the netherworld in moments which can only be identified by the intensity of Coates’s own feelings—the American Dream become Coates’s personal nightmare. (2) Coates goes as far as to make the extraordinary claim that before Trump, whiteness lay dormant (3) . . . .

In Coates’s legends, there is no point in resistance to evil. There are no moments in which whiteness is opposed. . . . (4)

The survivals of slavery granted certain privileges to white workers while continuing to impose racialized violence on black workers; but this does not change the fact that black and white workers also shared a common antagonism to their bosses, which, in many crucial moments, they clearly recognized. (5) . . . .

We have, then, a series of omissions, elisions, and cherry-picked targets. (6) It is easy to get bogged down in circular debates on particular details (7) while missing the larger question: why does Coates deem it important to undermine the critique of capitalism? (8)
  1. Did this guy even read the article? No history? Gingerly placed references? Are you kidding me? I would cite Coates but the whole article is proof.
  2. Coates explicitly refers to the origins of whiteness and its rise, grounds it extensive historical research, and has repeated this theme throughout his whole body of work. Coates does not, and never has regarded whiteness as magic. Again: I have trouble believing this guy read the whole article if this was his takeaway.
  3. Coates never argued this, and has never argued this, and I have no idea how you can reduce his entire piece to this blatantly wrong interpretation unless you never got past the provacative headline.
  4. Where did he get this? Seriously, could someone tell me where this comes from? Coates has extensively talked about the struggle of black people both in general and on a personal level. No, it's not in this piece--but if you read the piece you'd know that is not what this piece is about. Also: way to be a fucking condescending dickhead with your language, asshole.
  5. Hi, wow, it is pretty rich that you keep going on about Coates's weak historical grounding and meanwhile your evidence is a hand-waving paragraph about some dock protests. For every time you saw a black and white worker link together, there were innumerable more times those white workers burned down black business centers, or lynched a black man for being promoted, or banned black people from their unions, or freaked out when black families tried to settle in their neighborhoods.
  6. I cannot with this. Hey look, another way this is like a freshman undergraduate's paper: not only is it full of straw-men, but the lack of self-awareness is painful.
  7. . . . Didn't you just critique Coates for being light on details?
  8. Oh, and here's the money shot. Yes, Coates undermines the critique of capitalism by tracing how capitalism and racism are intertwined, because apparently nuance is indistinguishable from being a filthy tool of corporatists.
It seems like this guy decided what he was going to say long before he actually read Coates, and if Coates's article didn't fit his narrative well he'd just invent things to make it fit, because he sure as hell wasn't going to change his mind.
posted by schroedinger at 9:13 PM on September 14 [8 favorites]


schroedinger, I'm glad I'm not the only one to be pissed off about that article.

I wrote a long reply and lost it with a misclick, so just to summarize:

Coates knows plenty about how poor whites fared in the south.

His response to another socialism-will-solve-racism dude.

His article on reparations, which is part of what he wants of this country, not "asking whites to feel guilty".

"despite proving that the so-called 'white working class' is not actually Trump’s base, Coates insists that for whites, racial solidarity takes precedence over any other political interest".... Haider misunderstands the data and Coates. Lower-income whites are not Trump's base. But they voted for him, by 20 frigging points. That's 60%, to be clear.

Coates is not standing in the way of socialism (again, he voted for Sanders), but socialists like this one are sure standing in the way of addressing racism.
posted by zompist at 10:10 PM on September 14 [4 favorites]


fwiw...
Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Alternatives to Despair
Speaking dismissively of all socioeconomic explanations of racism’s recrudescence, he writes:
“There is a tremendous amount of anger and frustration among working-class whites, particularly where there is an economic downturn,” a researcher told the Los Angeles Times. “These people feel left out; they feel government is not responsive to them.” By this logic, postwar America—with its booming economy and low unemployment—should have been an egalitarian utopia and not the violently segregated country it actually was.
But hold up: Postwar America is actually a logical example for the “racism feeds off other grievances and problems” argument, because the long period of economic growth and low unemployment that ran from the late ’40s to the late ’60s was also the era that saw the most rapid legal progress for blacks since Reconstruction. America entered the postwar era as a “violently segregated” country, yes, but in terms of racial progress and expanded civl rights the era was a time of sweeping gains, not successful racial backlash — and backlash politics only really gathered steam as the postwar boom gave way to a period of economic stagnation and social disarray.

Indeed, the racial progress in the postwar era offers grist for almost all the different, non-despairing theories that Coates wants to dismiss.

[...]

Since Coates generally declines to offer prescriptions for the ills that he diagnoses — a position with which I have some sympathy these days! — it’s hard to say exactly how a Coatesian anti-Trumpism, laser-focused on race, would differ from the various holistic attempts to respond to Trump’s rise that he rejects. In general, a lot of the arguments against doing anything to woo Trump voters to a different sort of politics, because they’re racists and white-supremacist enablers and don’t deserve the respect required for wooing, seem to boil down to “eventually they’ll all die off.”

I don’t think that is Coates’ take, not least because his quasi-mystical account of the the malign, “eldritch” force of whiteness suggests that it will not yield even to demographic replacement.

But even if he has no clear alternative politics, even if he wants to argue that we are foredoomed to live under white supremacy or at least see it constantly returned to power more or less forever, his despair would have more force if he fairly described the alternatives he’s rejecting, and didn’t insist on casting himself as the only voice in the wilderness prophetic enough to cry out that Donald Trump’s election was about white supremacy and race.
Redoing the Electoral Math - "If any force on Earth could be powerful enough to unite the Democratic Party, you'd have thought the words 'President Donald Trump' would do the trick..."
posted by kliuless at 6:09 AM on September 15 [1 favorite]


“The foundation of Trump’s presidency is the negation of Barack Obama’s legacy,” writes Ta-Nehisi Coates in his feature for The Atlantic’s October 2017 issue. In this animated excerpt from a recent interview with Coates about his article, the writer explains how tribalism and white supremacy paved the way for Trump. Gallup research shows that white voters overwhelmingly supported the candidate across demographics.
posted by homunculus at 1:08 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]


Whitesplaining Ta-Nehisi Coates. There might possibly be a trace of irony in this one.
posted by zompist at 4:47 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]


That's great:
It is therefore really unfair to quote Sanders arguing that class is more important than identity, merely on the basis that he did say that. Coates can provide all the statistics about racism as the real cause of Trump’s election he wants; deep in my heart I know the problem was alienation of the working classes.
posted by languagehat at 5:20 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]


BLM activists were invited on stage at a pro-Trump rally – Hank Newsome, president of Black Lives Matter New York, gave an impromptu talk
posted by kliuless at 6:09 AM on September 20


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