Breaking White Solidarity: A Social Imperative
The investigations into the January 6th coup attempt continue in Washington, over one year since the events took place. The individuals being investigated represent the most radical of the far-right/alt-right movement within the United States, nearly all sharing one key demographic: being white. White individuals from nearly all income levels participated in the events that day, a visual demonstration that white supremacism isn’t just rural racists wearing robes or billionaires wearing suits, but a sickness which pervades nearly all levels of white society.
As we gear up for another midterm election, and as right-wing politicians court the same far-right demographic for those elections, it becomes more imperative than ever that white people learn to break white solidarity. White solidarity is defined by Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, as “the tacit agreement that we [white people] will protect white privilege and not hold each other accountable for our racism.” (Beacon Press, 125) It can be as simple as letting racist jokes slide and as extreme as calling the police when feeling threatened by a non-white person. Every time a white person fails to call out privileged behavior, it reinforces white solidarity on some level.
It is imperative that white people confront white supremacism in their lives at all levels. This article is intended to be the first in a series about breaking white solidarity. It is intended for white audiences, to investigate the ways in which we tolerate individual and systemic racism in our lives, and to investigate methods by which we can work effectively to remove individual and systemic racism to the best of our ability. Hopefully, there will also be an adjacent non-white audience here as well, seeing white people trying to engage in hard discussions with other white people about the racists and supremacists among us.
The Trump Era
Four years of Trump have left me more concerned than ever about white nationalism within the United States. Election analysts sliced up the 2016 election data in multiple ways, laying blame on swing state and third-party voters for losses on both sides, and questioning the validity and fairness of the Electoral College, especially when a Republican is once again elected despite losing the popular vote. For me, it was confirmation that the plurality of Americans would rather elect a naked racist with no meaningful experience over a centrist Democrat with centrist positions on just about every topic.
The left and center wings came out in protest Trump in his early years, from high profile marches for women’s rights to acts of solidarity in support of detained and separated immigrants. News media highlighted these efforts in between the latest Trump scandals and gaffes, but below the surface many leftists began to see other alarming signs. White nationalist organizations began handing out flyers and putting up stickers on college campuses to recruit young minds riding the high of a Trump victory. The same organizations began holding rallies and protests around the country with torches and racist slogans, with their thousands receiving nearly equal coverage to the millions marching in opposition to Trump. Far-right armed protestors stormed the Michigan Capitol building on April 30th, 2020 as a dry run and litmus test for January 6th, 2021.
After four years of unmitigated failure in nearly every aspect of his presidency, and after refusing to condemn the white nationalists and far-right extremists throughout his first term, and while the nation succumbed needlessly to a pandemic, I figured Trump’s hold over the electorate had waned enough to cease presenting a threat.
The 2020 elections prove otherwise. The headlines “Biden Wins” and “Trump Loses”, along with all the fanciful stories woven around Biden’s ascendancy, don’t really convey some of the grave implications from the election data. The first major implication being that this election had the highest turnout in the nation’s history, and while more people voted for Biden than any other previous presidential candidate, Trump received the second-highest vote total of any presidential candidate, by nearly five million votes over Obama in 2008. The election only proved to me that the plurality of Americans would almost elect a naked racist over a centrist Democrat.
Perhaps even more damning are the exit polls conducted during the 2020 election. CNN’s exit polls show that 61% of white men and 55% of white women voted for Trump in the last election.
National Results 2020 President exit polls.
Exit polls are surveys of a random sample of voters taken as they leave their polling place on election day. Absentee…
Three out of five white men and one of every two white women voted for Donald Trump. Despite being a naked racist, destroying the economy, doing nothing during a pandemic, failing to condemn white supremacy, and acting with a general belligerence with his entire presidency. That’s an astounding level of white solidarity that I simply didn’t think existed and was profoundly ashamed to see. No matter what kind of progress white centrists and leftists think we have made, it is a fragile media dream compared to the stark reality of how white people voted in 2020.
Outside of the presidential election was even more telling. It is true that the Democrats won a majority in both houses, although what that has meant with the likes of Machin and Sinema in the party is up for debate. It is also true that the Democrats lost fifteen seats in the House to their Republican challengers, many of whom were well within the alt-right/far-right wing of the Republican Party. The same legislators attempting to obstruct the investigations into January 6th and putting forth crazed and unhinged conspiracy theories about Trump’s election defeat.
We can debate whether or not it makes someone a white supremacist if they support a major political party in bed with white supremacists. I happen to think you cannot separate someone from their politics, but I know many white people cling to that idea for the sake of peace in their families. However, I have yet to hear of a rationale putting party before Trump as a candidate that’s capable of ignoring all the damage he’s done. And how helping to elect him president (or attempting to re-elect him as president) doesn’t show a massive amount of white solidarity throughout this nation.
The truth is that white people, as a whole, are responsible for white nationalism in this country. It is not just white individuals engaged in acts of prejudice, nor just folks who voted for Trump or voted for Republicans. I can well believe many white people never imagined the January 6th coup attempt as a real possibility in our lifetime, but more white people need to take responsibility for the everyday damage caused by voting for white nationalist politicians and parties with white nationalist agendas.
White liberals don’t get a pass on taking responsibility because they voted “correctly” in the 2020 election or donated to the right causes that deal with the fallout of white politics. As Angela Davis has said, “In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.” Many white liberals I know still attend family functions with family members who proudly voted for Trump, and while it may be hard to confront those individuals, it is also a form of white solidarity to not confront them, especially when they are as close as family can be. Who else is going to have a shot at reaching them if not their own family?
Every time we look the other way from the white nationalism among us, we reinforce a greater sense of white solidarity, especially in the eyes of non-white people. Remember those damning exit polls? We now live in a world, as white people, when non-white people meeting us for the first-time have to assume a 60% chance that I voted for a white nationalist in the last election, as a white male. A 60% chance that I voted for Trump in two elections over a mediocre, but competent Democratic candidate. For the white person who thinks you can separate people from their politics, this must seem drastically unfair, but for the non-white person who has been the recipient of those politics, it is perhaps the fairest way of viewing white people, who seem to benefit from those same politics hurting non-white people.
Every step we take away from that white nationalism, we deprive it of the silent power it has within our everyday lives as white people, whether we want it or not. Whatever needs to be done to separate white nationalism as a movement from white people in general is imperative, including political parties that reflect the rejection of white nationalism at the voting booth. However, the best place to start is within our own lives.
Multiple methods exist for breaking white solidarity. The most important method for breaking white solidarity is using your voice to call out the prejudice and racist acts as they happen around us, especially when done by white people in positions of power, including celebrities. It can be as timely as identifying and reporting any white person that participated on January 6th or is involved in white nationalist organizations. It can be as simple as calling out racist behavior in everyday life or online, especially by other white people. It may one day be as difficult as intervening in a violent, racist situation in public when your safety might be at risk.
Don’t let terms like “virtue signaling” or “political correctness” get in your way, especially when it comes to individual prejudice, bad jokes, whatever. Tell them if they want to do comedy to get on stage. “Virtue Signaling” is a dirty term for standing against discrimination even when it is uncomfortable. “Political Correctness” is a dirty term for treating others with dignity and respect, sometimes even when they don’t deserve it. “Cancel Culture” yet another dirty term for holding people in power accountable for their actions. More white people need to call out other white people on their prejudiced and racist behavior in public and private.
Perhaps the most important action to take, however, is to stop voting for candidates that represent the far-right/alt-right wing of conservatism, especially in the primaries, and to stop materially supporting those candidates who refuse to acknowledge their racist or white supremacist positions and policies. I don’t limit this advice to just white Republicans, but also for white Democrats to consider as well, especially when center-right politicians are able to hijack the party and still move forward a white supremacist agenda, like welfare or immigration reform efforts. We are responsible for the candidate we elect, not the fears of the opposition winning.
The most difficult step in breaking white solidarity is reconsidering long-term relationships with other white people. Dropping some asshole from high school on social media is easy. Dealing with racist family members who refuse to change their opinions will be more difficult. No one said this process would be easy and it is surely more complicated than voting every two years. But it is imperative we make the efforts now rather than wait any longer, because every day we wait appears to only strengthen the power of the white nationalism within our country.
Every relationship in our lives should be re-examined with regards to white nationalism. And that’s because when it comes to racism, there is no sliding scale of acceptable progress to anyone but white people. Social media contacts still supporting white nationalist candidates or politics should be easy to prune off your lists. It’s the path I’ve chosen for most of the right-wing people in my life. For those we can’t drop from our lives, we have to take responsibility for trying to dissuade them of their racist opinions, including their politics when appropriate.
The process will head in one of two directions: reconciliation or disassociation. Reconciliation can happen when the person in question renounces or reconciles their racist opinions and positions or begins to take steps to repair the damage they may have done. Reconciliation doesn’t need to be a destination if it remains a genuine process. I want to believe in this kind of redemptive process, but I don’t have a lot of hope for this route, especially for older generations who simply don’t understand, or don’t accept, concepts like white privilege and systemic racism.
Which is why the other path is disassociation when you simply cannot make headway with someone. This is very easy to do with social media acquaintances but can be way more difficult with parents or siblings or spouses or children or long-time friends. But I can’t help but feel, at this point, that any white person choosing to accept the prejudiced or racist behavior of their friends as anything but white solidarity, and a tacit reminder that I am more willing to keep that friendship than confront racism. I also can’t help but feel that kind of twisted thinking explains the exit polls in 2020 as well.
White people are responsible for confronting these relationships within our lives. Ignoring all the telltale signs of racism and other forms of bigotry is what leads to the far-right gaining a foothold in politics and leads to angry mobs storming capitols. The more we make white racists question their behaviors in public, the less kind of public support for white nationalism we’ll see in politics. We should make racists as uncomfortable in public as they have made non-white people feel in public for centuries. Every time we don’t make racism uncomfortable, we reinforce that sense of white solidarity within the eyes of non-white people.
Breaking white solidarity is a social imperative, now more than ever. The Trump presidency and the election results for 2016 and 2020 show that white supremacism and white nationalist ideas, rather than being extreme positions, are mainstream ideas championed by a large portion of the electorate. White people, including leftists and liberals, must take responsibility for ending white nationalism by confronting white nationalism in our public and private lives. We must re-evaluate our relationships with white people who hold racist and prejudiced opinions and to stand against all forms of white nationalist behavior. It will be hard work, but it must begin if it is to end, and my own work starts here.