Virulently racist groups are rejoicing as they “celebrate an ‘awakening,'” The New York Times reports.
Neo-Nazi groups are openly performing the “Heil, victory” salute in Washington, D.C., just blocks from the White House.
My colleagues in the media have taken to referring to these newly emboldened White supremacist groups as “White nationalist” and “alt-right,” but those terms are merely euphemisms that cast a veneer of legitimacy on what cannot be made legitimate.
On Nov. 19, at a gathering of hundreds in the nation’s capital, the Times reports that Richard B. Spencer — a leader of the National Policy Institute, a White-supremacist think tank — said: “America was, until this last generation, a White country designed for ourselves and our posterity. It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”
The increasing confidence of groups like Spencer’s was predictable from the moment that our president-elect began his campaign, averring that Mexicans are “rapists.” The subsequent spike in racially motivated violence was also predictable. And if it was not clear then or when Trump at first refused to denounce David Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, it certainly should have been when the KKK’s newspaper heartily endorsed the Republican candidate.
It is interesting to note that a similar resurgence of the KKK occurred almost exactly 101 years ago, following a decline in the post-Reconstruction period.
However, the release of D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, a 1915 film that glorified the Klan, inspired a Methodist preacher in Atlanta to anoint himself the new leader of the racist movement — on the day before Thanksgiving.
I feel a sense of impending dread as I consider what the new incarnations of these groups might feel empowered to do now that our future commander-in-chief has validated them. But if fearing for my life and those of my loved ones is not enough, I find myself struggling even more with the realization that social progress has perhaps reached an insurmountable impasse in my country.
In the last few years, we have seen recordings of countless Black and Brown women and men being shot down for no just cause, and a movement has sprung up to speak directly to White folks, reminding them that “Black lives matter.” But still, it has not been enough to ignite any real compassion or desire for change.
Will the majority of White Americans ever voluntarily agree to be equal members of our society?
As I’ve continued to process what this year’s presidential election means, I find myself thinking again and again about a recent heart-breaking essay by Yolanda Pierce, an associate professor of African-American religion and literature at Princeton. Pierce, an ordained Christian clergywoman, has spent her career working to bridge the gulfs between White people and Black people, straight and gay. Yet Trump won a resounding victory among the very groups of people to whom she has done the most outreach: White evangelicals and born-again Christians, 81 percent of whom voted for Trump.
This fact, Pierce writes, has thrown her into a “crisis.”
“How do I continue to build bridges across racial divides with those who have demonstrated, in overwhelming numbers, that they will partner with a person endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan? …” she asks. “How do I continue to be in Christian fellowship with those who embrace a man still calling for the deaths of five innocent African-American men acquitted of a crime by DNA? How can I believe that racial justice is possible when dealing with those who are quick to forgive the president-elect’s egregious moral lapses, while simultaneously supporting his contention that black and brown youth are inherently criminals deserving of constant surveillance?”
Pierce concludes somberly: “I do not know as I write this whether the work to which I have given my career can continue.”
What Trump’s victory certainly shows is that anxieties about the waning power of Whiteness were severely underestimated by most (though not all) commentators. It also shows that for many Trump supporters, the prospect of regaining the racial standing they have lost is worth sacrificing almost anything.
As people who care about justice and equality, how can we hope to cure such madness?
Dear readers, email me your thoughts at cjoseph [AT] sfweekly.com.
“Notes From the Intersection” is a column by SF Weekly‘s editor, who lives at the intersection of queer man of color, descendant of Civil War veterans who fought on both sides, and many other identities.