There is an understandable inclination to believe that by voting for and ultimately electing Donald Trump, white people (particularly working-class white people) voted against their own self-interests. After all, this is a man who became a billionaire by swindling and defrauding and sometimes just outright not paying people exactly like them, and there’s no real evidence that a Trump presidency will be much different for them than the Trump industry has been.
This is not particularly untrue. But it misses the point—as I did.
In this election, they (white people) did not vote against their self-interests. They may have voted against a self-interest—several self-interests, actually—but not their most important one: the preservation of white supremacy.
Retaining the value of a whiteness they believed to be increasingly devalued superseded everything else. Including their own livelihoods; their own intellects; their own physical and financial well-beings; their own Christianity; their own consciences; their own agency; their own money; their own educations; their own employment; their own neighborhoods; their own homes; their own futures; their own children’s futures, their own country’s legacy; their own country’s status with the rest of the world; their own environment; their own food, air, and water; their own planet; their own rights; their own dignity; their own integrity; and their own lives.
And please note that I am not including any qualifiers. For working-class whites. Or whites from Rust Belt cities. Or white men. Or white people who didn’t graduate from college—or rural whites, or Midwestern whites, or Southern whites. Or whites disillusioned with Washington. Or whites who hate Clinton. Or whites who felt ignored by politicians. This is on all white people—who are complicit even if they didn’t vote for Trump.
Yes, there exists a difference between allies and racial antagonists. They are not the same. But those allies obviously haven’t done enough collectively to repudiate the mindsets existing in their families and among their friends, possessed by their co-workers and neighbors, shared during private holiday gatherings and public town-hall meetings. Millions of white voters have shown us that nothing existing on earth or in heaven or hell matters more to them than being white, and whichever privileges—real or fabricated, concrete or spiritual—existing as White in America provides.
I admit: I underestimated them. Of course, I knew of the presence of white supremacy and the appeal of perpetuating it. You cannot exist as a black person in America without at least a rudimentary and peripheral understanding of it. What I didn’t realize, however, was exactly how powerful this want to retain whiteness is.
I assumed, wrongly, that enough of them would value their own lives, their own humanity, more than the need for white supremacy to be preserved. But I failed to realize how intertwined these things are for them. There apparently is no point in even existing without existing as white. Whiteness is past an identity or status; it is their oxygen, their plasma, their connective tissue.
I’m trying very hard to find silver linings today, some source of comfort or consolation. But I cannot. Maybe I will eventually. But right now, this, the idea that white people are so possessed with clutching and cultivating and elevating white supremacy that they will endanger and outright sacrifice their own fucking lives to do so, is all I can think about. And if they feel that way about their own lives, why would they give a damn about mine?