Everywhere I look lately, there are signs of white men panicking about their supremacy over American society.
A group of white men shot at young Black Lives Matter protesters on consecutive nights in Minneapolis last weekend, injuring five people. Donald Trump, still a leading Republican presidential candidate, proposed creating a database and ID cards for Muslims, leading even some Republicans to label him as a fascist. White Student Unions are popping up around the country in response to demands that university administrations do more to fight racism on campus. Finally, Robert Dear opened fire at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood clinic last week, killing three people and injuring nine.
As a white man, I want to understand what it is about the ideas of “whiteness” or “America” that’s causing white American males to be the country’s largest terror threat. Why isn’t white violence that is intended to shut down black movements, or male violence intended to intimidate women, considered terrorism by so many?
I want to understand why, at this particular moment, white American men seem to be losing their minds.
Since the civil-rights movement, the Republican establishment — the big bankers and CEOs that actually run the party — have danced with racists in the white grassroots by conflating racism and fear of the government. Instead of providing all Americans with decent healthcare, education, jobs, or housing, the racist white grassroots and rich establishment agreed that everyone should be on their own — so black people and immigrants don’t accidentally get anything good.
The “Southern Strategy” helped create two national, highly polarized political parties that disagree on every issue, leading to the extreme gridlock that’s crippling Washington. From Goldwater to the Tea Party, the far right parlayed white people’s fear of blacks and other people of color into an anti-government backlash that gutted the middle class.
All of us live with the extreme inequality these politics have generated. Denying healthcare to poor people will keep some black people from getting things, but poverty knows no color. Making college unaffordable to all but the rich will keep some black people off campuses, but it will also burden white families. Ironically, racism and white supremacy has made non-rich white people deal with some of the same issues that people of color have faced for centuries. This is an old truth of white supremacy, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us. “If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus,” King said back in 1965, “then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow.”