Sunday, November 13, 2016

Being White in America Has Changed and Trump Has Changed It

Nell Irvin Painter in the NYTimes, "What Whiteness Means in the Trump Era". Whiteness is now (just) another racial category rather than being the default. By selling himself to whites Trump has made himself the public vehicle of that change. And, as Painter points out below, that is a demotion. That's not what Trump intended, but it's what he's done or, if you wall, what the social situation has done with/through him.
I don’t mean that Americans suddenly started counting people as “white.” This has been going on since the first federal census of 1790, which enumerated three categories of white people (“Free white Males of sixteen years and upwards, including heads of families,” “Free white Males under sixteen years” and “Free white Females”). That census also tabulated two other categories: “All other free persons” and “Slaves.” Period. Black was not marked. Since 1790, population statistics have faithfully recognized a category of “white” people, sometimes more than one, especially native- and nonnative born. So I don’t mean that Americans suddenly discovered the category of white in 2016.

I’m saying that what it means to see yourself as white has fundamentally changed, from unmarked default to racially marked [...] In our racially oriented American society, this change marks a demotion for white people. From assumed domination, they now take their place among the multiracial American millions. [...] In the Trump administration, white men will be in charge (virtually his entire transition team, and practically every name offered for a potential cabinet post, is a white man). You could say that’s nothing new, that white men have been in charge forever. This is true, but now with a gigantic difference. This time the white men in charge will not simply happen to be white; they will be governing as white, as taking America back, back to before multiculturalism.
Who gets to define whiteness?
How will white people who didn’t support Mr. Trump in 2016 construe their identity as white people when Trumpists, including white nationalists, Nazis, Klansmen and Mr. Bannon, have posted the markers?

Here’s a further question about white American identity in the wake of “Make America Great Again.” Mr. Trump did not win a majority of popular votes. Even if he had, the population he will have to govern far exceeds his supporters. Given this minority basis of support, what might a Trump administration portend?
His core and beyond:
As president, Mr. Trump’s going to have to move beyond his white and heavily male electorate and face up to conflicts of interest even within his core. A Trump supporter in Atlanta warned the president-elect: Break your promises at your peril.

I will not be surprised if the need to govern all of us alienates his base. And I will not be surprised if being president of a huge, multiracial, multiethnic democracy turns many of his supporters against him as a traitor to their values — perhaps, even, as a traitor to their race.
Now I understand Trump's nutjob birtherism about Obama. In a world of default whiteness the representative leader, of course, had to be white. Obama destroyed the default and Trump is the one who bore witness to that destruction.

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