Words by Kokayi Nosakhere
“White America is a dying tribe.” Most White Americans recoil at those words, experiencing a shock through their nervous system. The sentence originates from a worldview the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr national holiday helps us celebrate died with him in 1968. White America has gotten better, choosing to leave the shadow of Native genocide, chattel slavery and segregation in the past.
Pat Buchanan understands history. He wrote it, putting words into President Richard Nixon’s mouth as a speechwriter and advising President Ronald Reagan. He thoughts himself popular enough, or his ideas potent enough, to campaign for the Republican nomination during the Clinton years, in 1992 and 1996.
Time Sensitive Public Policy
In an October 18, 2011 blog post Buchanan lamented the changing American demographics lauded by President Bill Clinton in 1998 and represented by Barack Obama’s ascendency to the most psychologically influential seat in America. Daily briefings of White men and women following the orders of a Black man was unmistakable. For two generations, White America experienced the villification of their culture and their culture through “revisionist” historians like Howard Zinn. The emotions around race Dr. Robin DiAngelo is experimenting finding the words for rose to the top and remained there unprocessed.
Buchanan wrote, “The Census Bureau has now fixed at 2041 the year when whites become a minority in a country where the Founding Fathers had restricted citizenship to ‘free white persons’ of ‘good moral character.’ . . . Those who hold the white race responsible for the mortal sins of mankind – slavery, racism, imperialism, genocide – may welcome its departure from history. Those who believe that the civilization that came out of Jerusalem, Athens, Rome and London to be the crowning achievement of mankind will mourn its passing.”
When Buchanan shared this sentiment on-air, reacting in real time to Obama’s re-election in 2012, the reaction was muted. First, the current generation being exposed to Buchanan’s worldview needed to be taught why he said it.
Writing for London’s Daily Mail, Tom Leonard explained, “Given that immigration has become the country’s single most divisive issue, predictably some Americans have been punching the air for joy at the decline of a white majority, while others are bereft at what they see as the leaching away of their nation’s traditional character.
Liberals wedded to a multi-ethnic future insist it will be an opportunity to reinvigorate the U.S., creating a more diversified, open-minded and 21st century country.
At the other extreme are conservatives who believe the ‘death’ of white America spells cultural, economic and political doom for their country, and an end to the values of self-sufficiency that made their country great. And in between the two extremes are most rank-and-file Americans, who understand that the U.S. needs new blood if it is to avoid Japan and Europe’s economic nightmare of an ageing population, but who are worried by the implications of what has been dubbed the ‘browning’ of the U.S.”
This doesn’t land well; it stinks of irrational fear, which it is. It is what American elementary students are taught justified lynching: the fear of Black men having sex with White women. Yet, the reality that it is a visceral fear, so visceral, when encountered many White Americans emotionally and psychologically shut down. How do you assist someone in getting over the fear expressed in Charlottesville, “You [people of color] will not replace us!”
America’s Default Culture Doesn’t Have an Answer
Racism goes against the “culture of individualism” touted as the basis for “American exceptionalism.” This is what Dr. King pointed towards: the ideals embedded inside the Declaration of Independence are sound. What is needed is conscious movement towards making those ideals the lived experience of the masses. Racists disagree; they do not wish to live in an America of expanding freedom, justice and equality. Such an America is a threat to their hegemony.
When House of Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican, heard Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech described on August 28, 1963 at the age of 14 and said, “No.” 55 years later, his answer has not changed. Echoing the sentiments of Dr. King’s opponents, on January 10, Rep. King asked the New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” Mr. King said. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?”
Mr. King, in the interview, said he was not a racist. He pointed to his Twitter timeline showing him greeting Iowans of all races and religions in his Washington office.”
Because of the Civil Rights Movement, Rep. King’s assertion he is not racist falls on deaf ears. Following the interview, mainstream Republicans felt tremendous pressure to distance the party brand from King, stripping him of his committee assignments. This reaction comes in stark contrast to former Speaker Paul Ryan’s silence in the face of the Anti-Defamation League’s plea three months ago in late October 2018, “We urge you, as Speaker of the House, to strip King from his chairmanships, and to take formal disciplinary action to censure King and condemn his actions.”
The Status Quo Response
Non-racist White Republicans are celebrating the denouncement of Rep. King as an affirmation of their basic core values. They are correct. However, it comes with a caveat, meaning, the full-throated denouncement of racism doesn’t equal progress towards eliminating racist outcomes in public policy.
South Carolina’s Tim Scott, the only Republican African American Senator, wrote on January 11, “We are only 18 months from Charlottesville, where white nationalists killed a white woman with a car and severely beat multiple black people. . . . When people with opinions similar to King’s open their mouths, they damage not only the Republican Party and the conservative brand but also our nation as a whole. They want to be treated with fairness for some perceived slights but refuse to return the favor to those on the other side.”
He’s right: Steve King is not the problem; the problem is the refusal to discuss the issues Steve King is bringing up.
The civility standard demanded by White America in order to discuss the taboo of race is the barrier. The terms developed by Dr. Robin DiAngelo are “weaponized” in the psychological experience of “normal” White citizens who know they are not intentionally attempting to hurt anyone, yet, everything they say and do is viewed through the lens Dr. King used during the Civil Rights Movement, presenting political leaders like Gov. George Wallace who disagreed with American ideals as insane.
White extinction anxiety – another collection of problematic words – is a term being used to point towards Buchanan’s worldview, the re-election of Steve King for a ninth time and the first election of Cindy Hyde-Smith (R- Mississippi), another white nationalist, to the Senate. Non-racist White persons bristle at the term. Like “white privilege” and “white fragility,” they know “white extinction anxiety” does not accurately describe their worldview.
What the actual words need to be to describe this irrational fear embedded inside of some border wall supporters, while remaining inside of the white tribal resistance to the speaking openly about race and racism – in reference to White people – have yet to be found.
Here is what I think Rep. Steve King’s moment of sobriety gives us the opportunity to explore:
- Many “White Americans” are only one generation away from having an openly racist person in their family. This means the 50 and 60 years olds in 2019 grew up in households which felt unfairly villianized by Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. When they attempted to express their emotional and psychological discomfort over the Civil Rights Movement’s demands, they felt personally attacked in a way the culture of individualism doesn’t permit any relief. Because the culture of individualism doesn’t give White persons a method to eradicate racism, it is concluded the person of color demand for “interruptive” allyship is injust. Instead, the status quo demand is made for people of color to ignore racism’s impact upon their lives and not charge any individual white person in finding, or implementing, a solution.
- Most “White Americans” have a tortured relationship with American history. Because they practice the culture of individualism, a disconnection occurs in relationship to segregation practiced by their parents and/or the slavery/genocide practiced by their great-grandparents. The fact that people of color do associate the average white person with “what has happened in America” en masse, in direct violation of what individualism teaches, creates an emotional reaction the average white person doesn’t have words for. “White guilt” is just as problematic as “white privilege” and “white fragility.” It feels like racism, i.e. the forcing of an un-wanted identity upon a person, who cannot escape the consequences of said labeling, is occurring. Racism by people of color towards white people is not a solution to the racism white people have practiced towards people of color.
- Rep. Steve King and President Donald Trump are fighting back against this forcing of “the white man is the devil” concept onto the White person who knows he or she is not racist and is just trying to survive. If both men took countless photos shaking hands and hugging persons of color, how are they racist? If they were racist, why did all those persons of color choose to embrace them? Would they not feel the revulsion and outrage being expressed right now towards them? Would not they have suffered the consequences deserving of a racist White person, rather than advancement in their career? Blaming every White person for the collective sins of White people is injustice and racism. Who is protecting the innocent? Why should a White person cow to any person of color who makes this allegation against them just because the person of color doesn’t get his or her way in the moment?
White America wrestling with race/racism is the opportunity of this moment. Running from the concept of whiteness and the fact it is a social construct is the worst thing the national conversation can inspire. The beautiful thing is: White America is strong enough to have this conversation. Rep. Steve King is being a wonderful mirror, helping America have this very necessary discussion. Let us choose to be brave, as brave as we celebrate Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement for being.