Four covertly white supremacist concepts we should reconsider

Four covertly white supremacist concepts we should reconsider June 24, 2015
"Mandatory Busing," John Malmin, LA Times, January 21, 1977
“Mandatory Busing,” John Malmin, LA Times, January 21, 1977

White supremacy. It’s not just terrorists in white hoods who burn crosses and lynch black people. It’s an ideology that has completely permeated the social consciousness of white people to the point that it’s become invisible to us. It’s not white peoples’ fault that we’ve been born into this mess, but it’s our responsibility to deconstruct and dismantle it so that we don’t unwittingly pass the same harmful anxieties and presumptions onto our children. Since open racism became unfashionable, white supremacy has perpetuated itself in sublimated, coded language that refuses to acknowledge any connection to race. One of the most successful white supremacist movements was the 1970’s movement [depicted in the photo above] against “mandatory busing” that successfully undermined public school desegregation not only in the South, but in major cities across the country like Los Angeles, Detroit, and Boston. There are a number of concepts and phrases in our political atmosphere today that have similar white supremacist undercurrents. Here are four that we ought to reconsider.

1) “Taking our country back”

The core ethos of the white evangelical culture warrior movement is the idea that “our” country has been taken away from us and we’ve got to fight to get it back. It’s true that our culture is changing at a dizzying, disorienting speed, and many of these changes involve a deterioration of values. Pornography has never been more widely available. Families rarely eat meals together anymore. Kids are addicted to video games and social media. People don’t really know or trust their neighbors.

But one of the biggest changes over the past fifty years has been the slow dismantling of the “good old boy” network that has been in power since the beginning of our country. While white men are still mostly in charge on Wall Street and in the Capitol, we are no longer exclusively in charge. So when we talk about “taking our country back,” who are we taking it back from? Our black president whose authority has been consistently disrespected by white men? Were the “good old days” of segregation somehow less sinful than today?

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re thinking about race when you talk about “taking our country back.” What matters is how this phrase is received by people of color who hear you saying that you want to undo the progress that has been made. Why do we need to pretend that there’s a glorious past to which we should return? Why not simply promote the holiness and justice of God’s kingdom that is coming into the world? Many of the changes that have occurred in the last fifty years could be described as God taking our humanity back from white supremacy. But we’ve got a long way to go!

2) “Government bureaucracy”

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1963, he knew that this act would change the white perspective on the Democratic Party and the federal government forever. One of the most entrenched presumptions of the white imagination in the decades following the federal government’s “intrusion” into the Jim Crow South is the idea that the federal government is an oppressive, maddeningly inefficient “government bureaucracy.” This evil, wasteful behemoth is contrasted with the pristine, perfectly efficient “free market” where wise, practical white men are still in charge and able to make good decisions that benefit everybody.

I wonder how much of the white middle-class imagination about “government bureaucracy” is shaped by our interactions with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the one government agency with which we cannot avoid face to face encounters. I don’t know the actual statistics on DMV employees, but the proportion of black employees in the public sector is generally much higher than the private sector. When I’ve gone to the DMV, the employees with whom I’ve interacted have almost always been black. Instead of appreciating that they have a thankless job whose anal retentiveness is mandated from above, it’s easy to allow the faces from these interactions become the faces that are racially associated with the phrase “government bureaucracy” in my white supremacist imagination.

3) “Culture of dependency”

The most powerful myth of the 1980’s was the story of the “welfare mama,” an unemployed, unmarried, morbidly obese black woman who kept on having children with random men in order to get a bigger check from the government. Despite the fact that President Clinton oversaw the dismantling of the country’s welfare program, the myth has persisted in a slightly more sublimated form. Now there is an assumption that any government program which supports poor people in any way creates a “culture of dependency” that incentivizes staying poor. Never mind that unemployment benefits, EBT cards, and other government programs have very strict hoops for people to jump through that incentivize finding work if it’s available. Never mind that offering access to free health care through Medicaid doesn’t involve giving anybody free handouts, just keeping people healthy so they can work. What makes this myth work are the unnamed imaginary figures it presupposes: lazy black people. There’s a complex mixture of reasons why poor people stay poor, but providing them with free health care and supplementary food stamps does not incentivize poverty.

4) “Failed public schools”

When my family moved to New Orleans last summer, everybody wanted to know what we were going to do with the schools down here. There’s one local charter school called Lusher that has enough black kids to be “diverse” but is majority white. The only other “viable option” for white parents is to put their kids into private school. One of the things that conservative and liberal white parents quietly agree upon is that they will not put their children in majority-black schools. It’s never because of the black kids. It’s always because of test scores, “gang” violence, and the supposedly “incompetent” teachers who are imagined to sit behind their desks and play on their phones while their classrooms degenerate into battle zones. Nobody ever wonders if “urban” public schools are “failing” because of their lack of resources. It’s because of their “unruly” (black) students and their “incompetent” (black) teachers. My wife and I have broken the rules of good white parenting here in New Orleans, partly because we didn’t have our act together enough to jump through all the hoops to get our kids into the right school. Our sons are in a charter school called Encore Academy only because New Orleans has very few non-charter options left. It’s about 70% black, 15% white, and 15% other races. The teachers are great. The school has a performing arts focus with monthly “Family Fridays” where all the kids perform for their parents. Neither of our sons have been bullied. They seem to be making friends as well as they did in the Northern Virginia suburbs. They seem to be learning more complicated things than I remember learning at each of their respective grade levels. It really isn’t the terror that so many white parents think it would be.

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  • Thanks Morgan. I interviewed for a job in NO in 1996. When the realtor took me around, they made sure I only saw homes in “nice” neighborhoods. Code language again…

  • George Plasterer

    Many of us think that the private sector will manage resources if left largely alone by “government bureaucracy.” Many of us think “government bureaucracy” is the heavy foot of government on the free choices of individuals. Many of us think that “failed public schools” hurt the poor the most. Many of us think that a “culture of dependency” hurts precisely those the ideology claims to want to help. I personally do not like the term “take our country back,” but I do think that far too many citizens have been taught to hate their country and its founding. So, I guess I, who fought my father over his racist attitudes, have, in the “brave new world” created by you progressives, in the “1984” created by you, have become white supremacist. You are amazing in so many ways.

    • Name a concrete example of how you’ve seen the culture of dependency at work.

      • Rebecca Trotter

        I once shared in a discussion that over the last 20 years there were a few times that we had to use government assistance. This guy popped up to announce that he’d like to know what the hell my family was doing wrong because he knew he could do better. So I explained.exactly what had happened. Odd thing, he never did come back to explain what it was that he would have done better.

        As someone who had to come out of white supremacy, I do understand how hard it is to believe that these very simple, foundational ideas that we’ve been taught to believe are true, are actually false. And not like “that’s your opinion” false. Like “that’s just not how reality works” wrong. I mean, I’m embarrassed that it took me as long as I did to realize that not every poor person I met was an exception. Most poor people are just doing the best they can under often impossible circumstances. For years, I thought people were exaggerating their problems and minimizing their own culpability. Now I realize that nearly every one is getting by by minimizing their problems. More people are struggling than we can begin to imagine.

      • Evergreen

        Oh boy, is CCN raycist! too?

        …49% of the population lives in a household where at least one person gets some type of government benefit…The problem is that Washington is building a culture of dependency, with ever-more people relying on an ever-growing federal government to give them cash or benefits…

        Why the U.S. has a culture of dependency
        By Matthew Spalding, Special to CNN

        • …just checking, you are aware that that’s an Opinion page, right? There are even links on that page to CNN Opinion pages that completely and totally disagree with what your page is saying.

          • Evergreen

            I’m well aware its an opinion page. CNN considers a wide range of opinions without pulling the racist card to shout down an informed opinion. Problem?

          • Just checking, since you seemed to be presenting it as the stance of CNN, rather than the stance of a random person who submitted an opinion piece to CNN.

          • Evergreen

            Goes to show how poorly you perceive informed opinions when you’ve got your raycist goggles super-glued on your face.

          • the old troll spin:
            wind ’em up/put up down! Makes you feel superior? Sad! )=

  • Rebecca Trotter

    This is excellent. Have fun managing the comments. LOL

  • Millicent6591
  • jrb16915

    I can only control myself. I try to deal with everyone equally regardless of race, color, sex or creed. There is a big problem with white guilt. Its not a particularly Christian concept to assign group guilt to an entire race or country. But I don’t feel any personal responsibility for the misdeeds of prior generations, nor do I feel an obligation to do anything more or less than treating people equally.

  • Mr_Scorpio

    Excellent article.

  • Melissa

    One of the greatest hurdles as I have experienced it surrounding this issue is in getting white Americans to even come to the table in this discussion because of the perceived blame they feel falling on them from the outset. When I try to talk to my parents about racial systemic injustice (which I don’t do anymore because we cannot come to any kind of consensus at all) they cannot see that any of the responsibility belongs to them (white people) because they didn’t personally do these things (treat black people badly) and they don’t “feel privileged” in any way. Part of their reaction lies in the very fact that they ARE Christians, and that they don’t EVER want to admit wrong doing because this taints their perceived godliness. What do they say in AA, “The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem.”? If we can’t get to step one in white America, we can never get to the step where we right the wrongs we’ve done to others.

    There was an excellent article recently about white privilege and systemic injustices and lopsided judgment of actions favoring whites that I recently read ( When I read it I wished that all of my loved ones could read this article, but I knew they NEVER would. Why? Not because they didn’t have access to the information (I posted it to my FB page, so that’s not the case), but simply because they would never read it ONLY because of the title. I know the title is meant to grab people, but it’s grabbing the wrong people and pushing away the very ones who desperately need to read this information. If the way we are framing the issue (simply the words we are choosing) is not allowing the party we need to come to the table on this issue with any measure of self respect intact even before they come to the discussion table, why would they ever choose to come to the table? We desperately need them to come to the table if we are ever going to make true heart changes in this country. Because let’s face it, we can “executive privledge” a lot of things into existence, but if there is no involvement from both parties, there will be no buy-in from those who were not at the table.

    • It’s very hard to talk to white people about this stuff.

  • Jerry Lynch

    Great piece. I would like to add that all four points fall under “the socialist plot” by “the far left” (liberals/Democrats) to usher in the One World Order. Our schools have failed because “they” took away prayer, teach the Humanistic Manifesto, and replaced God’s supremacy with the theory of evolution. We have to take our country back from these “minions of Satan.” “Their” government bureaucracy is dismantling not just the Constitution but the Judeo-Christian principles and ideals upon which this country rests. “They” are destroying the rugged individualism and frontier spirit that made this country great by the commie ploy of entitlements. The moral decay of this country started with “their” genocide of the unborn that was aided and abetted by the sleazy and godless of Hollywood. This is the white, conservative and evangelical perspective that dominates those on the Right.