Good White People Can Be Racist, Too

Donald Trump at a rally in Arizona last March. Photo by Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons).

Who are good white people? I have lived with good white people nearly all my life. If you can’t identify them, they will gladly identify themselves. In an essay for Jezebel, author Britt Bennett writes, “A racist troll is easy to dismiss. He does not think decency is enough. Sometimes I think good white people expect to be rewarded for their decency. We are not like those other white people. See how enlightened and aware we are?”

My beachside hometown in a forgettable part of New England is insignificant in size on the map. It is insignificant in the number of electoral college votes that could tip the direction of an election, and it is full of good white people. These good white people had never seen or experienced racism and, thus, thought it had ceased to exist. I served as proof that racism was an exotic relic trapped in history books and the foggy memories of a strange land carved before equality. I have lived with too many good white people. They swear they do not see color. They visibly bristle when they are called racists or accused of racism. They believe that loving their narrow version of Black culture is an expression of unconditional love. They do not use racial slurs because racism begins and ends with the N-word, but they slap Confederate flag stickers on their bumpers and decorate their front lawns with Trump/Pence signs. They call the Black Livers Matter movement “anti-white” and its activists “terrorists.”

Do we really need to turn the reality of racism into a horned monster in order to understand its blood thirst? According to exit polls, 60 percent of white men and 52 percent of white women who voted cast their ballots for Donald Trump. These particular numbers aren’t limited to class or state or age. These particular numbers include good white people: white men dating Black women, white women who have a Black friend, white people who assure the one Black person they think they know that they’re “not like those other Black people.”

People with guilty consciences want to downplay how racism impacted the polls. The outcome wasn’t about racism, it was about sexism! It wasn’t about racism, it was about economic anxieties! Sexism and economic worries are certainly factors in the results, but the possible loss of the institution of whiteness is an overwhelming motivator. This year’s exit polls conducted by CNN show that although 66 percent of white voters without college degrees voted for Trump, 48 percent with degrees still voted for the reality TV star. On the other hand, 72 percent of non-white college graduates and 76 percent of non-white voters without degrees voted for Hillary Clinton.

Good white people believed Trump was more of a joke than a threat. All of the good white people would band together to keep a personification of white supremacy out of office. We’re a country that (finally) elected a Black man into the White House. All of the good white people didn’t stop to think that progress isn’t a straight line, that white supremacy not only thrives on the bitterness and anger of its followers, but the apathy and complacency of its bystanders, too.

Trump’s election is part of a long history of white supremacy in the United States. Photo by Cristian Bernal (Creative Commons). 

Good white people have been afraid to name the cause of Trump’s rise by its rightful label: white supremacy. Naysayers will provide a distraction and argue that because 88 percent of Republicans voted for Trump, it proves that it isn’t white people who are racist, it’s just Republicans. We must stop peddling such empty comforts. White supremacy doesn’t care about party lines. Writing for The Establishment, Ijeoma Oluo says, “You CAN be a Hillary supporter, a Jill Stein supporter, a Gary Johnson supporter, or a die-hard anarchist and still be a White Supremacist.”

Trump has been amplyifying and selling white supremacy since the inception of his campaign. Good white people have refused to admit this, as it means they would have to acknowledge their complicity. It seems that bruised egos matter more than confronting the ugly state of the nation’s cultural divide. We need to stop giving white supremacy the benefit of the doubt as though it operates under rational judgement. Late Night host Seth Meyers confessed, “I am hopeful for President Trump because hope is always the best possible path to take… So I’m hopeful that he’s not actually a racist, and that he just used racist rhetoric to court voters—because when you’re courting someone, you’re always willing to pretend you’re something you’re not.” Why hope for Trump to be something he obviously is not? And even if he really has been using racist rhetoric just for votes, the damage is already done. Why would he now speak against the very demographic that carried him to victory?  

I don’t think many people of color, especially Black people, are all that shocked that this happened. The backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement shows that white people are bothered even when Black people dare to declare their humanity. Good white people insist our democracy is working for everyone yet fail to understand how optimism can lead to blindness or how liberalism inadvertently solidifies oppression. The solutions to oppression promoted by good white people rely on integration at the expense of the oppressed, as Model View Culture writer Kẏra points out. The notion that the oppressed must love thy oppressor operates on the assumption that patience absolves violence and dehumanization and that misinterpreted Martin Luther King Jr. quotes mean that minorities should turn the other cheek.

Minorities cannot afford to “wait and see” if Trump will follow through on his campaign promises. The fact that he is now president-elect signifies that racism and white supremacy do not have to cower in the shadows or hide behind 4chan and Reddit keyboard warriors. Good intentions are not enough in a world that refuses to let white supremacy die. Good intentions rely on the mental, emotional, and physical endurance of minorities; they will always be there to educate good white people and racists alike. Dehumanization doesn’t always have to wear white hoods. Dehumanization expects Black, brown, and other marginalized groups to silence their own voices out of politeness and to award merit badges to all the good white people who think racism is not a white people problem or an American legacy, but a rare affliction contained below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Vanessa Willoughby, a light-skinned Black woman with long, black, curly hair, looks at the camera
by Vanessa Willoughby
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Vanessa Willoughby is a writer and editor. Her bylines include but are not limited to the New York Times, Allure, BookPage, Hello Giggles, The Toast, and Bitch. She hopes to one day publish a book.

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

exit poll data

Your point is good and revealing, racism has evolved and a lot of people are still living by old standards or haven't even realised. It is important to keep pointing it out and the ways it keeps happening big or small, because it is so easy to become locked into your own world or bubble sometimes. This is something I really liked about your article, it picks some of the small ones and some of the big ones. I'm looking forward to discovering more through your articles.

I wanted to make a comment about the exit polls though. Exit polls always make me uneasy and suspicious, especially when major news companies start stating them as fact, and then fingers start to point.
Exit polls are good at getting a glimpse of information, but it's easy to forget that they need to be taken as a single grain of salt. The reality is we don't know who voted for which party.
The NYTimes website says:

"Data for 2016 were collected by Edison Research for the National Election Pool, a consortium of ABC News, The Associated Press, CBSNews, CNN, Fox News and NBC News. The voter survey is based on questionnaires completed by 24,537 voters leaving 350 voting places throughout the United States on Election Day including 4,398 telephone interviews with early and absentee voters."

So according to the NYTimes only 28,935 people were interviewed out of a country with 318.9 million people. The Edison Research website claims to have collected, processed, and analyzed over 100,000 interviews, but no exact number. Can this really be representative of a whole country? They give very little information about voters aside from what we already know. They don't share exact numbers either, for all we know they could have interviewed 5 people of minority, 100 white women of varying classes and 20,000 elite white men. We also don't know if these people were telling exit poll interviewers the truth. I'm not saying they should publish names and addresses of the people interviewed, but more information would be good. I think they don't provide these numbers because perhaps it wouldn't be as shocking or it would reveal that the exit polls are a joke. The only thing we can know for certain are how many people in each state didn't vote for whatever reason.

I would love it if someone can share any more information or thoughts about the real numbers of the exit poll results. I looked but ended up going in circles and then hitting a wall.

By focusing my comment on the polls, I'm not saying that racism isn't there and I'm not saying that white supremacy doesn't exist. I just feel that by continuing to cite these numbers stops us from finding our allies and keeps us looking for blame instead of uniting and facing the battle to come.

Please keep sharing your stories, it's important to hear your voice and read your perspective.


Feeling Left out?

This is an informative and pactful article, thank you for your insights. I realized something when I was reading, those who have protested the Black Lives Matter posts I have seen, stating rather that "All Lives Matter," were feeling left out. I know I certainly do. White, aging, female, who has lived in Black Communities and very White ones, seeing and experiencing the hate. I never felt like my life mattered. I cannot know first hand the prejudice heaped on one of color, but I do know the prejudice heaped on one who has consorted with those of color. My youngest son know the prejudice.

I am fearful for this country. Rhetoric is born of self-importance, with the need to gain attention no matter how it comes. And as any child will tell you who has lived with neglect, any attention is better than none. At least they are noticed. Even when it is painful. It would seem this country has been given a right to act out in anger and hate. Trump's rants and acting out, giving permission for violence, it has not ended. I would love to see "Good White People" behave better than the child seeking any attention at all.

We were a great Nation already. My life matters, I count. As an individual human being. The Divine provided me with the rights that no one can take from me.

I send blessings to this country, may we find peace.

for a lot of reasons, this is

for a lot of reasons, this is a very sad piece of writing. i feel
sorry for the author.

White Supremacy in Indiana

I am a lifetime resident of Indiana. This article describes most of the people I meet daily. They are unable to let go of the idea that we must have a white ruling class guiding us. I am fortunate to live in Marion county where we were able to retain Congressman Andre Carson. The rest of the state proudly discarded qualified candidates. They voted in as governor the puppet handpicked by Pence. They happily voted for the Trum-Pence ticket. Largely this is so they can feel included. They truly believe they will get special favors because of Pence, the governor who let our roads and schools die. The governor who signed a law that lets you do anything to anyone as long as you claim that Jesus told you to do it (RFRA).

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