Following Donald Trump’s recent Presidential victory, cross-sections of America are bewildered by the ascension of a person that they deem lacking any qualifications could rise to such a powerful position. Most Americans refuse to believe that a wicked cocktail of voter suppression, half-truths, and the repeated use of racially-tinged icons and innuendos that enchanted poor and working-class Americans throughout the nation paved Trump’s path to political power.
Although the factors mentioned above were crucial to Trump’s ascension, I still believe that the new President’s ability to tap into the angst, fear, and hatred of poor and working-class whites is the issue that the most recent Presidential election pivoted on. Put simply; the newly elected President accessed what noted scholar W.E.B. Du Bois termed ‘the psychic wages of whiteness.’
The above term is an apt description of poor and working-class whites propensity to consider themselves superior to other poor and working-class individuals solely based upon their racial classification. The pre-eminence of whiteness in every facet of their politico-economic analysis of not only their own but also other groups status invariably causes them to work against their interests illogically. Historically speaking, whiteness has blinded poor and working-class whites to the very class and worker issues that have extended their status as serfs to an exploitive ruling class.
Rest assured that Trump’s playbook of pandering to a frustrated and vengeful white populace who feels that non-whites have stolen their birthright to rule in a nation that was founded by white men to serve the interests of white men.
As mentioned above, these slick political maneuvers are nothing new. Consider the following moments that definitively display ‘the psychic wages of whiteness.’ It is this preoccupation with whiteness that paved the path for the U.S. Civil War.
One of the most omitted realities surrounding the U.S. Civil War is the fact that poor whites throughout the South foolishly picked up guns to preserve deplorable cultural priorities while wealthy whites made plans to further enrich themselves by not only maintaining but also expanding the chattel slavery system. It was an apparent obsession with whiteness that prevented the vast majority of Confederate soldiers from lessening the slavery system to bolster their economic status. The economic interests of the alluded to white men were severely curtailed by the presence of enslaved Africans.
History provides yet another example of ‘the psychic wages of whiteness’ during the post-Reconstruction era. During the demise of American Reconstruction and the ascension of the Jim Crow era, poor whites aided their wealthy white brethren in disenfranchising what should have been a natural ally, recently emancipated African-Americans. Unfortunately for poor whites, they foolishly worked to denigrate poor blacks by aiding in the extension of a southern culture that sought to re-enslave persons of African descent in every way imaginable.
Although painful to admit, the truth of the matter is that the Trump campaign’s use of not so thinly veiled racial dog whistling in which he has denigrated Muslims, Hispanics, African American’s, and all other minority groups worked. Despite what it says about us as a nation, the truth of the matter is that such race-baiting has worked in the past, apparently collaborated in the present, and promises to be a viable strategy in the future. Until whites can get beyond a preoccupation with whiteness that has repeatedly proven not to be a profitable strategy in regards to uplifting their politico-economic status, there is neither hope for class solidarity throughout this racially/ethnically diverse nation nor the improvement of their status. What a stupid people, poor and working-class whites have proven to be.