After Trump, the Crisis: David Roediger on White America at the Historical CrossroadsHistorians in the News
tags: racism, Donald Trump, Whiteness
Donald Trump's coup attempt — and especially the Jan. 6 attack he incited on the U.S. Capitol — were a type of "white riot" and insurrection against multiracial democracy. Sociologist Bart Bonikowski recently offered this analysis to Thomas Edsall of the New York Times:
Ethnonationalist Trump supporters want to return to a past when white men saw themselves as the core of America and minorities and women "knew their place." Because doing so requires the upending of the social order, many are prepared to pursue extreme measures, including racial violence and insurrection. What makes their actions all the more dangerous is a self-righteous belief — reinforced by the president, the Republican Party, and right-wing conspiracy peddlers — that they are on the correct side of history as the true defenders of democracy, even as their actions undermine its core institutions and threaten its stability.
The lethal violence by Trump's followers at the Capitol was not the end but rather another stage of escalation in right-wing extremism and terrorism against multiracial democracy. Law enforcement officials and counter-insurgency experts are warning that the United States will likely experience an increasing amount of white supremacist and other right-wing extremist terrorism and other political violence in response to the country's changing racial demographics. The symbolic power of Joe Biden's presidency, and especially of Kamala Harris, the first woman, first Black person and first Asian American to serve as vice president, will only fuel more right-wing terrorism and other violence.
Whiteness appears to be in a state of crisis. To better understand that dynamic, I recently spoke with David Roediger, a professor of history and American studies at the University of Kansas. He is the author of such notable books as "Working Toward Whiteness," "How Race Survived U.S. History" and "Towards the Abolition of Whiteness." His new book is "The Sinking Middle Class: A Political History."
In this conversation, Roediger explores the perils of increased public focus on the "white working class" and why that language should be used much more carefully. He also addresses such questions as how public discussions about "structural racism" often distort and misrepresent the concept and its implications, and what many liberals and leftists misunderstand about the relationship between race and class.
At the end of this conversation Roediger warns that white America may be at a historical crossroads, facing a choice between embracing a more inclusive social democracy or instead becoming more reactionary and dangerous.
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