Aggrieved Whiteness: White Identity Politics and Modern American Racial Formation

by Mike King

[This article is part of the Abolition journal’s first issue.]

Recent social psychological research, opinion polls, and political movements, such as the Tea Party and the candidacy and election of Donald Trump, have highlighted an increasingly widespread sentiment among white Americans that they are a structurally oppressed racial group. In spite of persistent socio-cultural and political economic structures of white supremacy, real racial inequalities that serve to privilege rather than oppress white people as a group, a politics of aggrieved whiteness has become increasingly prevalent. Aggrieved whiteness is a white identity politics aimed at maintaining white socio-political hegemony through challenging efforts to combat actual material racial inequality, while supporting heavily racialized investments in policing, prisons, and the military, and positing a narrative of antiwhite racial oppression loosely rooted in an assortment of racialized threats. This political manifestation of white supremacy does not deviate from previous incarnations; it lacks a legitimate grounding in reason and fact, but still produces very real social consequences. This article will sketch how W.E.B. Du Bois’s concept of socio-psychological wages of whiteness, Paula Ioanide’s discussion of modern racial affect, and Wendy Brown’s application of ressentiment to modern political conceptions of identity can help provide a contextualized understanding of aggrieved whiteness and the challenges it poses to pursuits for genuine racial justice.

Keywords: Aggrieved whiteness, racial formation, wages of whiteness, racial affect, neoliberal carcerality

 

Since the time of this country’s origins, race has been the fundamental political contradiction of our society. White supremacy in the United States has been challenged and has evolved a great deal, as has the society in which it is embedded, since the initial formulaic construction of racial social ordering. From the conception of the American racial system in the U.S. South in the early 1600s to the current moment of mass incarceration, unequal education, and persistent state and vigilante violence, white supremacy has been challenged but also refashioned, repackaged, and reproduced. This article argues that aggrieved whiteness is a historically new facet of U.S. racial formation, cohering as an approach to race politics after the civil rights movement and gaining material and ideological support throughout the neoliberal era. Furthermore, social wage retrenchment in the neoliberal era and the concomitant five-fold expansions of state expenditures throughout the criminal justice system are symbiotically entwined with aggrieved whiteness and its political mobilization.[1] This politics has become far more vocal, visible, mobilized, and violent[2] during the Obama presidency, as economic crisis, burgeoning class inequality, social atomization, and a lack of responsive political institutions have become more acute.

Aggrieved whiteness is a dominant pillar of contemporary U.S. racial formation, linking the material political projects of neoliberal carcerality with racial representations and identities. Michael Omi and Howard Winant defined a racial project as the ideological connective tissue between material inequality and socially constructed racial identities: “A racial project is simultaneously an interpretation, representation, or explanation of racial dynamics, and an effort to reorganize and redistribute resources along particular racial lines.”[3] Racial projects connect racial attitudes to ideological structures and political processes, and are socio-historical products of the material conditions and political conflicts of particular eras and social relations. Racial projects are more than individual attitudes or viewpoints, but also distinct from broader racial ideologies, as abstract sets of ideas. Racial projects link individual identity and opinions with ideological and political structures of race to mobilize political actors in efforts to reorder racialized power relations in society. Including but not limited to individual racial animus or fear, the racial project of aggrieved whiteness has organized white public feelings toward specific material ends of racial redistribution of power, wealth, and social standing in the era of neoliberal carcerality.[4]

The two primary politico-economic and ideological trends differentiating the racial project of aggrieved whiteness from earlier conceptions of white political identity are neoliberalism and individualistic identity politics. Attitudes of white racial resentment are longstanding. However, contemporary resentment attitudes (and the broader ideology and politics of which they are a part) are now affectively attached to and articulated through the assumptions, values, beliefs, and objectives of a neoliberal political terrain defined by a carceral/warfare state that privileges security over previous obligations toward the general social welfare, within an increasingly atomized and unequal society where government revenue and expenditures are understood through dog whistle racial politics.[5] Contemporary white racial resentment also differs from past eras of resentment due to the ways in which it is articulated through normative de-historicized and nonmaterial identity politics that, combined with dominant notions of a postracial social order, give the aggrieved white political subject internal ideological coherence and a political terrain to stand on. The racial project of aggrieved whiteness is oriented toward reconstructing white racial hegemony through a) positing a postracial social order, in which evidence of material racial inequality is explained through meritocratic individualism, and b) defining efforts to recognize or address real material racial inequality (through government policies and programs, or through social movements) as a form of social injustice that ultimately systematically disadvantages whites. While the ideology of white supremacy, and white resentment as a subset of that ideology, are by no means new, their ontological grounding within a political context of dominant postracialism allows white victimhood politics to be popularly expressed as simply the unbiased pursuit of group interests. The politics of aggrieved whiteness has been mutually constituted by racialized neoliberal/carceral restructuring and the subjectivities of race and class that they have been producing.

Public opinion polls and psychological research demonstrated the prevalence of aggrieved whiteness beliefs throughout the years of the Obama presidency. Aggrieved whiteness has become more ideologically cohesive through the covert and overt political mobilization of its adherents in the Tea Party and “Birther” movements, and most visibly through Donald Trump’s candidacy and electoral victory.[6] This politico-ideological project asserts that white citizens in the U.S. are racially subjected and structurally discriminated against by powerful structures which systematically limit their life chances due to their whiteness. Despite clear and persistent socio-cultural and political economic structures of white supremacy, real racial inequalities that serve to privilege rather than oppress white people, a politics of aggrieved whiteness has nevertheless become increasingly prevalent – refashioning “bootstraps” arguments that individualize and dehistoricize real racial disadvantage for people of color, while elevating a long and variegated list of racialized scapegoats which demand punitive containment, and validating and amplifying longstanding white racial resentments far beyond earlier moments of hostility to perceived affirmative action and welfare. Aggrieved whiteness is a white identity politics aimed at maintaining white socio-political hegemony through challenging efforts to combat actual material racial inequality, while supporting heavily racialized investments in policing, prisons, and the military, and positing a narrative of antiwhite racial oppression loosely rooted in an assortment of racialized threats. Racially-coded neoliberal carcerality has long been formulated through attacks on already weakened social welfare and affirmative action programs as well as support for repressive state intervention against racialized targets—from Muslims and undocumented immigrants to urban Black populations.

A Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 44 percent of all Americans and 61 percent of Tea Party supporters in 2010 thought that discrimination against whites was just as great as discrimination against racial minorities.[7] A Pew Research poll taken in August 2014, two weeks after the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO revealed that “about seven-in-ten whites (71%) expressed a great deal or fair amount of confidence in local police to treat blacks and whites equally, compared with just 36% of blacks.”[8] When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, respondents to a September 2015 PBS poll revealed, “59 percent of whites think it distracts attention from real issues.”[9] These polls illustrate the extent to which white majorities identify themselves as racialized victims, a politics that goes beyond a simple resentful reaction to the election of the first mixed-race president, or blowback to emerging Black social movements. These polls reflect more than persistent individual biases or long-standing projected fear among white respondents; they highlight the much broader and paradoxical ways in which white supremacy, white resentment in particular, has become fundamentally linked with a subject position of victimhood. Within the existing racial formation in the United States, aggrieved whiteness has become the public face of modern white supremacy—a contradictory identity through which white political and economic dominance is maintained through rolling back the limited racial progress of the civil rights movement under the auspices of meritocratic fairness.

The institutional/ideological dialectic of white supremacy that has evolved over time, what Omi and Winant refer to as racial formation, is ideologically composed of sets of ideas that are articulated together to give coherence to dominant racial ideas, practices, and political subjects.[10] The racial stereotypes, racialized public emotions, assumptions about the functioning of social structures and relations, and contemporary political mobilizations are articulated (and rearticulated) to provide ideological coherence for the existing racial formation, and identities for people living within it. Articulated through existing racial stereotypes that serve to halt a racial redistribution of wealth and power, post–civil rights attitudes of resentment, New Right racialized antistatism and neoliberal carcerality, and recent mainstream political movements overtly situated around white identity, aggrieved whiteness has emerged to become, arguably, the hegemonic racial project within contemporary U.S. racial formation. As an ideological pillar of modern white supremacy, the fact that aggrieved whiteness is not firmly rooted within fact or rational logic (i.e., economically, politically, and socially white Americans as a social group consistently benefit rather than suffer from racial inequality) does not differentiate it from previous socio-political white supremacist claims (i.e., the white man’s burden, eugenics, the culture of poverty). Therefore I will not go to great lengths to illustrate the degrees and extent of white privilege in the United States. My aim is to provide a rough sketch of the politics of aggrieved whiteness in contemporary U.S. politics and society and to begin an analysis of the two major intersecting social contexts through which this politics has emerged: the protection and reinforcement of an elevated white socio-political status amid neoliberal political economic change; and individualized, dehistoricized identity politics as a normative frame through which subjects are politically intelligible and pursue their interests on a neoliberal historical landscape.

 

Economic and Psychological Wages of Whiteness as Socio-Historical Constructs

Dating back to the ideological construction of race as a socio-political structure four centuries ago—mutually constituted by the political-economic practice of slavery—racial stratification has been ingrained and reproduced through a reinforcing set of historically constructed ideological beliefs and material stratification. At its most basic, race is about seeing and treating people differently in society based on historically constructed racial identities—a reinforcing process of defining and then treating people from racialized groups as less than human. This socio-political structure of race was the founding cornerstone of racialized chattel slavery, predating both industrialization and U.S. independence. Despite real historical changes over time, race remains a socio-political order engrained in the U.S. state and society. It is an order that has evolved through both challenges to the racial order by social movements and to meet the historically determined needs of the polity and economy.[11] Throughout its history, race has been a core determinant of the U.S. class structure and a political category that organizes where and how people live, with state and vigilante violence working at different times and in different ways to enforce a socio-geographic racial ordering of bodies and populations.

A consistent feature of the U.S. racial order has been the intrinsic elevation of all whites – regardless of occupation, education, wealth, or personal lifestyle—to a socio-political status higher than other racial groups. This stratification was instilled and reproduced through separate but reinforcing norms of social status and standing (political rights, social privileges, etc.) and economic benefit (access to work, land, and other mechanisms for the construction of personal wealth). The economic advantages and disadvantages directly related to race (from slavery, to Jim Crow, to the post–civil rights movement) have been accompanied by an evolving set of social privileges produced and maintained by political structures as well as social relations supported by various ideological incarnations of white supremacy. W.E.B. Du Bois articulated this political and economic stratification as a measurable set of wages (an economic wage and a social psychological wage) understood at different socio-political levels—in terms of individual consciousness as well as social relations. Du Bois explains the importance of the socio-psychological wages of whiteness as they intersect material advantages:

 

It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule.[12]

Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

White supremacy as a system, and whiteness as an identity within that system, are durable historical structures, but ones that cannot be reproduced without the mobilization of support for race as a political set of practices and the enactment of white identity at the level of individual consciousness and political agency. White identity and the psychological wage collected at the level of the individual—as esteem derived from a privileged racial status, self-definition through anger directed at the other, or the affective connection to a worldview that gives coherence to white racial identity and status—is only realizable in and through tangible political policies that publicly demarcate the significance of race through the systemic differential treatment of people on clearly racialized terms. Even when enacted as ostensibly colorblind, or politically advanced through racially-coded language, the “public and psychological wage” is contingent and inexorably linked with material racial inequalities produced by political structures and policies, it is not simply an ideological or ideational process at the level of individual consciousness or identity. Drawing from Du Bois’s own limited engagement with this valuable set of concepts he put into the world, I contend that the public and psychological wages are primarily derived in the political sphere and not simply at the level of ideology (whether it be modern conceptions of race rooted in “culture of poverty” assumptions or the individual instantiation of racial bigotry). Du Bois is writing within the context of Jim Crow, and the “public deference and titles of courtesy” that he is referring to in relation to the public and psychological wage are clearly linked to the juridical and political social orders, and not simply the personal (or social) ascription to white supremacy as ideology but rather white supremacy as a political process.[13] In terms of trying to concretely understand aggrieved whiteness and modern white supremacy more broadly, as well as trying to imagine a truly postracial social order, I contend that the white identity that is forged by this public and psychological wage is only possible in and through race-making institutions and policies. In the neoliberal period, police and prisons, as well as the unending reification of these institutions and concomitant criminalization of communities of color in the dominant culture, are two of the primary political institutions through which this public and social wage is generated. It is therefore crucial to examine both the socio-psychological and economic wages of whiteness at the level of individual consciousness, support, and action, as well as at the level of social relations, public policy, and the impact of powerful social structures on peoples’ lived realities and life chances [See Figure 1].

 

Figure 1: Economic & Social Psychological Wages of Whiteness at the Individual & Social Level

Economic Wages of Whiteness Social Psychological Wages of Whiteness
 

Individual Level

 

 

Preferential access to jobs, land, and other mechanisms for the construction of personal wealth.

Psychological esteem derived from adherence to the political ideologies of white supremacy; positive affective social definition of self (racial other as a counterpoint and target for anger, a boogeyman to fear and control).
 

Social Level

 

Bifurcated class structure; hyperexploitation and political exclusion of Black, Latino, Native populations.

A white status to be upheld/supported through political processes of racial inequality—including state, vigilante, and structural violence against racialized groups.

 

The Wages of Whiteness in the Neoliberal, Post–Civil Rights Movement Era

 

The fascists are the vanguard of the white race; however, the big problem right now is not the white vanguard but the white mainstream.—Noel Ignatiev[14]

 

A material analysis of the aggrieved whiteness project illustrates that its protagonist, the “white victim,” is ultimately the offspring of white supremacy and neoliberalism. From its origins in the late-1960s, laid out ideologically by Nixon and more fully enacted since the presidency of Ronald Reagan, U.S. neoliberal carcerality has been fundamentally constituted and politically mobilized as a racialized project of backlash against the racial progress of the civil rights movement as well as a process of social welfare retrenchment, and the political erosion of already limited working-class institutional power (i.e., unions). The maintenance of racial structures and the reproduction of an economically, politically, and socially differentiated and exalted white identity has been a cornerstone of modern conservativism and the overall bipartisan rightward political shifts of the neoliberal era. Nixon’s Silent Majority was, at its most basic, the overt reconstitution of a cross-class racial alliance through which public support was mobilized against the subaltern racial (but also gender, sexual, and anti-imperial) insurgencies of the moment. The growth of bipartisan, race-making carcerality in the past four decades has been the primary political mechanism proactively driving the reformulation of the public and psychological wages of whiteness within post–civil rights movement racial formation. Neoliberalism and the carceral turn were borne out the historic economic crisis of U.S. capitalism that first emerged in the mid-1960s and reached its height economically with the stagflation that persisted through the 1970s and into the early 1980s.[15] It was within this period of political and economic crisis, where postwar working-class power was clearly declining, that the appeal of racialized conservatism won over more and more of the white working class, capitalizing on racialized fears but also purely economic arguments about taxes and government spending (which were manufactured crises of neoliberalism’s own making) that have been consistently discussed and understood in racially-coded frameworks.

A generation of working-class wage stagnation and political decline (deunionization, deindustrialization, social service cuts, shifting of the tax burden off of the rich and onto the better paid segments of the working class) has symbiotically coincided with a nativist white politics of carcerality and class hatred for the racialized poor who have been hit the hardest by these politico-economic shifts. What the white working class lost economically in the last five decades has to some extent been mitigated by an increase in the socio-psychological wages of whiteness. This period of precariousness across large sectors of the working class has seen an increasingly atomized white working class unable or unwilling to help muster a serious challenge to the forces of neoliberalism, finding affective solace and self-affirmation in the neoliberal punishment of the poor. In the prevailing political contexts, which hold little ability for the working class to feasibly demand a greater share of the economic pie, the mobilization of white fear and hostility has been effectively channeled toward working class communities of color, a racialized process materially enacted through the dual movement of social state retrenchment and carceral state expansion.

This politically mobilized bigotry has cohered within a neoliberal strategy of shrinking the social state to potentially lessen a tax burden quietly shifted off of upper tax brackets onto median-wage workers. By Reagan’s reelection in 1984, hostility toward government and economic strain was channeled into support for lower taxes and increased investment in the police, courts, and prisons to address very visible problems of violent crime and drugs presented in clear but coded racialized arguments and policies. The carceral shift was created by and has resolidified a white cross-class alliance that has consistently attacked the poor – regularly presented in and through racial discourses of crime, welfare dependence, and “unfair state support” for the racialized poor. In this era of bipartisan neoliberalism, white fear and anger has successfully been channeled downward and outward against the poor—through the war on drugs, welfare reforms, social service cuts, and costly continuous war and military interventions around the world.[16]

In terms of working-class political agency—under contexts where there has been little ability to demand higher wages—what has emerged as a political (and ultimately economic) form of activity of the white working class has been to expand the social-psychological wage. This has been mobilized, fostered, and nurtured by the Right since Nixon’s Silent Majority right up to Donald Trump. Beginning with Nixon’s Silent Majority, the Right has been able to broaden and deepen its base of support through the affective courting of socially dominant groups who feel threatened by the prospects of social equality; this connection was truly solidified by Ronald Reagan who was able to use this conjecture to capture 74 percent of the Southern white male vote in 1984, and 66 percent of white males nationally.[17] Beyond simply manipulating white resentment and fear, this mobilization of affect has been central in turning white working-class fear and uncertainty into active support for race-making political policies that have not only sought to roll back limited civil rights gains but to fundamentally shift the American state away from Keynesian redistribution toward punitive neoliberalism, from a (modest) liberal welfarism to a corporatist carceral-warfare state.[18] This rightward shift in government programs and policies was symbiotically fostered in and through a racialized linkage of social liberalism with threats to white, heteronormative patriarchal power. Quoting the work of Jonathan Rieder, Omi and Winant capture the parameters of this intertwined rise of modern conservatism (which has shaped both major political parties in the United States for decades) with whiteness, in and through racially-constituted yet publicly-coded attacks on liberalism, the social wage, and wealth redistribution, which draw upon centuries-old individualist tenets within American politics:

 

Liberalism came to be associated with “profligacy, irresponsibility, and sanctimoniousness,” while conservatism acquired “connotations of pragmatism, character, reciprocity, truthfulness, stoicism, manliness, realism, hardness, vengeance, strictness and responsibility.” Liberalism was seen as beholden to minorities, for whom it provided “handouts,” while conservatism was thought to embrace traditional individualist (and thus “color-blind”) values of hard work and sacrifice.[19]

If looked at myopically, simply in terms of class consciousness and objective class interests, increasing white working class support for this fused neoliberal-carceral turn is often seen as an indicator of “false consciousness.” While it is objectively true that the neoliberal period has been one of economic stagnation for the white working class—and for many white, male workers in particular, a period of significant losses to their economic and socio-psychological position as feudal lords of their households, as women have both proactively and out of economic necessity spent more time laboring for a wage outside of the home[20]—political allegiance to race has materially insulated the white working class from the full brunt of neoliberal restructuring, which conceptually must include the hyperincarceration of urban, Black working-class populations.[21] Arguments about false consciousness fall short, not only because they fail to recognize the very real and material (including economic) benefits of supporting white supremacy but also because they assume that material racial benefits are and have historically been economically and politically minor or trivial, a position that is hard to maintain or justify when examining either U.S. history, or the contemporary neoliberal period.

While it is clear that white workers’ efforts to reproduce their racial privileges through a cross-class alliance with capital that has historically undercut (an inherently multiracial) class struggle, in this period of neoliberalism the public and psychological wages of whiteness have ironically served as a “safety net” for the white working class. While the average white worker has and continues to face very real economic hardships, generalized wage stagnation, job insecurity, and an overall precarious economic position compared to previous generations, they have been largely exempt from the carceral turn that has taken place in the same period. Relative immunity from hyperincarceration, but also from police profiling, predatory mortgages and redlining, housing segregation, and associated public education inequality, are concrete benefits (core components of the modern social and psychological wages of whiteness). The “safety net” of whiteness has helped to mitigate—both economically and psychologically—the precarity wrought by a politically triumphant neoliberalism. The instantiation of the public and psychological wages of whiteness in this context of neoliberal carcerality includes the reformulation of a white political identity, which is defined as honest, hard-working, respectable.[22] It is also a white identity defined as defensively vulnerable and imagined to be victimized, socially and politically, by the stereotyped other that this white identity is defined through and which carceral neoliberalism is fully directed against.

This amalgamated white conservatism is central to modern American politics, while its overt racial nature is often subsumed and veiled.[23] Aggrieved whiteness is the coupling of this identity of racially coded politico-moral supremacy (of hard work, responsibility, and meritocratic fairness) within a worldview where this identity has been wronged by entwined forces of social liberalism and racial progress. White victimhood is a political construct borne through conservative narratives that posit the mythical forces of liberalism imposing unfair policies designed to target, exploit, and disadvantage historically dominant groups.

As Joel Olson rigorously traced in The Abolition of White Democracy, the project of white supremacy has historically relied on several social pillars, notably the durable support for, and reproduction of, a white political identity and accompanying social policies and socio-economic practices (segregation, the carceral turn, etc.)[24] The demonization of Latino immigrants and the criminal pathologization of Blacks, Arabs, and Muslims is the other side of the coin that normalizes an elevated status for whites as a socio-political group writ large. Arguments of “postracialism” are premised upon an acceptance of these generalized otherings of nonwhites under a logic of white supremacy that relies on durable stereotypes rooted in projected social behaviors—Black criminality (violent threat), welfare dependence (laziness), or illegal status of immigrants (job competition and syphoned social services)—and not a quasi-biological logic. White supremacy, as it exists and reproduces itself socially, relies upon sets of beliefs that are cohered through active reinforcement from a variety of social structures but ultimately given life through social allegiance rather than rational logic or empirical validity. It is the imagined behavior, values, and integrity of the other, which serves as a social, political, and cultural negative counterpoint for the construction of a noble, hard-working, meritocratic, individualist white identity (and not biology) that animates the elevation of whites to a superior socio-political status today.[25] This project is wrapped up in delusions, self-alienation, projections, and fears that are never directly confronted by whites, which allows them to maintain a fabricated coherence.

 

Those who feel real or perceived losses in white patriarchal authority, cultural dominance, or economic wealth are not likely to divest from these nativist economies unless they radically shift the modalities through which they construct their sense of identity, coherence, and power. So long as notions of national identity are predicated on the affective enjoyments of exclusivity, possessive individualism, and justified violence, the devastation caused by nativist investments is not likely to disappear.[26]

 

Emotion, Identity, and Projection as Racial Avoidance and Racial Construction

 

If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

—W. I. and D. S. Thomas

The intensification of socioeconomic inequalities, state violence, and punitive control in the post-civil rights era has largely been achieved through the organization of public feelings rather than facts. —Paula Ioanide[27]

 

The ideologies that have supported white supremacy have generally served the function of positing fundamental differences between politically constructed racial categories. These ideologies seek to naturalize or justify legally differential rights and privileges, unequal access to economic resources (in terms of jobs, capital, credit, public investment), and political power (from institutional controls to cultural representations). When the ideology of white supremacy shifted in the mid-1900s away from a biological argument toward socio-cultural ideas about cultural inferiority (of Blacks, Latinos, and indigenous peoples in particular), it was accompanied by a litany of archetypical generalized constructions that sought to demonize, denigrate, and pathologize racialized groups while simultaneously elevating white status and social standing as a result.[28] Just as the “scientifical knowledge” that served as a foundation for early-twentieth-century eugenics can be easily refuted, so too can the modern sociological foundations of a “culture of poverty.” White supremacy does not rely on objective or empirical facts as its foundation, nor has it ever.

The construction of political debates around issues like welfare, crime, crack cocaine, single mothers, and affirmative action have helped reinscribe racial difference and hostilities while mobilizing a dual movement of welfare state deconstruction and the expansion of institutionalized state punitiveness disproportionately directed at impoverished or marginal racialized groups (or both). These ostensibly “colorblind” efforts to get tough on crime, or the undeserving poor, intrinsically target racialized groups, or are at least understood as serving that function. Once enacted, these political policies and practices and the disproportionate impact they have on communities of color seem to reflect a confirmation of the stereotypical assumptions that drove them in the first place, when looked at objectively they reflect a confirmation bias premised on racialized hyperpunitiveness.

Paula Ioanide has provided perhaps the most comprehensive discussion of how the construction, recognition, and response to racialized threats is rooted in historically structured feeling and the mobilization of affect toward political action, usually framed around being protected from grossly exaggerated racialized threats rather than the overt, self-aware pursuit of white supremacist political interests. Ioanide argues that these threats, presented as “simultaneously colorblind and race- and gender-specific, were the central conduits for creating public desires that legitimated state and neoliberal restructuring toward military-carceral expansion and social wage disinvestment.”[29]

The massive, almost exponential, expansions of police, courts and prisons since 1980 has been a process of carceral state-building[30] that serves two fundamental functions: to criminalize and disproportionately punish urban, Black (historically rebellious) populations, while producing a politically useful white identity (premised on an intrinsically linked and imagined potential victimization and legitimized vengeance). Modern white supremacy is perpetually energized and reproduced, both in practice and in thought, through manufactured social panics that refashion stereotypes and myths toward new political ends (the war on drugs, gangs, terror), coded initiatives presented as de-historicized projects to uphold individualistic fairness (welfare reform, attacks on affirmative action or “illegal” immigration), which result in structural, epistemic, and direct violence by the state or white vigilantes directed at racial others.[31] Racial identities (including white identities) have been materially reconstructed and reproduced through this process of affective white adherence to racialized projects felt and supported as a means of self-defense and justice, rather than being self-understood as structural bias and selective punishment. These projections serve to not only demonize “others” but also to reinvest in the public and social wages of whiteness, fundamentally reconstructing a white self-identity of respectable social standing in accordance with dominant values. Ioanide argues that within these contexts feelings consistently overshadow facts:

 

The widespread social panics over the perceived threats of criminality, terrorism, welfare dependency, and undocumented immigration in the post–civil rights era are similarly dismissive of reasonable facts and evidence. Although these threats are largely based on historically repeated myths, fallacies, misrepresentations, and hyperbolic and skewed information about Black, Latino/a, Arab, and/or Muslim people, revealing the overwhelmingly fabricated nature of these threats rarely stops people from believing and fearing them anyway. Because phobic emotional responses feel immanent and crucial to survival and the preservation of one’s self-identity, people who experience them tend to feel first and perhaps think later.[32]

Aggrieved Whiteness in the Era of Identity Politics

Aggrieved Whiteness is a brand of identity politics designed to secure resources (in relation to both the economic and socio-psychological wages of whiteness) upon a terrain of racial politics that sees political and economic resources as part of a racialized zero-sum game. The formal, legal gains made in the civil rights era (for Blacks and other racialized groups but also for women and LGBTQ persons) have been interpreted, not as a (partial) fulfillment of a pluralistic America and an extension of equal rights but as gains made by subaltern groups that incur political and economic costs to socially privileged groups, in this case whites. Wendy Brown’s discussion of identity politics is historically situated in a socio-political context of increasingly untenable narratives of progress in an era of economic deindustrialization and declining American hegemony, coupled with intensified social alienation and uncertainty:

 

Liberal universalist and progressive principles have been challenged by anti-assimilationist claims of many current formations of politicized “differences,” including those marked by ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and race; by a political ethos promulgating agonistic social relations associated with these cultural differences, as opposed to a model of pluralistic conflicting interests on the one hand, or of general social harmony on the other.[33]

 

Particularly in regard to race in the United States after the civil rights movement, in a context of perceived political equality, the construction of race as a zero-sum game where white people are at risk of losing political and economic dominance has become hegemonic. Beyond the simple individualistic white resentment of the 1970s (typified in popular culture by Archie Bunker), today’s aggrieved whiteness is expressed through a collective white subject position that truly feels that its overt pursuit of white political interests is an attempt to achieve racial equality rather than a defense of racial advantages. The fact that this ideology, politics, and assortment of public feelings find coherence within dominant postracial conceptions of race and power has far different implications than similar white resentments in previous historical moments. The dominant slogan of the Tea Party movement of “Taking Back our Country” or the resonance of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” speak directly and plainly to this widespread sentiment that white people are losing political control and economic standing within a polity where social dominance is implicitly their birthright. This perceived loss of power and privilege (again, not reflective of actual economic data but nonetheless real in terms of white affect) has resulted in an extremely individualistic and racist defense of a past racial status quo defined by even starker socio-political racial ordering. Against a modern backdrop of a litany of imagined racialized moochers and schemers (the “welfare queen,” the “illegal immigrant” with free healthcare, the threat of Syrian refugees, etc.), aggrieved whiteness is a conservative movement in the sense that it seeks to retain white privileges threatened by the prospect of racial equality and diversity.

On a political landscape that ignores or distorts class by interpellating much of the working class as middle class in ways that are also racially coded as white (for instance, the way in which terms like “middle class” or “Main Street” are a referent to white workers as a group, primarily made up of wage-earners or near middle-income salaried employees) and where the working class has little institutional political power in society or representation in government, race has increasingly been how white workers have come to understand themselves, the state, questions of taxation and government spending, and the socio-political landscape at large. For the average white worker, whatever privileged economic standing they may have seems both tenuous and historically declining, threatened by real forces of economic globalization beyond their control and an imagined litany of racialized groups who have secured “preferential treatment” in the post–civil rights era at their expense. The politics of aggrieved whiteness offer an elevated social standing to be protected with a ready-made host of antagonists (welfare cheats, gang bangers, illegal immigrants, radical Islamists), who can be identified, targeted, and subdued. The translation of a very real affective understanding among white workers that their economic stability is under siege has been incorporated into a series of projects of overt racialized aggression, which has both transformed the welfare state into a carceral-warfare state, and compounded the economic instability of the Black and Latino working classes.

Wendy Brown’s scathing critique of modern liberalism, building on Nietzsche’s concept of ressentiment as it pertains to political identity, is rooted in what she identifies as political moralism, which is a reaction to being made materially vulnerable through which political subjects socially define themselves through harms that have been inflicted upon them, while distancing themselves from the vaguely conceptualized power that is responsible for that subordination.[34] Brown’s critique of moralistic identity politics—of identifying oneself apolitically, as a victim defined by a harm the victim is historically unable to challenge—illustrates how the production of self-reified victimhood reduces political identity to an effect of power. This moralistic definition of politics and the self makes the formulation of a vision of overcoming social injustices ultimately impossible through the adoption of an abjectified identity that is powerless, both theoretically and practically. “The problem with a politics of ‘difference’ is that it lacks a vision of the future that overcomes the political significance of such differences, and thus lacks an affirmative collective project.”[35] Brown’s argument, directed at the Left generally and strands of academic Gender Studies in particular, speaks to a far more general dynamic within modern politics that cuts across political lines and identities. The late-modern loss of faith in both historical progress and in the state as a vehicle for fostering progress or justice is not exclusive to the Left. The individualistic politics rooted in identity groups competing for recognition and resources that Brown is critiquing in the Left is a symptom of broader political trends and an approach to politics that has increasingly been adopted by socially dominant groups to protect their privileged position in and through presenting themselves as victims.

On a political terrain in which subjects see their identities as abject effects of history (rather than understanding themselves as agents of history) and where the structural mechanisms that produce difference and material inequality are assumed to be immutable (and thus drop out of political discussion altogether), the political identity of “victim” has become decoupled from a materialist analysis (across the political spectrum). In this context, dominant groups (whites, men, heterosexuals) have adopted identity politics and posited themselves as victims—of affirmative action, of political correctness, of diversity, and of social programs that purportedly serve to advance the social standing of nonwhite, nonmale, non-Christian, nonheterosexual persons. The Men’s Rights Movement and modern Christian Conservative attacks of marriage equality, reproductive rights, or secularism follow a similar pattern of overt victimhood as a strategy of maintaining a privileged social standing. Within frameworks of dominant political discourse (including those on the Left that Brown emphasizes) where materialist analyses of racial, class, gender, and sexuality oppression are absent, vague, or assumed as transhistoric givens, the (often perceived) lost privileges of dominant groups has been formulated as a moralistic political grievance, and translated into this language and affective economy of victimized identities.

Aggrieved whiteness is the appropriation, by the white Right, of liberal discourses and understandings around race, which are premised on individuals and bias rather than groups and structural inequality. In the post–civil rights era, the more liberal discourse/strategy of identity politics that developed to replace the radical, structural analysis of the movements of the latter-1960s has formulated aggrieved identities that moralistically cling to a victimized status as a means for valuing ones’ own pain in an atomized political sphere where redistribution and justice are both unattainable and ultimately an affront to this victimized identity construction. In this political culture where power is not seen as relational, and questions of class and wealth are not understood or discussed in a language of exploitation or oppression, claims of material deprivation have been made by dominant groups whose substantiating point of reference for their marginality is previous eras in which their group’s dominance was more pronounced. These politics are bolstered by mostly imagined, hyperbolic constructions of unfair advantage resulting from limited programs of affirmative action or social welfare designed to redress racialized (and/or gendered) inequality. These government policies aimed at historical structures of social inequality are understood in the parlance of white victimhood to be challenging social hierarchies imagined to be a natural order or a byproduct of social meritocracy, rather than byproducts of entrenched structural inequality. This politico-discursive erasure of longstanding social dynamics of white material advantages derived from social, economic, and political relationships fundamentally rooted in white supremacy allows the very limited legal protections or government programs designed to address those inequalities as not only unnecessary but as a form of antiwhite racial preferencing. Social facts and statistics about racialized material inequality, to the extent to which they are politically visible, are rationalized as effects of intrinsic socio-culture racial failings on the part of racialized groups (in regard to longstanding racist tropes of laziness, violence, manipulation, etc.), which are the cornerstones of modern U.S. racial formation.[36] These mainstream politics of white socio-cultural supremacy, usually presented in coded language in discussions of crime, poverty, welfare, and employment, are the cornerstone of the aggrieved whiteness project—where any and all efforts to address material inequality are understood as upsetting a social order where whites are naturally dominant, and not privileged by systemic dynamics of advantage/disadvantage.

 

Toward a Political Cartography of “Getting our Cousins”

 

Today there is still the white problem—its expectations, its power, its solidarity, its imagination. Even after the civil rights movement, whiteness stands at the path to a more democratic society like a troll at the bridge. The political task . . . is to chase the troll away,

not to ignore it or invite it to the multicultural table.

—Joel Olson[37]

 

To all the good white folks out here, go get your cousins. —Rosa Clemente

 

The political task of challenging the prevalence of aggrieved whiteness, and white supremacy more broadly, will invariably hinge upon substantially new political movements, agendas, and visions. Rational arguments about white privilege and data that illustrate real and persistent racial inequality are necessary but wholly insufficient in an affective economy driven by invested identities and entrenched political projects that are dominated by white public feelings of fear, anger, anxiety, and vengeance.[38] Hope for racial justice will be premised in large part upon the development of a broad-based social vision that provides security, opportunity, and an embrace of shared and equal humanity—beyond, outside, and against the individualistic, racialized, and morally fragmented persistence of white democracy. Backlash politics and entrenched white conservativism—expressed in imagined, but politically real, victimhood as well as through concrete policies of racial subjection, which are partly forged by the political mobilization of that constructed white affect—are entwined psycho-social and political structures that foster racial inequality while positing a postracial order.

What is necessary, as part of a broader antiracist strategy/praxis is to forge a crisis of white political identity, not simply (demanding) the recognition of white privilege. The overall thrust of discussions about white privilege tend to revolve around liberal recognition politics, with the same problems of political self-neutralization and victim reification that Wendy Brown clearly deconstructed fifteen years ago. Judith Butler further elaborated Brown’s point:

 

There is a difference between calling for recognition of oppression in order to overcome oppression and calling for recognition of identity that now becomes defined by its injury. . . . The transition from an emphasis on injury to an emphasis on oppression is one that lets the category of identity become historical.[39]

 

From the standpoint of historically defined white subjects, privilege, and politics, this means coming to terms with historical relations of oppression, which they may not have created but are nonetheless intimately defined by. As James Baldwin so poignantly stated, these are historical relations that most white people have tried to ignore, a self-realization many have spent their lives trying to avoid:

 

They are, in effect, still trapped in a history which they do not understand; and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for so many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men. Many of them, indeed, know better, but, as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed, and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case, the danger, in the minds of most white Americans, is the loss of identity.[40]

 

Affectively, psychologically, and politically, for white people this will mean recognizing that the identities that they inhabit are borne out of historical legacies of oppression, a self-understanding that is furthermore fundamentally premised on a material and structural understanding of social relations, which is separately muffled and truncated within U.S. political culture. Adherence to the aggrieved whiteness political project illustrates not only conscious and unconscious white defense of racial privileges but also an ontological erasure of historically defined subjects as such—the ahistorical, individualist, and meritocratic belief that we are all self-made subjects on an equal historical footing.

Taken at their best, all discussions of white privilege seek to induce this historical reckoning, with the oppression/injury contradiction dependent on political struggles that challenge oppression and seek to define new identities and relations. While there is value in white recognition of their own privileges, an analysis or politics that does not focus its political attention on the material forces and structures that produce that privilege (and the racial subjection of people of color) and build a political movement for the abolition or radical transformation of those structures, including white identity, is ultimately flawed. White supremacy is not premised on a lack of white recognition of the privileges white supremacy bestows upon them, it is founded on the institutional and social relations that foster racialized differential life chances, which are products of social relations reproduced largely through white political support, not identity as such. While the two tend to go hand in hand, there is an important distinction between racial privileges that accrue to all white people as a result of existing historical structural relations, and the active or nascent support for those structural relations. At their best, discussions of white privilege are an essential first step toward identifying those relations, how they are socially reproduced, and the political choice people who have been socially defined as white have, to either support or oppose the various policies, social institutions, and mindsets that reproduce white supremacy.

The journal Race Traitor helped develop a material analysis of white identity that explored the mechanisms through which white supremacy can be effectively undermined. While it has been challenged for being too agential, and perhaps strategically privileging subjects socially-defined as white, I feel there is much to be gained in the current moment by revisiting the strengths and limitations of this approach, especially in the context of discussions about strategic questions of identity and political praxis. The following extended quote, from the editorial statement in the first volume of the journal in 1993, gives a sense of what the race traitor political current is premised upon:

 

The existence of the white race depends on the willingness of those assigned to it to place their racial interests above class, gender or any other interests they hold. The defection of enough of its members to make it unreliable as a determinant of behavior will set off tremors that will lead to its collapse. . . . The white race is a club, which enrolls certain people at birth, without their consent, and brings them up according to its rules. For the most part the members go through life accepting the benefits of membership, without thinking about the costs. When individuals question the rules, the officers are quick to remind them of all they owe to the club, and warn them of the dangers they will face if they leave it. . . . RACE TRAITOR exists, not to make converts, but to reach out to those who are dissatisfied with the terms of membership in the white club. Its primary intended audience will be those people commonly called whites who, in one way or another, understand whiteness to be a problem that perpetuates injustice and prevents even the well-disposed among them from joining unequivocally in the struggle for human freedom. By engaging these dissidents in a journey of discovery into whiteness and its discontents, we hope to take part, together with others, in the process of defining a new human community. We wish neither to minimize the complicity of even the most downtrodden of whites with the system of white supremacy nor to exaggerate the significance of momentary departures from white rules.[41]

If “treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity,” a core part of this project arguably should be a richer articulation to a broader audience of what that humanity could be, and to politically challenge people socially defined as white to proactively make an informed choice between whiteness and humanity. At the level of political identity, and of thought and action, the proactive definition of future identities rooted in a shared humanity, materialized through real world practices of equality, respect, and cooperation are essential not only to undermine existing oppressive systems but also to develop viable, durable alternative social relations necessary to constitute a liberatory social order.

To adopt a race traitor approach, or to reinvigorate or rework such an approach, does not mean that white allegiance to the white club is the “lynchpin” of white supremacy. There is no singular lynchpin to any durable set of structural relations. An intercommunal[42] approach to challenging white supremacy might be likened to the classic children’s game KerPlunk, which begins with a multitude of pins placed through a cylinder that forms a web within the cylinder, upon which rests dozens of marbles. Success is achieved by strategically removing individual pins as part of a strategic effort to negate the structural integrity of the preestablished web of overlapping pins that holds all the marbles (social relations) in place. Political efforts to undermine the viability of the “white club” should see themselves and be strategically engaged as part of a broader and interdependent set of efforts to dismantle white supremacy. Without acting as if the “white people question” is the only or most important question, the issue of how to formulate and bring into being through practice and struggle a new identity and social role for those who are structurally defined as white in our existing society today, requires further critical attention.

The abolition of white democracy—directly challenging both the political structures of enduring white supremacy and the political identities that reproduce and are reinforced by them—can only be fostered by a broad, vibrant, and radical political agenda, actions, and organization. Such a process of political change, which the various direct action efforts – from the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings through the highway shutdowns and grassroots organizing all across the country – in the last three years seems to be materially fostering, succeeds in large part through articulating new subject positions beyond existing structures and definitions; to imagine, articulate, and actively foster new identities, new social relations, and a new society devoid of racial hierarchies while fostering social struggles and political crises through which these new people learn how to remake themselves and their world through action. In terms of both effectively undermining existing oppressive structures and also fostering a new social order that is both rooted in racial justice and resilient to countervailing forces, these efforts will have to involve a resurgence of class struggle politics but also squarely oppose gender, sexuality, and other axes of social inequality. The resistance to marriage equality, persistent attacks on women’s reproductive rights, and the perception of secularism as the oppression of Christians (“if people define the War on Christmas as real, it is real in its consequences”) not only all follow a similar pattern of privileged groups positing their oppression to maintain that privileged status, they are identities and political positions that codetermine, cohere, and reinforce each other.

Consciousness and peoples’ politics are often determined in the course of social action, and social action as well as politics are driven as much by affect as they are by rational self-interest, or seemingly stable political/social identities. The abolition of white democracy intrinsically involves undermining the processes through which white political identity is elevated and defended. There surely is a role for people socially defined as white to play in the process of dismantling white supremacy, though the various contradictions, tensions, and conflicts involved in this process need to be further examined and strategy more clearly defined.

 

About the author: Mike King is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Bridgewater State University. He is the author of When Riot Cops are Not Enough: The Policing and Repression of Occupy Oakland (2017, Rutgers University Press) and is currently working on a book project tentatively entitled Aggrieved Whiteness: The Politics of White Victimhood and the Making of Donald Trump. He can be reached at mikeking0101 (at) gmail.com.

 

Bibiliography

Baldwin, James. The Fire Next Time. New York: Dial Press, 1963.

Berlant, Lauren. The Queen of America Goes to Washington City. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997.

Brown, Wendy. Politics out of History. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Butler, Judith, and Athena Athanasiou. Dispossession: The Performative in the Political. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013.

Cohen, Stanley. Folk Devils and Moral Panics. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Du Bois, W.E.B. Black Reconstruction in America: 1860–1880. New York: Free Press, 1998.

Federici, Silvia. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. Oakland: PM Press, 2012.

Gilmore, Ruth Wilson. Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Hall, Stuart. “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media.” In Gender, Race and Class in the Media, edited by Gail Dines and Jean Humez, 81–86. New York: Sage Publications, 1995.

Hall, Stuart, Chas Critcher, Tony Jefferson, John Clarke, and Brian Roberts. Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law & Order. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

Haney Lopez, Ian. Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Hilliard, David, and Donald Weise. The Huey P. Newton Reader. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.

Hossein-Zadeh, Ismael. The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

Ignatiev, Noel, and John Garvey, eds. Race Traitor. New York: Routledge, 1996.

Ioanide, Paula. The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness. Stanford, CA: University of Stanford Press, 2015.

King, Mike. “‘The Knockout Game’: Moral Panic and the Politics of White Victimhood.” Race and Class 56, no. 4 (2015): 85–94.

Lamont, Michele. The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

Olson, Joel. The Abolition of White Democracy. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004.

Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge, 1994.

Parenti, Christian. Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis. New York: Verso Books, 1999.

Sommers, Samuel, and Michael Norton. “Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game that They Are Now Losing.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6, no. 3 (2011): 215–18.

Wacquant, Loic. “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh.” Punishment & Society 3, no. 1 (2001): 95–134.

———. “Race, Class and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America.” Daedalus 139 (2010): 74–90.

Endnotes:

[1]. Paula Ioanide, The Emotional Politics of Racism: How Feelings Trump Facts in an Era of Colorblindness (Stanford, CA: University of Stanford Press, 2015).

[2]. Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, “The Growing Right-Wing Terror Threat.” New York Times, June 16, 15.

[3]. Michael Omi and Howard Winant, Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s (New York: Routledge, 1994), 56.

[4]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism; Lauren Berlant, The Queen of America Goes to Washington City (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997).

[5]. Ian Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 66–69.

[6]. Samuel Sommers and Michael Norton, “Whites See Racism as a Zero-Sum Game that They Are Now Losing,” Perspectives on Psychological Science 6, no. 3 (2011): 215–18.

[7]. Robert Jones and Daniel Cox, “Old Alignments, Emerging Fault Lines: Findings from the 2010 Post-Election American Values Survey.” http://publicreligion.org/site/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/2010-Post-election-American-Values-Survey-Report.pdf.

[8]. Bruce Drake, “Divide Between Blacks and Whites on Police Runs Deep,” Pew Research Center, April 28, 2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/04/28/blacks-whites-police/.

[9]. Margaret Myers, “Race Relations in U.S. at a Low Point in Recent History, New Poll Suggests,” PBS, September 21, 2015. http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/race-relations-low-point-recent-history-new-poll-suggests/.

[10]. Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 53–61; Stuart Hall, “The Whites of Their Eyes: Racist Ideologies and the Media,” in Gender, Race and Class in the Media, ed. Gail Dines and Jean Humez (New York: Sage Publications, 1995), 18–19.

[11]. Loic Wacquant, “Deadly Symbiosis: When Ghetto and Prison Meet and Mesh,” Punishment & Society 3, no. 1 (2001): 95–134.

[12]. W.E.B. Du Bois, Black Reconstruction in America: 1860–1880 (New York: Free Press, 1998), 700–701.

[13]. Ibid., 700.

[14]. Noel Ignatiev, “To Advance the Class Struggle, Abolish the White Race.” http://www.spunk.org/texts/pubs/lr/sp001714/racetrat.html.

[15]. Christian Parenti, Lockdown America: Police and Prisons in the Age of Crisis ( New York: Verso Books, 1999) 36–44.

[16]. Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, The Political Economy of U.S. Militarism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

[17]. Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 133.

[18]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 34–42.

[19]. Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 140.

[20]. Silvia Federici, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012), 46–51.

[21]. Loic Wacquant, “Race, Class and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America,” Daedalus 139 (2010): 74.

[22]. Michele Lamont, The Dignity of Working Men: Morality and the Boundaries of Race, Class, and Immigration (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 60–63.

[23]. Haney Lopez, Dog Whistle Politics.

[24]. Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), xxix.

[25]. Lamont, The Dignity of Working Men, 60–63.

[26]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 137–38.

[27]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 1–2.

[28]. Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States.

[29]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 4.

[30]. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007), 85–86.

[31]. Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics (New York: Routledge, 2002), 148; Stuart Hall et al., Policing the Crisis: Mugging, the State, and Law & Order (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 240–42; Mike King, “‘The Knockout Game’: Moral Panic and the Politics of White Victimhood,” Race and Class 56, no. 4 (2015): 85–94.

[32]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 14.

[33]. Wendy Brown, Politics out of History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 20.

[34]. Brown, Politics out of History, 22–27.

[35]. Brown, Politics out of History, 40.

[36]. Omi and Winant, Racial Formation in the United States, 59–60.

[37]. Joel Olson, The Abolition of White Democracy, 144.

[38]. Ioanide, Emotional Politics of Racism, 137–38.

[39]. Judith Butler and Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013), 87.

[40]. James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (New York: Dial Press, 1963), 22–23.

[41]. “Abolish the White Race—By Any Means Necessary,” Race Traitor, no.1 (Winter 1993). http://racetraitor.org/abolish.html;

See also Noel Ignatiev and John Garvey, eds., Race Traitor (New York: Routledge, 1996).

[42]. The intercommunalism put forward by the Black Panther Party, probably furthest materialized by Fred Hampton and the Rainbow Coalition in Chicago before being systematically attacked by the state, offers lessons and potentially a model to be reformulated. In terms of cooperation, alliances, and coalitions among different political organizations, intercommunalism was premised on valuing group autonomy while prioritizing shared struggle and political action against common enemies, and prefiguring a new social order. Huey Newton put forward the following analysis of intercommunalism: “If we get rid of this enemy in a united common struggle it will be easy to transform this unity into a common scheme of things. We are not separate nations of men to continue the pattern of fighting amongst ourselves. We are a large collection of communities who can unite and fight together against our common enemy. The United States domination over all our territories equals a reactionary (in opposition to the interests of all) set of circumstances among our communities: Reactionary Intercommunalism. We can transform these circumstance to all our benefit: Revolutionary Intercommunalism.” David Hilliard and Donald Weise, The Huey P. Newton Reader (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002), 236.

8 thoughts to “Aggrieved Whiteness: White Identity Politics and Modern American Racial Formation”

  1. Yes discrimination against whites happens. It happens in hiring and college aid and admissions (racial quotas) and non-whites are allowed to discriminate against whites without repercussions. I grew up, white, in Hawaii. I know what it’s like not to be able to get a “good” job like cop or bus driver. But all the same, the local carpenter’s union had a white guy who wanted to hire me. That would have been a better choice than the financial black hole of college.

    The thing is, although I grew up there, I knew the deck was stacked against me in Hawaii so I left. Simple as that. Discrimination against black and brown people in the US is a bigger problem, because while I could simply leave for the Mainland US where I was actually born, where are they supposed to go? Most black people in the US have deeper roots in this country than most white people here. Obviously the same goes for Hispanics.

    And the US is not Botha-era South Africa. By definition, if you’re from Turkmenistan and you just became a citizen, you’re every bit as American as I am.

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