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If Fox News is any indication, many of you are dismayed, upset, and befuddled by Mitt Romney’s loss to President Obama. Some of these feelings are normal. Politics is tribal. When your team loses, a bit of sadness is expected.
However, some white folks are acting out in some very unhealthy ways. Young white conservatives participated in a near riot at the University of Mississippi, where they hurled rocks at bystanders, used racial slurs, and burned Obama and Biden campaign signs. Other angry white folks used the Internet to send out racist messages and pictures on Twitter as an act of protest and anger at the country’s re-election of its first Black president. I believe that these events are malicious outliers.
Many white people who voted for Mitt Romney are simply scared and angry that a “Black socialist Muslim atheist Communist usurper” was re-elected President of the United States.
Eighty-nine percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were white. Fifty-nine percent of the white vote went to Mitt Romney. He also won the majority of white voters in every age and gender group. We live in a country that is racially segregated. The United States is also very polarized politically. At present, Americans are not talking to each other across the dividing lines of race, class, and ideology.
Because many white conservatives only interact with like-minded people who come from the same racial background, it seemed obvious to them that Obama was going to be defeated on election night. With the defeat of Mitt Romney, they are experiencing the universal hurt that comes when reality interjects itself into a dream world and fantasy.
Many white people are feeling imperiled because President Obama’s win is being framed by the news media as a sign that people of color are gaining political power in the United States. The pundits keep talking about “the browning of America” and how the Republican Party will continue to lose elections if it just relies on white voters to win. I imagine that many white people, especially conservatives and older voters, may be feeling a bit obsolete as the country changes around them.
But I will tell you things that other people will not; I will tell you the truth even when it makes you upset.
The media wants to scare you with all sorts of talk about how, in a few decades, America will be a “majority minority” country. You “want your country back,” and people mock you for these sentiments. I am a good listener. Other people find joy in your tears and from the sad images of Mitt Romney’s headquarters, Republican rallies, and voters on election night. I feel your pain.
Guess what? Things are going to be okay.
First, we need to admit that many white conservatives have a problem. They are victims. I know that you do not want to hear that word. “Victims” is a word that only the liberals, progressives, Black people, gays, and feminists use.
Please hear me out. We know that most conservatives get their news and information exclusively from Fox News and other types of right-wing media. I get the appeal of this habit: it feels really good to be told that your point of view is correct, and that most of the country agrees with you, even when it does not.
You are very trusting people by nature. As conservatives, you are also very deferential to authority. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and the right-wing media have been saying that good white folks like you are being discriminated against by Barack Obama and his legions of black and brown people. There are supposedly groups of Black radicals who stand around outside polling places, looking all mean and angry, and a Black attorney general who hates white people. According to sites like the Drudge Report, there are roving gangs of Black people who live to waylay and beat up white people. Hispanic immigrants are sneaking into the country by the millions and taking your jobs.
A good many of you white people think things are so bad in the Age of Obama that you actually believe that anti-white “racism” is a huge problem facing the country. White men are supposedly the saddest and most oppressed of all groups, as recent research has revealed that many of them have lost all hope in the country’s future.
The right-wing media failed you. They lied and told you that Mitt Romney would win in a landslide. They cooked up stories about voter fraud and rigged polls that were biased against Republicans. The right-wing media machine betrayed you, its audience.
If I were a white conservative who listened to the right-wing media, I would be scared and upset too. I would feel confused. How could so many people lie to me? It just isn’t fair! It must be some type of conspiracy.
I do not have a ready answer. But I do want to help you feel better. I am going to let you in on a secret that Fox News and the Republican party will not share with you.
White people run America. More specifically, white men are the most powerful group of people in the United States. Yes, people who look just like you remain in charge. White men control every major social, political, economic, and cultural institution in the United States. With few exceptions, white men are the CEOs of every Fortune 500 company.
White men control both Hollywood and the mass media. There, approximately 95 percent of the most important positions as writers, directors, advertising, producers, show runners, executives, and the like are held by white men.
This is a great advantage in a country where white men make up 30 percent of the U.S. population.
White men control the United States Congress and Senate. There are now 20 women in the Senate—a record number. But there are no African Americans in the same governing body. There are two Hispanic and Asian senators, respectively. The majority of senior-level and cabinet positions in the federal government are held by white men. White men are also over-represented on the United States Supreme Court.
Yes, it is true that the President of the United States happens to be a Black man; this is a groundbreaking achievement that should not be easily discounted or dismissed. However, Barack Obama has faced unparalleled levels of opposition and resistance from conservatives in Congress—and from many white people in the country as a whole—because of his racial background. While many white folks may not know this, the country’s first Black president has done remarkably little in terms of advancing policy goals that would directly benefit people of color in the United States. In fact, Obama has spoken less about race than any president in 50 years.
White folks have a tendency to see racial progress as a zero sum game: if they feel that they are “losing” then someone else must be ”winning.” In the time of the Great Recession and its aftermath, these anxieties are especially acute. But guess what my friends? Even in the worst economic downturn in 80 years, whites are doing much better than people of color.
The Black middle class has been decimated by the recession. While almost all Americans saw their economic fortunes decline in this moment, people of color were most acutely impacted. Even in this economic environment, white people have at least 22 times the wealth of Blacks and Latinos (this gap doubled during the recession).
In addition, white women in their peak earning years are worth an average of 40 thousand dollars. By comparison, Black women and Latinas have a net wealth of about 5 dollars. As sociologist Joe Feagin documents, of the 400 richest Americans according to Forbes magazine, 86 percent of them are white men.
While many white men have been bombarded by the media with stories about how they are disadvantaged in the job market by “quotas” and “reverse discrimination,” the new book Documenting Desegregation exposes such beliefs to be a myth. Since 1966, white men have actually increased their numbers in senior management positions and gained an even greater hold over middle management positions in corporate America.
In this poor economy many white people are hurting financially; nevertheless, they are doing much better than people of color.
Because I spend a good amount of time talking to white people, I can anticipate the obvious question. Many of you are likely still thinking about this numbers game, and how white folks are going to be a “minority” in America. Do not worry. White people are still going to be the largest single racial group in this country; you simply may not be the majority of the population.
I have a second secret for you. White folks possess one of the most valuable gifts in the history of the United States.
You are considered “white.”
“Whiteness” is an amazing invention that has only been around a few centuries. In the United States, it has been something to die for, protect, and kill for. Historically, whiteness is a type of very lucrative property that is handed down through families, and has been protected by the law.
As the comedian Louis CK smartly observed, being white in America is one hell of a great deal. If offered the choice, he would sign up every year because of all the unearned privileges and advantages that come with it. Whiteness is such a great deal because white folks do not have to actively do anything to benefit from it. However, white people are amazingly protective of this prize—and really careful about whom they let in the club.
For example, the Irish, Italians, Jews, Poles, and other “white ethnics” were once viewed as a type of European “other” at the turn of the 20th century. If history is a guide, racial groups that are now considered non-white will become the new “white” people in the years to come. Whiteness always finds a way to keep on winning and to grow its numbers.
My white conservative friends, these feel like scary times for you. As the country changes, the Republican party is going to have to do some soul searching. You will likely be asked to engage in some difficult conversations about the relationship between your political values and racism. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, white folks are going to be under pressure to surrender to their worse and lesser natures by hate groups, dead enders like the Tea Party, and militia groups who will play on your anxieties about the demographic shifts we are seeing in the United States. If you are smart, patient, and pragmatic, there are voices out there—white conservatives in fact—who are trying to help your movement adapt to the 21st century. Do seek them out. You can get your own house in order, and not live in a state of irrational fear and sadness.
Racism and conservatism do not have to be the same thing in America. Mitt Romney’s defeat should be a wake up call in this regard.
Things are going to be okay. As someone who cares about my white brothers and sisters, I want you all to feel safe, secure, and prosperous. You will see that a changing America, one in which all people have a shot at success across the color line, is to our nation’s collective advantage. A good number of white folks already understand this fact. As such, they chose to vote for President Obama—the candidate who clearly demonstrated the he was best prepared to lead the country forward. I hope you can come along as we all work together in the service of the Common Good.
Chauncey DeVega is editor and founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes, whose work has been featured by the NY Times, Alternet, the New York Daily News, the Utne Reader, the Week, and The Atlantic Monthly. Writing under a pen name, Chauncey DeVega's essays on race, popular culture, and politics have appeared in various books, as well as on such sites as the Washington Post's The Root and PopMatters.More Chauncey DeVega.