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The majority of Americans would like to believe that the racist sentiments of our ancestors are in the past, only held by a minority of extremist, ignorant bigots. However, the truth may be much dimmer. White nationalism is simply the by-product of a greater system that has existed for centuries – the foundation that the United States was built upon. Whiteness is a social construct invented to maintain wealth and political power by those who benefit from its invention (after all – every person is a member of the human race, meaning “ethnic race” is a social construct). However, there is certainly such thing as a “white identity,” most often used to champion hateful rhetoric in order to protect conservative ideals. While white supremacy has existed since the formation of the country, the election of Donald Trump and political leaders who support his ideals have provided a platform for white nationalism to thrive and gain support without consequence. Thus, white nationalism is the outcome of a historically racist American society, the results of which are clear and present in our contemporary socio-political culture.
In order to discuss white nationalism, the term used by its supporters should be clearly outlined. Merriam-Webster defines a white nationalist as a person who “espouses white supremacy and advocates enforced racial segregation” (Merriam-Webster 2018). The Southern Poverty Law Center further clarifies this definition, adding that “white nationalist groups espouse white supremacist or white separatist ideologies, often focusing on the alleged inferiority of nonwhites,” providing examples such as “the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Confederate, neo-Nazi, and racist skinheads.” Essentially, white nationalists benefit from the imagined separation between whiteness and “other”-ness. As Charles Mills argues in Revisionist Ontologies, “the colonial world is ‘a Manichean world…a world cut in two… divided into compartments … inhabited by two different species,” (Mills 1994). The period of colonialism was the true formation of white supremacy, and nationalists simply take this idea to utilize it for social and political profit. Portraying ethnic minorities as a threat to the white race has proven beneficial, allowing political leaders to grow in rank and collect the support of American citizens, regardless of socioeconomic status, location, and even education level. White nationalists hope to ensure the “survival of the white race and the cultures of traditionally white ethnic groups.” Indeed, “White supremacists fear the white “race” will be “eliminated” through intermarriage, immigration, and low birth rates among whites. The solution, to them, is racial segregation,” (Khazan 2017). However, these beliefs are only an element of a deeper social problem, not only in the United States, but across the globe.
White nationalism stems from the greater system of white supremacy that has prevailed throughout world history. White supremacy is defined by David Gillman, a critical race-theory scholar, as a “political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources, conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings,” (Newkirk 2017). Gillman’s definition brings three key elements to the forefront: political-economic power, a belief in white superiority, and white dominance with non-white subordination. The results of these beliefs are clear in the present-day, as evidenced below.
The political power of white nationalists is a clear indication that this problem existed before the Trump era – supporters simply feel sustained now that they have a president who promotes their views. The examples of political gains made by white nationalists and their supporters are prevalent. Corey Stewart, a supporter of the “Unite the Right” rally “won 43 percent of the GOP vote in a purple state clutching a huge Confederate flag and holding events attended by white nationalists,”(Minkowitz 2018). Confederate statues represent the belief in separation of the races, and the legality of slavery that divided the Confederacy from the Union. By defending the prominence of these statues, supporters are revealing their beliefs, that colored people are in fact, inferior to whites. Another example of this trend is Steve King, who supports the “great replacement theory,” and just won election to his ninth term in Congress (French 2018). This theory proposes that ethnic minorities will eventually replace white people as the largest and most powerful race on the planet, which white supremacists use to support segregation. Not only are nationalists allowed to promote hatred, they are gaining enthusiasts. These supporters are not the expectation either. Those who are “involved with today’s white power skinhead, Christian Identity, neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups … [most] of them are educated, middle class and were raised in relatively typical families, (Byrne 2018). It is easy to believe that extremist groups and individuals must be mentally ill or the exception to the rule, but this is simply not true – they represent many dimensions of the average American citizen. Thus, white nationalism represents one definitive level of white supremacy: political power.
The ignorance of statistical facts is further representation that nationalism is less about any real existing genocide against white people, but rather, advancing a hateful agenda in order to gain political prominence. For instance, Trump claimed early on in his campaign that immigrants were bringing crime, drugs, and rapists to the U.S. On the contrary, “the crime rate among first-generation immigrants is lower than that for native-born Americans” (Osnos 2015), meaning that it doesn’t matter what the facts are to white nationalists, as long as they are pushing the agenda forward. Trump himself constantly lies in order to rally nationalist supporters who are defiant against immigration rates. In October 2018, Trump claimed that “every single Democrat in the U.S. Senate has signed up for the open borders, and it’s a bill, it’s called the ‘open borders bill,” (Valverde 2018), where there is no existence of a bill in existence. Trump’s rhetoric has been used time and again to rally the support of white nationalists, regardless of accuracy. This attitude of ignorance for facts and empathy for global citizens is only further represented in Trump’s attitudes towards other countries. Trump recently spoke at the United Nations, announcing that Americans are “nationalists,” as opposed to “globalists,” which is irresponsible to claim when the United States has a strong history and involvement in global affairs. Most countries in the world must participate in trade with the United States, and the political decisions made by our leaders constantly effect the citizens of foreign nations. It simply doesn’t make logical sense to claim that Americans are nationalists, unless the term is used to put forth a political agenda supported by economic power.
Many would like to argue that white nationalism is a temporary problem in the grand scheme of progress that is the United States. However, growing statistics of hate crimes and political support from Congressional and House leaders only reveal the sentiments that have existed since the country’s foundation. When the sitting President proclaims that the U.S. is a nationalist country, that is dangerous. GOP House hopeful, Pennsylvania’s Sean Donahue explained the views of white nationalism at its core: “The United States was intended to be white,” (Minkowitz 2018). While many would like to believe that the United States was founded as the ‘home of the free and the brave’, or ‘one nation for all’, the history of the country clearly reveals something much different. When British settlers came to colonize the country, their presence resulted in the death of 90% of the Native American people, (Diamond 1997). At its foundation, the United States was founded on ideals of white supremacy. In order to protect and expand the resources of English settlers, pilgrims removed Natives from their land, killing them off through disease and forcibly taking their land. Once most of the Natives died off, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was used to bring African people to the country. African slaves were then forced to work on land to produce resources, the profits of which were harvested by their white landowners. This cycle was legal until 1865 – only 153 years ago. Thus, the United States was built upon the premises of white supremacy. White nationalists are quite frankly, the people who believe in the values that our country was established upon. Again, the idea of “white” and “other” have been used for political and economic gain – this is not a new phenomenon, just one with a different type of popularity in the modern day.
Belief in white superiority can be further examined through views and actions towards immigrants – further proof that white nationalism is more about an accurate sense of American pride.American history is rooted in the onslaught of Native American people, forcing them onto reservations and effectively killing them in what can only be described as genocide. By kicking out incoming immigrants, Republican nationalists are only doing what American founders did. The difference is that contemporary white nationalism provides an identity to stand behind in a society believed to reject these ideals. “Twelve days after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: ‘Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.’” The “these people” that Neo-Nazis refer to are the illegal immigrants that they believe to be taking over the country. “As the Board of Supervisors chair in Prince William County, Stewart is best known for rounding up undocumented immigrants, getting county police to turn over 7,500 individuals to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and calling for mass deportations,” (Minkowitz 2018). Again, these are not the acts of a lone individual with hatred for Americans – but someone with a political office considering running for Congress. The hatred projected onto immigrants
White dominance is certainly present in social and institutional settings: “in March 2016, more-mainstream publications, including Breitbart and the Federalist, published long pieces that whitewashed, rationalized, and excused even virulent white nationalism and white supremacy,” (French 2018). The election of nationalist leaders doesn’t just represent the beliefs of the few. When reporters and writers begin to justify the beliefs of racist ideologies, these beliefs become even more dangerous. This normalization of racist ideologies is very much present in the growth in hate crimes since the presidential election in 2016. A hate crime is “a crime motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, typically one involving violence” (Department of Justice 2018), crimes which are most often committed against people of color in the United States. “Hate crimes have been on the rise for three consecutive years (with a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2017), and there has been a four-year increase in America’s ten largest cities,” (French 2018). According to the FBI, instances of hate crimes grew the day Donald Trump was elected. Thus, supporting white nationalism on a political and economic platform normalizes supremacists behavior and incites violence among hateful groups.
However, to be clear, Donald Trump is not the source of white nationalism, but a product of it. “Exposing the source of the problem also reveals its depth. The white-supremacist and white-nationalist surge is a symptom of a greater disease, and it’s a disease with no easy cure.” (French 2018). Ta-Nehisi Coates best describes this phenomenon: “Trump’s predecessors made their way to high office through the passive power of whiteness—land theft and human plunder cleared the grounds for Trump’s forefathers and barred others from it,” (Coates 2017). Trump’s rise to power was only possible from the lessons of his predecessors – to rest on the wielding power of white supremacy. While the average American citizen may not claim to believe in the ideals of white nationalism, these beliefs are exactly what the “founding fathers” used to protect their economic livelihood, social power, and political reputation.
White nationalism can teach us that as a nation that if we do not act against hatred immediately, it can become powerful. The support of Trump’s statements, even during his candidacy, are revealing of a deeper-rooted problem. After one of Trump’s early speeches, New Hampshire Republican state representative Fred Rice said “I heard echoes of Ronald Reagan… “If I had to vote today, I would vote for Trump,” (Osnos 2015). The idolization of a hateful leader is precisely the issue that has led to the world’s most inhumane world’s crises. The most prominent and widely known example of this is Adolf Hitler and his rise to dictatorship in Germany. Indeed, “Hitler imagined the nation in purely ethnic term… with the Aryan core at the top of the genetic pool. Hitler’s definition of ‘us and them’ formed an integral part of his nationalistic discourse, (Weaver 2011). We know now that this rhetoric was used to convince a country that exterminating roughly six million of its citizens. The most important part of this phenomenon may not necessarily be the leader, but the soldiers, officers, and average citizens who participated or ignored the signs. Indeed, most of the people involved in the Holocaust were “average” German citizens who claimed to only be doing their job. If we, As Americans claim to do the same, we are doomed to face a similar future.
Some try to argue that nationalists are “drawn toward violent extremist groups for non-ideological reasons, for shelter, protection, a sense of family,” (Byrne 2018), but this belief is at best, only a rationale for unacceptable behavior. Mike Cernovich—who has said “diversity is code for white genocide” has demonstrated access to the White House. Both Donald Trump Jr. and Kellyanne Conway have publicly praised Cernovich, with the president’s son saying he deserves “a Pulitzer.” Cernovich has announced he’s considering running for Congress in California this year, (Minkowitz 2018). White nationalists are not only growing in number, but in political prominence. If this trend continues, the 30% of “ethnic minorities” and immigrants in the country may be in grave danger. This creates a grave picture for the potential future of American citizens, who may be at risk for increasing hate crimes of violence that then go unreported and/or ignored by supremacist leaders.
In conclusion, although some believe we’ve overcome white supremacy in America, it is clear that it is still prominent in today’s society. The name has changed but the goals remain the same and will continue to thrive unless average citizens commit to its destruction. White nationalism did not arrive with Donald Trump, or even the Ku Klux Klan. Rather, the system that supports white nationalism has existed for years and supported by the leaders of this country. However, the solution may clear. “Once we recognize that “personhood” itself has been overtly or tacitly racially normed, we can appreciate that a central focus of the struggles of the peoples of the “New” World, particularly Native Americans and Africans, has always been the defiant assertion of their personhood, the repudiation and re-invention of the selves imposed by white supremacy,” (Jordan 1968). In order to prevent white nationalism from escalating to the point of complete political control, we must accept the humanness in one another and be committed to abolishing a system that existed long before we were born. It is only in this way that we, as American citizens, can defeat a racist, supremacist ideal.
- Byrne, Peter. “On the Origins of White Nationalism.” New Scientist, vol. 238, no. 3181, June 2018, pp. 34–39. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1016/S0262-4079(18)31024-8.
- Coates, Ta-nehisi, Oct 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/10/the-first-white-president-ta-nehisi-coates/537909/.
- Damond, Jared. 1997. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.
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- Department of Justice. 2018. https://www.justice.gov/crt/hate-crimes-prosecutions.
- French, David. “The White-Supremacy Surge.” National Review, vol. 70, no. 22, Dec. 2018, pp. 21–23. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=132993582&site=ehost-live.
- Khazan, Olga. Aug 15, 2017. https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/08/the-worlds-worst-support-group/536850/.
- Minkowitz, Donna. “Off to the Racists.” Nation, vol. 306, no. 14, May 2018, pp. 18–21. EBSCOhost,search.ebscohost.com/ login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=129136395&site=ehost-live.
- Mills, Charles W. “REVISIONIST ONTOLOGIES: THEORIZING WHITE SUPREMACY.” Social and Economic Studies, vol. 43, no. 3, 1994, pp. 105–134. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/27865977.
- Newkrik, Vann. Oct 6, 2011. https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/10/the-language-of-white-supremacy/542148/.
- “The Fearful And The Frustrated.” New Yorker, vol. 91, no. 25, Aug. 2015, pp. 50–1. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=109242774&site=ehost-live.
- “White Nationalist.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Dec. 2018.
- Southern Poverty Law Center. 2018. https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/ideology/white-nationalist.
- Weaver, John. May 16, 2011. https://www.e-ir.info/2011/05/16/adolf-hitlers-account-of-the-%E2%80%98nation%E2%80%99-and-%E2%80%98nationalism%E2%80%99/.
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