100 Days of Trump’s Brand of White Supremacy

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Today marks the one hundredth day of the Trump administration and his own peculiar brand of white supremacy. There are dozens of 100-day retrospectives around, including some beautifully written ones, but none that I’ve read so far try to connect the threads of white supremacy, white nationalism and Trumpism through these 100 days of outrage. This is my attempt. I’m not exactly sure why I did this in list-icle form, but this post is a kind of note-taking for a longer, narrative piece (a book maybe?) that I’m thinking through now. So. I hope this makes sense and is useful for someone else. And, if not, hey, I’ll use it at some point.

A big tip of the hat to the good work Matt Kiser is doing over at WTFJHT. (I used his chronology of events to pull this 100-item list together, but I confess I only got to Day 38.)

  1. With no political or elected experience, Trump rises to political prominence through a reality TV show and by hectoring the first Black president for his birth certificate, inspiring Charles M. Blow to call him “The Grand Wizard of Birtherism.” 
  2. Trump launches campaign with tirade about “drugs” and “rapists” coming from Mexico, and vows to build border wall along the southern U.S. border.
  3. He loses the popular vote, but wins a majority of white voters (including 53% of white women), and wins via the electoral college. CNN commentator Van Jones call this election a “whitelash.”
  4. Steve Bannon, publisher of Breitbart news, will lead the White House staff.
  5. Bannon said that he built Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right.” 
  6. Brietbart received at least $10 million dollars in funding from the Mercer Family.
  7. Rebekah Mercer, middle daughter of the wealthy family, has been called the “First Lady of the Alt-Right.” She, and her father Robert Mercer, were among Trump’s biggest financial supporters.
  8. Robert Mercer is one of the principals behind Cambridge Analytica, the secretive psychometrics firm that claims to have helped Trump win the election.
  9. Trump takes office Jan.20, and fumes when photographs show his crowds to be smaller than those for Obama’s inauguration. Sean Spicer disputes these facts by emphatically stating Trump’s crowds were the “largest ever” to witness an inauguration.
  10. Kellyanne Conway defends Spicer’s lies about crowd numbers, saying he offered “alternative facts.” 
  11. Spicer says the White House finds the “negative Trump coverage” from the media “demoralizing.”
  12. In one of their first official acts, the new administration adds a page to the White House website, “Standing Up For Our Law Enforcement Community,” which reads, in part: ““Our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” Many viewed this as a way of putting Black Lives Matter protests on notice.
  13. In the first 34 days after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center counted a total of 1,094 bias incidents around the nation; 37% of them directly referenced either President-elect Trump, his campaign slogans, or his infamous remarks about sexual assault.
  14. A collection of white nationalists claim credit for his election, saying “we memed a president.” 
  15. White nationalists gather in DC to celebrate his election.
  16. Putin’s Russia has emerged as a beacon for nationalists and the American “alt-right”
  17. White nationalists gather in DC to celebrate his inauguration.
  18. U.S.-based white naitonalist Matthew Heimbach calls “Russia is our biggest inspiration.”
  19. “The alt-right reopens questions of Jewish Whiteness.” 
  20. Invited on CNN, white n ationalist Richard Spencer calls into question “if Jews are people.” CNN panel debates. 
  21. As one of his first actions in office, Trump signs an Executive Order immediately banning immigration ban from seven predominantly Muslim countries. Widely referred to by people in the administration as a “Muslim ban,” it is declared illegal.
  22. Kleptocracy unrestrained and unhidden (travel ban excludes those countries where Trump org has business ties).
  23. US military rents space in Trump Tower, at a cost to taxpayers of roughly $1.5million per year, money that goes into the Trump family’s bank accounts.
  24. Mostly absent from DC and the news media, third-wife Melania Trump, reveals her plan to sign “multi-million dollar” endorsement deals as First Lady.
  25.  The new administration sides with forces that seek environmental destruction for profit at the expense of indigenous people and communities of color, including approving the Keystone Pipeline,  Dakota Access Pipeline,  hobbling the EPA, and scrubbing the EPA website of climate science.
  26. An FBI terrorism taskforce is investigating Standing Rock “water protectors” as terrorists.
  27. The Trump administration tells white nationalists and extremists that it won’t fight them at all, as it shifts all investigations of “extremism” to those committed in the name of Islam. This continues the trend under Obama of ignoring the threat of far-right extremism committed by white (christian) men.
  28. Trump posted a false news story to his Facebook page — that Kuwait had also issued a visa ban on several Muslim-majority countries after his immigration order, which they did not. Still, the post got thousands of shares.
  29. White House declares that negative polls are “fake news.”
  30. WH official: “We’ll say ‘fake news’ until media sees attitude of attacking the president is wrong.” 
  31. Steve Bannon says: “media should keep its mouth shut.”
  32. Trump accuses the “dishonest media” of “covering up terrorist attacks,” an idea he got from Alex Jones, who hosts the right-wing InfoWars. 
  33. Trump falsely claims that the murder rate is at a 47-year high, and accuses the media for not reporting it because “it wasn’t to their advantage to say that.”
  34. In a tweet, Trump calls the media (NYTimes, NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN) “the enemy of the people.”
  35. He says critics “pull out the racist card” when they characterize him or his policies as anti-Muslim or anti-black.
  36. “Buy Ivanka’s stuff,” urged Kellyanne Conway on air, after a retailer threatened to pull the first daughter’s clothing line from stores. The “free commercial” was a “clear violation” of ethics rules.  Conway was “briefed” about ethics, twice, by White House counsel.
  37. Steve Bannon moves on to the National Security Council. (And then he’s removed.)
  38. Stephen Miller, a 31-year-old senior advisor to the president is a fierce advocate of “ethno-nationalism,” the racist belief that Europe and America must protect their (white) culture and civilization from outsiders. Miller echoed those talking points on Sunday talk shows, claiming that “millions” of “illegal aliens” voted against Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
  39. Michale ‘Decius’ Anton, referred to as “White House Machiavelli,” and “America’s Leading Authoritarian Intellectual,” is an advisor to the president and has a seat on the NSC. Bannon has called him a “leading intellectual in the nationalist movement.”  According to another writer: “Race is integral to Anton’s sense of his own persecution. He sees the enthusiasm for Trump among avowed white supremacists as more reason to support Trump…”
  40. Kellyanne Conway defends the travel ban by citing a non-existent “Bowling Green Massacre,” supposedly carried out by Islamic terrorists.
  41. In a tweet, Trump says  judicial decisions that halted his executive order banning travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries had allowed a flood of refugees to pour into the country. “Our legal system is broken!” Mr. Trump wrote in a Twitter posting a day after he said that he was considering a wholesale rewriting of the executive order to circumvent legal hurdles quickly but had not ruled out appealing the major defeat he suffered in a federal appeals court on Thursday. “SO DANGEROUS!” the president added.
  42. Disorientation disarms the public, argues Joel Whitebook. “Trumpism as a social-psychological phenomenon has aspects reminiscent of psychosis, in that it entails a systematic — and it seems likely intentional — attack on our relation to reality.”
  43. In a tweet, Trump threatens to cut federal funds to UC-Berkeley after a speech by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulous was disrupted by anti-fascist protestors.
  44. Milo attacked, and encouraged others to attack, actor Leslie Jones via Twitter.  Jones later accused Simon & Schuster of spreading hate by offering him a six-figure book contractive.
  45. An anti-fascist protestor was shot by a Trump supporter outside a venue where Milo was giving a speech.
  46. Milo disappears from public briefly after losing an invitation to CPAC and a lucrative book deal over comments he made about pedophilia.
  47. Milo reemerges a few weeks later, claiming to have $12 million in start up funds for a new media company, Milo Inc. dedicated to:  “making the lives of journalists, professors, politicians, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, and other professional victims a living hell.”
  48. While there were many comparisons between Trump’s authoritarian white nationalism and the Third Reich during the election, once he takes office, much of this wanes in favor of more sedate analysis like this.
  49. Avowed white nationalists are now blending into the media ecosystem.
  50. Some are warning about a ‘Reichstag fire,’ which allows for seizing control through a call for ‘law and order.’
  51. Trump threatens to send federal troops to Chicago to deal with ‘carnage.’ 
  52. In off-the-cuff remarks at the beginning of Black History Month, Trump mentions abolitionist Frederick Douglass, referring to him as “somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more,” prompting speculation that he doesn’t know who the historical figure is.
  53. During the first week in office for Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and still during Black History Month, the “Department of Education sent out a tweet that misspelled W.E.B. DuBois’ name. Then, apologized, but included a typo in the apology. Both tweets have been deleted.
  54. Administrators in a Maryland school that is 93% white, asked teachers to take down “pro-diversity” posters because they are “anti-Trump.” The posters, designed by Shepard Fairey they depict Latina, Muslim and black women, with slogans like “We the people are greater than fear.”
  55. The Anti-Defamation League received a bomb threat.
  56. In a rambling press conference, Trump asks April Ryan, if members of the Congressional Black Caucus “They friends of yours?” and if she will “set up a meeting” between the CBC and the president.
  57. The president, chiding Democrats, refers to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, when he says, “Pocahontas is now the face of your party.”
  58. The “shock and awe” strategy of a barrage of Executive Orders in the early days of the administration was engineered by Jeff Sessions, an early Trump supporter.
  59. In attempt to block Jeff Sessions’ nomination to Attorney General, Sen. Elizabeth Warren attempts to read the words of Coretta Scott King’s indictment of Sessions’ racism. The Senate GOP used an obscure rule and voted to silence her. 
  60. Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, asserts that Coretta Scott King “would have changed her mind” about Sessions.
  61. Jeff Sessions, too racist to be a federal judge (1986), is appointed as Attorney General (2017)
  62. A member of the Senate Intelligence Committee calls for an exhaustive investigation into Trump-Russia connections following Michael Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor.
  63. Michael Flynn promoted a tweet that read “Not anymore, Jews” and endorsed a racist author who claims “diversity is code for white genocide.” Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had declared Flynn to be a “great pick!” when he was selected.
  64. Neo-Nazis at Daily Stormer blame “The Jews” for Michael Flynn’s resignation.
  65. White women are core supporters, and leaders, of Trumpism. KellyAnne Conway describes herself as “the face of the Trump Movement.”
  66. And, of course, First Daughter Ivanka Trump does a good deal of work to mitigate father’s fascism, cruelty and white supremacy so that it is more palatable.
  67. According to leaked emails, Ginni Thomas, wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, looked for a way to organize in favor of the travel ban, a case that is very likely to appear before the court. This is a murky ethical terrain, legal experts say.
  68. TIME magazine features Steve Bannon on the cover and asks is he the second most powerful man in the world?
  69. Steve Bannon says, “media should keep its mouth shut”
  70. Again and again, Trump perpetuated the racist myth that “Mexico should pay for the wall.” 
  71. Trump increases ICE raids on immigrants, claiming he is getting rid of “bad hombres,” yet in one study, half have only a traffic violation or no criminal record at all. 
  72. ICE has about 100 “fugitive teams” working on “targeted enforcement actions.” The agency says it has been just as active as during the Obama administration
  73. Fatima Avelica, 14 years old, wept and recorded a video of ICE arresting her father, as he dropped her off for school.
  74. Immigration agents arrest 600 in one week.
  75. Daniel Ramirez, a ‘DREAMer’ who has protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, was arrested for allegedly being a gang member, officials said.
  76. ICE detains a woman at a courthouse in Texas where she was seeking a protective order against an abusive boyfriend. “This is really unprecedented,” said one observer.
  77. The organization FAIR, with deep ties to white nationalists, is helping to set immigration policy in Trump’s administration.
  78. DHS documents reveal aggressive new immigration, border enforcement policies.
  79. People lose their jobs after joining “Day without Immigrants” protests.
  80. Trump plans to hire 15,000 new Border Patrol and ICE agents.
  81. The White House statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day didn’t mention Jews or anti-Semitism because “others were killed too.”
  82. Trump gives a speech to Congress, speaks in complete sentences, those attending listen and applaud; members of the media praise him as “presidential.” When Obama gave a speech to Congress, an elected official yelled, “you lie!” at him during the speech.
  83. Trump pal Bill O’Reilly out at Fox News for being a serial sexual harasser, but Neo-Nazis are rejoicing over Tucker Carlson’s move to primetime.
  84. Sebastian Gorka, linked to a neo-Nazi group, appointed as ‘terror advisor,’ and has a fake PhD, may be on his way out.
  85. But the anti-immigrant views of Steve Bannon (‘Why even let ’em in?’) continue to guide the policy-making at the White House.
  86. The administration is considering even more EO’s that would block immigration of any “individuals who are likely to become, or have become, a burden on taxpayers.
  87. Steve Bannon reportedly sidelined for referring to Jared Kushner as a ‘cuck’ and a ‘globalist’ (terms used by white nationalists and the ‘alt-right.’)
  88. Not gone for long, Bannon reasserts his influence in the 100-day push to craft some “wins” for a president who has met with repeated defeat.
  89. The first sitting president to visit the gun-rights group in thirty years, Trump tells the NRA he is a “true friend and champion” while the NRA continues to support scientific racism in its rhetoric and in who it sees as its constituency. The ‘right to bear arms’ is perhaps the white-est of rights.
  90. In a tweet, Trump accuses Obama of wiretapping, a federal crime, with no evidence.
  91. The administration settles into a reliable blame game: blaming Obama for everything that goes wrong now, from botched raid in Yemen to hiring Michael Flynn to   the economy to whatever fails next. “I inherited a mess,” Trump claims.
  92. When Obama is not the target, another key strategy seems to be going after Black Women, mostly recently Susan Rice.
  93. Near Atlanta, a 14-year old girl is attacked and her head scarf removed as people yell “Terrorist!” at her. In Austin, someone distributed Easter Eggs with stickers reading, “celebrating in white culture.”  An updating list of ‘Hate in America,” is a new feature at Slate, one of the few media outlets with such a regular feature.
  94. Jeff Sessions orders the Justice Department to review all police reform agreements.
  95.  A 51-year-old white, American man faces first-degree murder charges after shooting two men in an Olathe, Kansas bar, after yelling: “get out of my country” and “terrorist.” The shooter mistakenly believed the men were from Iran. Both of the men who were shot are originally from India and working in the US as engineers.  One died, the other survived. Trump issued no statement on the shootings. 
  96. Jeff Sessions plans to double down on mass incarceration
  97. In a tirade about immigration policies in Europe, Trump made reference to a terrorist attack “last night in Sweden,” but no such attack occurred. He later revealed, in a tweet, that he had heard the story on Fox News.
  98. Trump doubles down on his accusation that refugees in Sweden were behind a rise in crime and terrorism. Swedish officials are bewildered, saying there is no evidence for the claim that migration has driven up crime.
  99. Of course, like so many mediocre white men, Trump is given the luxury of “learning” his job as he does it. And, to almost no one’s surprise, he is displaying “extraordinary ineptitude”
  100. Also in the category of not surprising, and typical of a privileged white man who has had everything given to him: “I thought this [being president] would be easier” Or, was it just that if a Black man had done it, he didn’t think it could be that hard?

I’ll have more to say about all this in narrative form, before too long.  Let me know what I missed! Comments are open (for now).

 

~ Jessie Daniels, Professor of Sociology, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of several books, including White Lies (1997) and Cyber Racism (2009). You can follow her on Twitter at @JessieNYC.

What Disney’s Andi Mack Reveals about Asian Americans

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Andi Mack, a television show that features three generations of Asian American women, premiered on the Disney Channel earlier this month.  The lead character “Andi” is a thirteen-year-old, mixed-race girl, who lives with her barely-middle-aged grandmother, and—spoiler alert if you haven’t watched the first episode—her mother, “Bex”, short for Rebecca, who looks and dresses, as if she could be in her early thirties.

The premiere of Andi Mack is noteworthy because Asian Americans in mainstream American entertainment are so rare. When they do appear, Asian Americans are usually “white-washed,” replaced by white actors or actors of mixed-ethnicity, most recently in ‘Doctor Strange,’ and ‘Ghost in the Shell.  In the few American films where there are Asian American protagonists, like “Better Luck Tomorrow,” “21 and Over,” and “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” Asian American women are veritably absent and silent; they exist to develop men’s characters.

 

It’s been more than twenty years since Margaret Cho critiqued the mainstream interpretation and portrayal of her stand-up comedy, in the first and short-lived Asian American family sitcom “All American Girl” on ABC. Similarly, Eddie Huang questioned the representation of his biography when “Fresh Off the Boat” premiered on ABC in 2015. Although the show has given Constance Wu opportunities to speak about the barriers Asian Americans face in Hollywood, the character she plays has been memorable because of the comedic “tiger mom” stereotypes she portrays.

 

According to The Columbus Dispatch, Andi Mack is Disney Channel’s attempt to rebrand itself, amidst Netflix competition with edgier material. Considering that Asian women are typecast as the “geisha,” the “dragon lady,” or the “tiger mom,” it was refreshing to see that including teenage pregnancy allowed Andi, Bex, and her grandmother to have complex thoughts, emotions, histories, and character development.  However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the tricky topic of teenage pregnancy was allowed particularly because of Andi and Bex’s white, multiracial heritage and through their relationships with white men.

The first episode begins with partial shots of a helmeted driver revving a motorized bike and clattering down a grassy hill to a street corner. The driver stops abruptly in front of two pre-teens, and whips off her helmet in a slow motion tumble of short brown hair and an immediately endearing and unforgettable crooked-tooth grin. Andi proudly shows off her new scooter to her two astonished friends, Buffy and Cyrus. Buffy, looks like a part white, mixed-race girl. She has light brown skin, and thick dark brown hair, with the texture of Rachel Dolezal. Cyrus has light skin and short, straight, dark brown hair but due to his pre-pubescent voice and worried reaction to Andi’s new scooter, he seems as gender ambiguous as Andi herself.

Scholar Rose Weitz writes about how women use their hair to create personal meaning and power in their lives. Weitz argues that women use their hair to resist popular ideals of feminine beauty and to distance themselves from cultural control over their bodies. A lot has been written about how men and women participate in gender policing of women’s bodies. Women cannot be too sexy or too manly. They cannot be too passive or too aggressive.  They should be authoritative but not bitchy. Moreover, women who are not white will be inherently unable to meet standards for white, feminine beauty.

Terri Minsky, the creator of Lizzie McGuire, cast Peyton Elizabeth Lee as protagonist Andi Mack in part because of her crooked smile, her short boyish hair, and her mixed-ethnicity; she looked distinct from the polished children cast in Hollywood. Minsky specifically told Disney she wanted to keep Andi’s hair short. In addition to Andi’s gender ambiguous name, Bex and Jonah Beck, the brown hair and blue-eyed boy Andi has a crush on, both call her “Andiman.” These moments of gender ambiguity make me wonder if Andi’s short hair and gender ambiguous name would have been allowed if she weren’t part white.

“Andi Mack” is not an example of an Asian name that would receive fewer call backs for job interviews. As names go, it’s about as Asian as “Lizzie McGuire.” Between Andi, her mother, and her grandmother, only her grandmother is not mixed-race. In the first episode, Andi compares the parenting style of her white grandfather to his wife, her strict and controlling Asian grandmother. When Andi finds out that Bex is her mother, and all three women become hysterical, her grandfather warmly and firmly reminds his frantic Asian wife, “we knew this day would come” and “they have to make the best of it.” The show’s easy portrayal of Andi’s understanding and agreeable white grandfather reminds me of a familiar strain of American history, where white men bring progressive, modern freedoms to backwards foreigners and especially to culturally oppressed non-white women.

Homecoming Dresses

When Andi finds out that her crush, Jonah, has a girlfriend, she has a fight with Bex and accuses her mother of “barely knowing her.” However, she starts to feel better after Jonah texts her saying that he misses her, even though he also barely knows her. When Andi’s mother tries to build up Andi’s confidence, Andi doesn’t listen but when Jonah tells her the same thing, Andi feels better about herself. We can write this off as young love but that’s the point, for Andi’s grandmother and for Andi, it’s the relationship with a reassuring and authoritative white man that resolves an emotionally unstable Asian or mixed-race woman, when she experiences low self-esteem or when she’s upset with other women in her family.  

A recent New York Times article about the potential for biracial people to heal racial divides suggests that by biologically mixing racial minorities with white people then somehow we will see that everyone is human and deserves equal rights and respect. This assumption hides that race, culture, and biology itself are socially constructed.

(Image from NYT)

But, there is lots of research to show that mixed-race societies still experience racism. Race was created and continues to be used as a way to stratify and control people, according to relations of domination and subordination. I was born and raised in Hawaii, which is wrongly assumed to be a “racial paradise” because a large proportion of the population consists of racial minorities and multiracial families.

Native Hawaiians experience lasting repercussions from colonial relations with U.S. imperialism as other indigenous peoples and Filipinos experience ethnic discrimination and over-representation in blue-collar, low-wage jobs, similar to Mexicans in the mainland U.S.

When I and some colleagues analyzed Filipino college students’ essays in Hawai‘i, we found that Filipino students distanced themselves from a Filipino identity because of families that taught them to prioritize and embrace American culture and because of ethnic and cultural discrimination they experienced in local culture. Language and culture courses helped Filipino students to find pride in their ethnic identity. However, top-down pedagogy left some students feeling alienated by essentializing discourses and boundary-making processes within the Filipino community, especially when the course content did not give students the opportunity to make sense of disparate and changing contexts that Filipino- Americans experience.

Instead of placing our hope in the biology and culture of interracial children of the future, social historians like Emma Teng and Natalia Molina argue for understanding how racial scripts classify and regulate groups of people in the past to demonstrate how we are all connected in the present. Molina reviews how legal cases and immigration policies around Mexican immigrants’ claims to U.S. citizenship have been evaluated by using previous racial and legal knowledge about Asian immigrants and African Americans. We see how quickly Asians lose their “model” status among racial minorities, when they are not submissive or obedient.

Teng reminds readers that people still think about biology, race, and culture in ways where only some hybrid identities are available. Remember how white people are ex-pats but anyone else is an immigrant? We think that Chinese people can assimilate into America, but Americans cannot become Chinese. These ideas about one-way cultural and racial processes affirms the idea of the modern against the old and the idea that people can consent to becoming American but they have to be biologically descended from Chinese people to be Chinese. These assumptions about race, culture, and biology obscure how they are all social constructions responsive to a specific historical and political context.  

I hope Andi Mack does help the Disney Channel rebrand itself by adding to a discussion about race in America and the privilege of white, mixed-race actors in Hollywood.  And, I hope Andi gets to continue to try to figure out who she is, not only in relation to her mother, her friends, and her middle-school crush, but also in relation to her privileged racial identity.

 

~ Kara Takasaki is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas at Austin.

White Bodies, Brown Bodies: The Presidential Election and After

Critics, pundits, bloggers, and just about everyone with a pulse and a social media account have taken to the public sphere to explain how Hillary Clinton, the most unpopular candidate ever to win the popular vote, lost the presidential election to Donald Trump, the most unpopular person ever to occupy the executive branch. Blame was evenly distributed but didn’t explain much. Although data indicated that the median income of the Trump voter was $72,000, it was the fault of the white working class. It was also the fault of anyone without a college education as well as rural whites. Rural whites make up a paltry 17% of the entire electorate. Rural whites haven’t supported a Democratic candidate since the south was a one party system and Franklin Roosevelt was president.

It was white women’s fault because more white women voted for Trump than Hillary. However, more white women voted for Mitt Romney over Barak Obama four years ago, just as more white women voted for John McCain over Obama in 2008, which means that white women simply voted like white women have in recent elections when the Democrat’s candidate won. It was the fault of blacks because blacks cast fewer ballots in 2016 than in the previous two elections. Republicans managed to suppress minority voters with racist Voter ID Laws and other implicit racist tactics, such as supplying limited voting machines in minority precincts. Only stalwart leftist magazines like the New Republic pointed out that Trump’s support was found in the upper and middle class white suburbs, comprised of the very people who thrived after the recession, and were not affected by the last few decades of deindustrialization. On the positive side, it may have been the first time no one blamed black women for an undesirable outcome.

I’m not here to add to the cacophony of the blame game of why Hillary lost. It’s not very productive. I am here to advocate for the importance of the body as an independent variable. Bodies have agency in the sense that bodies exert an affect over political outcomes. I’ve done so elsewhere. I’ve explained how exercising power over one’s body can produce changes in others and how the performativity of protests can fuse protesters with audiences.

I’ve explained how the tension between racially threatening and racially non-threatening bodies continue to hinder struggles for racial equality and how good white bodies are an integral part of the neoliberal project. Others have as well. Marion Klawiter explained how different fields of contention formed around the bodies of breast cancer survivors and breast cancer victims. The events leading up to the 2016 election and waves of post-election protests provide an opportunity think how a network of white bodies formed a racist white meta-public in relation a profaned meta-public comprised of brown bodies, sick bodies, trans bodies, migrant bodies, and the bodies of refugees.

The formation of a racist white meta-public illustrates the fluid nature of America’s racialized social structure. Systemic racism captures how the many interconnected elements of society are held together by a singular logic of white racial dominance. The theory of systemic racism does more than explain how racial oppression is at the core of American society. It also explains the causal effect racism has in creating and maintaining interlocking white institutions, and traces the historical patterns of elite white power, including how elites responds to various forms of black civic inclusion. White and brown bodies link elite whites with ordinary whites because they are part of a cultural framework known as the white racial frame. The white racial frame is an overarching “white world view” that “encompasses a broad and persisting set of racial stereotypes, prejudices, ideologies, images, interpretations and narratives, emotions, and reactions to language accents, as well as racialized inclinations to discriminate.” Racialized bodies anchor racist meanings into publics. The body is a form of communication at the visual and affective level that communicates political meanings, narratives, and myths, and in turn, connects audiences with distinct and otherwise unconnected publics. Audiences read publics as sympathetic, dangerous, or subversive; as sacred or profane; as good or bad. Rather than use history to break down or ‘deconstruct’ the origins of elite white power, I prefer the analytical framework of assemblages to explain how the white racial frame operates like a web of racist meanings that connect publics with economic policy, with geography, and with police brutality.

Publics and public spheres have to be created. They do not simply exist, waiting around for us to enter. Judith Butler’s recent entry into the debates around performativity and assemblages explains the relationship between bodies and the making of publics. As Butler explained, bodies still come together with the streets to form a public,

No one body establishes the space of appearance, but this action, this performative exercise happens only between bodies, in a space that constitutes the gap between my own body and another’s. In this way, my body does not act alone, when it acts politically. Indeed, the action emerged from the between.

Publics are the means for marginalized groups to get their demands for equality into the broader political agenda. Publics make invisible groups and invisible bodies visible. In turn, Butler notes that the process of making a public “contests the distinction between public and private.” Butler, always the eternal optimist, imagines how an assemblage of a public can grant marginalized bodies a political voice. I’m not so optimistic. Marginalized groups have a limited control over how audiences respond to their claims. In the neoliberal era, the visibility of marginalized bodies triggers a white backlash — especially when racialized and other threatening bodies are visible.

The key site of political struggle in the contemporary public sphere has increasingly shifted from a discursive struggle to a corporeal one. The white and brown body is the visual cue that provides the initial reading of the public. In the current digital age of rapid news feeds made up of staged photo-ops, selfies, memes, gifs, scrolls, likes, and swipes — talk is downplayed. The importance of corporeal politics has increased in the digital age. The question is not just how embodied performances create publics, but rather, how elites and ordinary citizens bind and fail to bind heterogeneous publics together. The binding of heterogeneous publics illustrates the assemblage of a meta-public. Thus, meta-public is not simply comprised of a network of specific publics. It also captures an outcome, a dependent variable if you’ll have it, which is the current political climate.

Our current political climate is defined by the relationship between racism and neoliberalism. In Race and the Origins of Neoliberalism, I explained how the conditions for the neoliberal project were forged in the white response to the civil rights movement. A unified white response was made possible by what I dubbed the language of neoliberalism, or white-private/black-public. The language of neoliberalism refers to the assemblage of language around the signifiers of white, black, public, and private. Rather than divide the world into simple black and white categories, the form of racism that sustains neoliberalism is the result of combining the signifiers white-private and black-public. For example, elites weave together a thread of white-private-taxes to distort the perception of who ‘owns’ public resources, and a separate thread of white-private-security to define who is comforted by the expanded police and military presence. On the flip side, elites assemble a black-public-taxes sequence to define who benefits from public resources in order to rally support for privatizing our social welfare system. The language of neoliberalism expands in a non-linear fashion, existing at the center of a web of meanings connecting racism with deregulation, privatization, austerity, and taxation.

The current racist white meta-public grew out of the white response to real instances of racial integration. To give a brief historical example, let’s trace the white response to black inclusion since the civil rights movement. Political audiences and political parties have been segregated since the end of the civil rights movement. Lyndon Johnson was the last Democratic president to win the majority of the white vote. In the early 1970s Richard Nixon foresaw the existence of the Voting Rights Act as a political marker that would drive disaffected white voters to the Republican Party. The Republican Party was soon comprised of whites who responded to tax increases with tax revolts, integrated schools with white flight, black women receiving AFDC benefits with welfare queen stories, and growing black urban poverty with incarceration. The result was the nationalization of the neoliberal project through tax cuts, banking deregulation, private prisons, and cuts to AFDC.

Since the nationalization of the neoliberal project in 1979, each white response triggered an additional wave of neoliberal reforms. Republican’s rallied white voters against the 1993 Motor Voter Act via the myth of fraudulent black voter. Along with strategic gerrymandering, Republicans took control of congress in 1994, setting the stage for banking and pharmaceutical deregulations, and the privatization of social welfare. The Bush presidency began with a series of tax cuts for the wealthy. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 corresponded with a rise of white nationalism in relation to Arab bodies to justify war abroad. State’s continued to privatize prisons and public schools throughout the 2000s. It took the near collapse of America’s financial institutions and the mobilization of black voters to elect Barak Obama. Even then, Obama’s signature policy, the Affordable Health Care Act, was a system of privatized insurance. The federal government subsidizes private health care companies and private citizens to create the private health exchange market. The white response to Obama’s election was a combination of conspiracy theories about where he was born, the uber-neoliberal Tea Party that supports the complete privatization of public institutions, and states with a large minority population and a republican governor passed laws to limit minority votes, such as Voter ID laws.

The elite and middle class white response to the increased visibility of brown bodies since Obama’s second term led to the assemblage of the current meta-public. I define brown bodies as Arab bodies, black bodies, latino/a bodies, and Muslims bodies. In every case, the brown body serves as the focal point to influence the audience response to the public. Depending on the audience, a public of black bodies protesting police brutality can be a demand for reform or a riot. As the collection of local anti-racism and anti-police brutality groups assembled under the tag line #Blacklivesmatter, whites responded with their own tag line: #Bluelivesmatter. #Bluelivesmatter was not just a defense of the police. It was an affirmation of white supremacy, of racial discrimination, of legitimating the state violence against marginalized brown bodies.

The brown body provided a figurative focal point for middle class whites’ to link their own domestic anxieties with global and economic changes. The brown body is always nomadic — a stateless actor — that threatens white borders and steals white jobs. The visibility of Arab and Muslim bodies define the terrorist public that threatens whites’ sense of security. White Christian terrorists, white men and their guns and homemade bombs, are responsible for the overwhelming number of domestic terrorist acts. Yet, whites do not demand deporting other whites, they do not criminalize Christianity, and they do not place restrictions on easy gun access. The visibility of latino/a bodies connects legal and illegal immigration with global economic insecurity. Deindustrialization, driven by a combination of increased use of robots and automation in manufacturing, federal tax policies that supported relocation of firms from the northeast and great lakes region to right to work states in the south, the recent popularity disruptive business practices, and the privatization of social welfare since the 1980s, has eroded the value of real wages in the United States. It was not Mexican immigrants. But bodies carry mythologies that are more potent than data driven facts when influencing political ideology.

Brown bodies create different publics than trans bodies. Trans bodies subvert and undermine the gendered world order. The bathroom is reconstituted as a public as trans bodies come together to demand open access and equal use of a facility designed simply to relocate bodily wastes to a sewer treatment facility. The social conservative response to visibility of trans bodies was to assemble a new anti-gender equality public dominated by the bodies of heteronormative white men. The new anti-gender equality public linked with other publics: anti-black, anti-immigration, and anti-Arab. It was the affirmation of patriarchy via men’s ownership of women’s bodies. When pro-trans activists hold signs that read “It was never about bathrooms” I have a feeling the social conservatives concur.

Does the process of assembling a meta-public exist on the left? Clinton jammed the various racist, neo-nazi, sexist, and homophobic publics into a single alt-right public, or basket of deplorables. But the left has been unsuccessful in linking the alt-right with neoliberalism, which in my humble opinion must be done. This may indicate how the left’s inability to think of an alternative political and economic project to neoliberalism leaves them unable to create links with other publics. Or it may indicate that elite whites in the Democratic Party who’ve benefited from neoliberalism over the years aren’t as liberal and progressive as they think they are. It’s an empirical question.

This essay is modified from an earlier version published on the ASA Body & Embodiment Blog

Randolph Hohle, is Assistant Professor, Sociology, Fredonia, SUNY. His books include Black Citizenship and Authenticity in the Civil Rights Movement (Routledge, 2013) and Race and the Origins of Neoliberalism (Routledge, 2015). His upcoming book, Racism in the Age of Neoliberalism: A Meta History of Elite White Power in the United States, (Routledge, forthcoming). He can be reached at Randolph.Hohle@fredonia.edu; his website is Randolphohle.wordpress.com

Introducing: The Hashtag Syllabus Project

The Hashtag Syllabus Project launches today.  The “hashtag syllabus” has emerged as a digital, crowd-sourced form of knowledge production in response to the events in Charleston, Ferguson, and the Black Lives Matter movement.  

 

As historian Lisa A. Monroe has described them, these are “critical intellectual resources and promote collective study both within and outside of the academy during [a] moment of heightened racial tension.” By bringing these collections together here, my goal is to build on this work by making the knowledge within each one more accessible, discoverable, and open for further development and contribution from the activists, academics, and anyone who is simply interested in growing and learning more. 

 

Flower Floral photography backdrops

 

The Hashtag Syllabus Project, hosted here at Racism Review, brings together many of the syllabus projects that have cropped up on the internet over the past couple of years. The name of the project harkens to its digital origins–open access syllabi created outside of traditional academe and shareable through many online platforms, especially social media platforms. In keeping with the spirit of collecting and sharing these syllabi, it’s my hope that this Hashtag Syllabus Project can be useful in a variety of ways–for academics and educators looking to reimagine their classroom curricula, for independent thinkers searching for radical epistemologies, and for the activists hoping to bridge the perennial gap between theory and practice–this page is for you.

 

Each syllabus is prefaced by a short introduction to contextualize the work–feel free to click a syllabus and (re)discover histories, knowledges, and (your)self. And, please do contribute your own syllabus project. All credit is attributed to the original authors, creators, and contributors of these syllabi projects.

 

~ Alyssa Lyons is a graduate student in sociology at The Graduate Center, CUNY