Following the election results, The New Yorker published a series of essays appropriately titled “Aftermath” in their November 21st issue. Sixteen writers, from Hilary Mantel to Junot Díaz, got together to reflect on the election results and ponder America’s uncertain future. While some talked about hope and others fear, Beloved author Toni Morrison broke down white supremacy in her own piece “Mourning For Whiteness.” Morrison points out that Donald Trump’s campaign and its promises (from mass deportations to a Muslim registry) catered to one of the oldest white supremacist fears: that the equalization of minorities will end white authority — and minorities must be stopped at all costs before privilege is lost. Along the campaign trail, this fear was reworded into calling Mexicans job-stealing, drug dealers, and racists, into the denial of police brutality, into the desire to bring back ‘great American values’ (friendly reminder: America was only great if you were a straight, white male) and get rid of civil rights progress.
As Morrison points out, “Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force.” As minority groups and minority struggles became more visible under the Obama administration, many white populations found that their definition of America (aka belonging to white people) was shifting. “And what then? Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.”
Morrison discusses how this fear is motivation, it drives white voters to the polling booths or kill black churchgoers. Morrison calls these violent reactions acts of cowardice saying: “These sacrifices, made by supposedly tough white men, who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.”
This kind of “debasement,” as Morrison calls it, is done to desperately maintain white superiority even at the risk of losing their careers as police officers, their reputation, their dignity. “The comfort of being ‘naturally better than’ of not having to struggle or demand civil treatment, is hard to give up,” Morrison notes. “So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength.”
While the others focus on the shock of what’s happened or call for healing, Toni’s unflinching analysis of white supremacy in America reminds us of one of the many reasons so many people voted for Trump.
You can read the rest of Toni Morrison’s brilliant essay here.
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