Everything Is Just Dandy!

Peter Gelderloos – Whiteness is a War Measure

The Anarchist Library

Author: Peter Gelderloos
Title: Whiteness is a War Measure
Subtitle: Race and racism in the transition from Obama to Trump to Biden, in historical perspective
Date: October 6th, 2022
Source: Retrieved on October 8th, 2022 from https://detritusbooks.com/pages/whiteness-is-a-war-measure.

The political changes that have occurred in the US over the last decade and a half not only give us an incisive opportunity to understand whiteness, they demand that we do so. What is its role in upholding oppressive systems and how has it changed from the 15th century to the 21st?

Whiteness from Left to Right

The Obama administration was a crucible for expressions of white supremacy across the spectrum. For the stalwarts of a reactionary whiteness, it was a wake-up call, a sign that the institutions of whiteness would not necessarily defend the longtime symbols of whiteness, that the highest levels of privilege and power would be opened up to racialized people. People on the right were either too obtuse or too arrogant to notice that only racialized people who effectively reproduced the codes of the white supremacist system were allowed to climb so high; to them, it was enough of an insult that the symbolic value of a white face had lost its exclusive currency. So, for them, it was the moment to declare a patriotic crisis. For the promoters of progressive whiteness, it was a Golden Age. The symbolic inclusion of a Black person at the highest level of government meant they could believe in America again. Obama’s election represented an easy rebuttal (albeit a false one) to Afro-pessimism and abolitionism. It was a vindication of the sordid American dream. Centrists could once again update their claims that the problems of racism were solved, and progressives could dare to embark again on racial reforms without fearing that the string they tugged at would unravel the entire tapestry.

When the democratic pendulum swung back to the Right, the reactionaries had their moment, they came out of the shadows, they began to speak honestly about what patriotism has always meant to them. And the progressives belittled them, feeling even more superior than under the previous administration. They dredged up the figure of “white trash” to show how superbly educated and non-bigoted they are, even though statistically the average Trump supporter out-earns them. The media, ever conciliatory, enshrined that lie by building a bigger one on top of it, and excused the irrationality of the MAGAts by claiming they’re poor whites—ex-middle class—just hurting from job loss, the supposed flight of their economic privileges to Mexico. Everything went as choreographed.

But then something happened. The same people who fought the police in the streets of Ferguson and Oakland and a dozen other cities, people spreading ideas the media would never repeat, about a direct continuity from enslavement and colonization to police killings, came back into the streets. And now there were more of them.

Finally, stories that had been ignored for too long could be told again, and we could finally dispute the official truths about who we are and where we come from.

When the reactionaries spilled their blood, unrepentant, in the broad light of day, in defense of a Confederate statue that was supposed to represent, merely, history, half the country stopped. They hadn’t yet been fully indoctrinated to accept that extreme racists and extreme anti-racists are equally bad. They put down the script a moment. Maybe that statue of the past casts a shadow over the present. Maybe it was put up by people interested in celebrating a particular past and imposing a particular future. Maybe a society based on slavery and genocide has merely updated its oppressions rather than banishing them. Maybe those Nazis aren’t the only expressions of racism around here.

Finally, stories that had been ignored for too long could be told again, and we could finally dispute the official truths about who we are and where we come from.

This was an existential threat for whiteness, from margins to center. Whiteness shrivels under the searing light of history, when it is held by those who fight against obliteration, who fight for a dignified survival, who begin to believe they have a right to claim the history.

The Right was split against itself by this existential threat. They wished for a coup to restore democracy, a contradictory desire, a shameful ideation. This is because they cherish democracy—historically, democracy has been the political system of slave owners par excellence—but only because they understand democracy is a mechanism designed to deliver them certain results. And because they were having such a hard time distinguishing between the symbols and the substance of whiteness, and saw how the old symbols were being swept away, they were terrified, truly terrified, that their cherished democracy was no longer safeguarding their existential whiteness. Hence the transparent lie, that even they weren’t stupid enough to actually believe, that the 2020 election had been stolen.

And hence the wish, and not the plan, for a coup. John Bolton was correct when he said, from experience, that January 6 was no coup, because a real coup takes a lot of work. No such work had gone into the invasion of the Capitol. It was wishful ideation, better analyzed in some updated Freudian framework than from a politico-military standpoint.