Protesters at Capitol 2

Washington, DC-January 6, 2021 Trump supporters storm the U.S. Capitol after listening to his incendiary comments near the White House

As I watched the machinations of Donald Trump after losing, I thought about doing a column considering whether there are any limits of white privilege?

I was focused on this idea because for me the last 12 years, from the election of Barack Obama, through the presidency of Donald Trump and the inauguration of Joe Biden, have all been one historical moment.

Obama’s presidency was emblematic of the cultural and demographic changes of the last 50 years. The entire Trump presidency was nothing more than the virulent white reaction to what was perceived as the existential threat of an Obama America and an all-out effort to reassert the hegemony of white male privilege.

The Biden victory represents the response of the majority of Americans to that Trump reaction. But, much like the Battle of Gettysburg, Biden’s victory was urgent and is momentous but it’s not determinative.

This is because the jury is still out on white America. The most important variable in all four of those elections is that the majority of white Americans voted against Obama and Biden, and for Trump. But Jan. 6, 2021 will join Dec. 7, 1941 as a date that will live in infamy.

On Jan. 6, white Americans witnessed and experienced what Black Americans have always known; there are no limits on what racist white America will do to maintain white supremacy.

Because of what happened on Jan. 6, white Americans are now confronted with an identity crisis from which they can no longer hide. Jan. 6 robbed them of their feigned racial ignorance and racial innocence.

Before that date, if you were a white American, you could make a specious claim to a white identity that didn’t include white supremacy, but now you are forced to actively choose between two irreconcilable positions.   I don’t believe you can generalize about who a person is based upon some general characterization you make about their ethnicity. But as old folks would say, you should be mindful of who their people are. While you shouldn’t generalize about specific individuals, you can categorize the group or groups to which they belong.

Years ago, to bring some coherence to how I could think about the social reality of race, I created three categories of white Americans and assigned an arbitrary value to each category as a way of rationally thinking about how race in America works.

placed 30% of white Americans in what I called the anti racist/racial justice cohort. This group has always been in America, they were the abolitionists, ran the Underground Railroad, they were John Brown at Harper’s Ferry and Charles Sumner in Reconstruction. They were with DuBois at Niagara Falls, and they died with us in Mississippi and Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle.

I placed 30% of white Americans in what I called the anti racist/racial justice cohort. This group has always been in America, they were the abolitionists, ran the Underground Railroad, they were John Brown at Harper’s Ferry and Charles Sumner in Reconstruction. They were with DuBois at Niagara Falls, and they died with us in Mississippi and Alabama during the Civil Rights struggle.

The second cohort is the 30% of white Americans who are genetically predisposed to be racist and are unconditionally committed to white supremacy. They are beyond redemption and have no social value you need to consider. History and demographics are not on the side of this unredeemable American racist cohort, but that does not mean they’re going quietly into that good night.

The last cohort is the 40% of white Americans I consider to be racially ambivalent. They are not genetically predisposed to overt racism, but they also have no real sustained commitment to racial justice and equity. They are repelled by racial oppression, but they enjoy and want to keep the benefits of white privilege.

They support the idea of racial progress but reject any socially disruptive opposition to achieve it. They can maintain these internal contradictions by insisting upon their active ignorance and aggressive naïveté about America’s history and social condition. 

Wherever the majority of this third cohort is at any point in time is the equilibrium point of white America on race.

Historically, when the racist white cohort feels their supremacy threatened, they always reverted to mob violence and racial terrorism. The object of that violence has always been Black Americans, the point being to terrorize us into accepting the racist status quo.

But things changed Jan. 6. For the first time, Black Americans were not the target of racialized white mob violence, it was white Americans. But not just other white Americans, but the very institutions that symbolize the American democracy.

In order to maintain their racial position they were willing to seize control of the US Congress, terrorize and possibly murder white members of Congress, commit treason and sedition, in the name of white supremacy.

In this moment of decision I would advise this white America to choose wisely, because tyranny has an insatiable appetite. This bell is not just tolling for Black people, other POC, or other marginalized communities.

To paraphrase James Baldwin’s letter to Angela Davis, if they take us at night, they will come for you in the morning.

To paraphrase James Baldwin’s letter to Angela Davis, if they take us at night, they will come for you in the morning.

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