This morning I was reading a WP editorial by Colbert King about the covid-19 small business grant debacle when I noticed that the embedded video offering was an interview with Nell Irvin Painter about the importance of capitalizing the word “White” when referencing “White” people. Even though I’ve lately gotten more used to watching smart people talk about things and to listening to podcasts, I usually pass over those clips. But having read Painter’s book, The History of White People (and her book about getting an MFA in her sixties), and hoping that she could help me sort out the race capitalization issue, I went for it. As you may (or may not) have surmised from the sentences above, she makes a strong case for capitalizing “White” because she wants White people to own that we’ve racialized everyone and that we’ve worked to set ourselves apart by our Whiteness – she wants us to not let ourselves off the hook with little w’s.
I think laced into all this is that using a little w implies that Whiteness doesn’t need to be called out because it’s the default. As Painter noted, White has been contrived to be what’s leftover from Black. She goes further and contends that even though many of us are deeply uncomfortable with claiming our Whiteness because we don’t want to be lumped in with White supremacists and White nationalists (Klan, Proud Boys, etc.), it doesn’t serve the greater good for us to duck our Whiteness. She didn’t say it, but my sense is that when White people avoid dealing with Whiteness in a forthright way, it allows us to also avoid reckoning with all the privilege and sense of entitlement that goes with it.
The piece I read right after watching the Painter video was by Paul Blumenthal in the HP (“Donald Trump Is Writing A Terrifying New Chapter In The History Of Political Repression”) wherein he argues that you are setting us up for a potentially bloody US vs. Them with “Them” being the “Dems.” In and of itself, this argument isn’t new or revelatory – you really aren’t being the least bit subtle about this – but in an incredibly succinct way, he traces the US’s history of dehumanizing, othering, and vilifying groups of people over the centuries to serve its expansionist, regressive capitalist mission of domination for profit for the few. He didn’t put it in quite those terms, but that’s what I got out of it.
Here is how Blumenthal summed up what was missing from your Mount Rushmore rah-rah speech about “divinely” inspired American expansionism:
“Missing in Trump’s tale are the many other peoples who were crushed, enslaved, overrun and ethnically cleansed to make that freedom possible.”
Blumenthal also illustrates how various conspiracy theories have been promulgated over the years, spinning tall tales of “foreign influences” on oppressed groups of people who were pushing for recognition, resources, and rights in order to further justify insecure (freaked out) White crack down on those peoples. He eventually gets back to the present and describes how Border Patrol officers have been repurposed, switching from protecting the Southern border from hordes of “invading murderers and rapists,” to doing battle with “anarchists” and BLM protestors in Portland. He also describes how prison guards have been redeployed to inner city neighborhoods to provide riot control during BLM demonstrations while DoJ agents are going into Black and Latinx areas to fight crime.
In other words, you’re using the tools of the state to convince your base that Democrats and minorities are enemies of the state, their enemies. You’re trying to convince MAWA (since we all know great=white) America that a Biden win means your base and their way of life will be hosed. Blumenthal argues you’re doing this by placing the Democratic party outside of the real America and framing it as a threat to freedom – white people’s freedom (lower case w’s are intentional n this paragraph).
May we be safe from diabolical chicken shits.
May we be willing to connect the scary dots through history.
May we gird our loins and be ready to stand strong.
May we remember that losers are often like rabid dogs in their death throes.