Me thinks that Conservative White Masculinity needs an intervention to get its head right...
This will be the first full week of news media coverage following the defeat of Mitt Romney by Barack Obama. The meme of how white identity politics, and an obsolescent type of Whiteness in an America that is increasingly "diverse" doomed the Tea Party GOP, will continue as the talking point of the week.
This narrative is very entertaining. It reminds me of the academic conferences about Whiteness and White Privilege that were popular in the 1990s. The conversations about Whiteness and white privilege in the Age of Obama are touching on some similar themes--but as I will point out this week--lack the same level of historical or theoretical rigor.
This week will also be telling for how embattled white conservative masculinity responds to its interrogation by the news media. Will it become enraged? How will it lash out? Will the Right circle the wagons and further embrace the Culture War narrative? Or will the adults in the room call for moderation, nuance, and critical self-reflection?
Ultimately, one thing is certain: Whiteness does not like to be interrogated. The type of White identity politics that are the brand name of the Republican Party is particularly hostile to any type of rigor, empiricism, or introspection. Moreover, and by definition, Whiteness conceives of itself as "normal."
In day-to-day public discourse the power of Whiteness to construct reality around a set of unstated assumptions about privilege, power, and normality is signaled to by, for example, how the notion of "American" identity is understood by many to be synonymous with "white."
Obama is a villain and anathema to the Right because his racial background is conceived of as outside of the American tradition. Black and brown people are second class citizens, by virtue of our existential being, in the eyes of the White Right and Conservatives; That a black man could be President of the United States is unthinkable.
Masculinity and heterosexuality also do not like being interrogated as contingent, circumstantial, historically specific, and local identities. Because Mitt Romney and the Republican Party are trafficking in a particularly regressive type of White Masculinity they (and those overly invested in the dominance of such an identity), recoil in response to any conversations about how the dynamics of race, gender, and sexuality are changing in America.
Whiteness remains a problem for the Republican Party in the aftermath of the Romney debacle. Here are selections from two essays, both from Salon, to start the week.
Andrew O'Hehir cautions liberals about prematurely celebrating in the shadow of the Culture War:
You may have seen a video that made the rounds last weekend, including here on Salon, in which a lefty sandbagger type interviewed a bunch of white people at a Romney-Ryan rally in Ohio. They wore discount-store clothing and drove pickup trucks, and roughly 100 percent of them appeared to belong to the class most likely to suffer under a Republican budget-slashing regime. Hardly any could come up with coherent reasons for choosing Romney over Obama beyond a few Fox News talking points about nonexistent higher taxes and weak leadership and some free-floating paranoia. (One lady suggested that a drone had followed her from her front door to the rally; whether Obama was operating it personally remained unclear.)Joan Walsh observed how the linkages between Whiteness, conservatism, and American exceptionalism are deeply intertwined. Is the Right's faith in America so thin and week that it cannot get past their racial chauvinism and tribalism?
I can’t speak to the intentions of the people who made the video, but on the Internet it became a source of ribaldry, an opportunity to mock the clueless rubes for their half-formed delusions, poor fashion sense and infelicity at crafting sound bites. I laughed too, and then I felt awful. Some of those people may be dumb, and others may be evil; you’ll find that in every cohort. But they’ve suffered from downward mobility for most of the last 40 years. While the educated elite in New York and San Francisco have sneered at their backward tastes and appetites, the captains of capital have crapped on their gimme caps and told them to like it. Because: America! Is it really surprising that they’ve anchored themselves to some sense of shared cultural identity, incoherent as it may be?
I felt bad for Buchanan, a little, I really did. I can’t really imagine deciding that the America I love is dying if its traditions and its heartbeat pulse within people who maybe look different from me. But that’s how Buchanan feels.
I think whites like Buchanan are a small minority, but there are more of them than I thought. The Next America Project does a lot of great polling on racial issues and found that whites who fear racial change favored Romney 2-1; whites who welcomed it went for Obama 3-2. And for those who think the GOP can solve its demographic issues with a little immigration reform: a later poll found that whites who fear immigrants went for Romney 9-1. (So good luck making a little nip and tuck to your immigration policies, GOP.)How do you think embattled Whiteness will respond this week to Obama's re-election? Will it elevate itself? Or will Conservative White Masculinity continue to wallow in the gutter, rolling around in the feces of denial?
These are the people who back in the 1960s became the self-appointed guardians of American identity, the definers of American exceptionalism, whose tribalism was captured by the old snarl: “America: Love it or Leave It,” one of the signs carried by the Hard Hat Rioters of 1970 as they beat up anti-war activists (which I write about it my book.) But maybe it’s time to say to them: “America: Love it or be left behind.”
I love this country, but would never say “love it or leave it.” It’s not in the liberal nature to issue ultimatums like that, or to define American identity unilaterally. But I think the people who are so angry about the Obama years, who want to take their country back (as if it belonged only to them) do have to face reality: if they don’t love the America that’s being born, that’s reflected in the Obama coalition, they’re going to be left behind. They don’t have to get out, but they’ll be increasingly unhappy living here. That’s their choice. I’ll go on looking for ways to reach out to people who seem genuinely not to understand that there’s a place for them here, to help shepherd them to our common future. The hundreds of Ole Miss kids who burned Obama-Biden signs and spewed racial epithets election night? They’re on their own.