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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.)

    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?

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 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.)

    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.

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?
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Comment Preferences

  •  Good post. (15+ / 0-)

    I am tired, however, of the excuses for white racism among lower middle class folks (or working class or whatever term one wishes):

    Is it really surprising that they’ve anchored themselves to some sense of shared cultural identity, incoherent as it may be?
    This is crap.  White people, and I am one, have choices.  Poor whites still have a choice whether to embrace hate and white supremacy or embrace decency.  

    Racism is wrong on a fudnamental moral level, and we live in times where most of these folks know, but deny, it.

    Obama did it right.  Appeal to whites who are not lost in racial hatred.  That includes some working class whites, unmarried women, educated whites, etc.

    In fact, it demeans working class whites to claim they lack the ability to distinguish right from wrong and their racism is somehow culturally understandable.  

    Bullshit.  There are many whites who have rejected racism, at least racism of the sort that propels the Republican Party.   Yes, there is white privilege and various degrees of racism-lite, but many folks have rejected the kind of crap that led so many downscale whites to vote for Romney.

    The working class is not the working class preceived by folks a half-century ago (white, often "ethnic" outside the south, men).   The working class is a rainbow (it always was but many, including some in unions, only saw white folks).

    The rainbow is going forward and the whites who choose hate over decency are being left behind.
    Neither Dems nor progressives hould be chasing after these folks.  Too many in the rainbow are open to progressive change.

    We don't need racist whites.

    I'm glad Barack Obama is our President.

    by TomP on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:34:12 PM PST

  •  Instinct-driven people are guided by (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    confitesprit, a2nite

    superficial optics, what things look like at a glance.  Since appearances are deceiving, their assessment of what they encounter is often wrong and the responses they make to false prompts get them into trouble. So, the natural response to that is not to do much of anything at all and wait until someone comes along with directions.
    We can refer to such people as sheep, but I don't think it's their fault their perceptions are faulty and they lack in the cognitive capacity to correct for them--as a blind person does by touching, for example. Indeed, I suspect that for many of these people it is actually their sense of touch that is out of whack and accounts for why they are "out of touch," and somewhat deficient in practical skills. The sense of touch isn't just in the hands, but manual dexterity largely determines whether a person can manipulate his environment or has to rely on the gift of gab to persuade others to do for him what he can't do for himself. The manually inept and verbally deficient are the people who end up in prison, where, btw, all their physical needs are automatically met.
    I don't think any of this has anything to do with a person's skin color. However, from the start, the European pale faces who arrived in the Americas with nothing but their gift of gab have consistently had governing authorities on their side. Perhaps because they make such good followers.

    I don't think much can be done to render instinct-driven people more aware. You say that having a black man as President is unthinkable to them. That's likely correct -- for the simple reason that the instinct-driven don't think.  They react. And because of their endemic uncertainty, they react to most unfamiliar events with fear and hunker down in fright until the danger is past.
    How long will that last? Hunger and boredom are both prompts to action.

    Btw, instinct-driven people are creatures of habit.  They don't learn from mistakes and especially not from the mistakes another person makes.

    Jesus of Nazarethe said, "the poor you will always have with you." It's my guess that's because some people are incompetent and others are generous and give away what they have.

    We organize governments to provide benefits and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 01:52:35 PM PST

  •  "Sandbagger"? Really. So letting people say (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    what they think, and not chopping it up in editing to distort it, is 'sandbagging' nowadays?

    That's funny: it looked like journalism to me.

  •  Interesting post (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I follow a couple of local sites: one is the online edition of my dead-tree newspaper, the other is just a local blog.

    The local newspaper has reliable right-wingers who have spewed their racism and Fox misinformation for the past four years. Now, after the election, they seem to have doubled down on the vitriol. Nothing anyone can say will convince them to dial it back.

    The other local blog also had its fair share of RWNJs who spewed the same crap and got downright nasty before the election. One woman, in particular, would hijack threads and be just plain vile.

    Now, after the election, this same woman seems to have come to her senses. Now she's positively civil ! She asks questions and thanks other users for their information and links, when before she would accuse them of of being communists, or worse.

    I guess it all depends on one's own personality.

    No one ever died from laughing too often

    by googie on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 02:21:33 PM PST

  •  Denial is a potent force politically. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Panurge, crose

    Just look at the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, by a healthy margin. Indeed, our candidate was not as strong as he could have been, and our 2004 ground-game was weaker than it is today. But I believe this obviously failed leader was re-elected, by people who were old enough to have voted for him before, because people really, truly do not like to look betrayal in the face. They'd rather continue to cling to a sugar-coated lie than to acknowledge that somebody prominent, who was supposed to look out for their interests, consistently ground those interests under, instead.

    White, aggrieved masculinity won't die because Romney lost. Even as their jobs dry up, even as wives and children quit them in droves, even as they continue to age and their health declines, they will continue to embrace the last vestiges of their accustomed social privilege. They won't surrender the notion that they're supposed to dominate, by virtue of color and of gender. Their fervent clinging will be stoked and exploited by the shadowy and entitled forces behind the political RW, because frightened, disoriented people are easiest to keep in line, according to Naomi Klein and other political theorists.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Mon Nov 12, 2012 at 02:59:07 PM PST

  •  I don't see anything "masculine" about them. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Grover Norquist? Glenn Beck? Ralph Reed? Newt Gingrich? There isn't a real mensch among them. They're pewling infants.

  •  I seem to remember something about the '60s. (0+ / 0-)

    That, as much as the anti-war angle, was what freaked people out about the '60s--the idea that what it meant to be a white male could change.  That's why so many people freaked out (and still do) over the prospect of dudes growing their hair out in the '60s and/or wearing spandex and makeup in the '80s.  Under normal historical circumstances, people would've still talked, but no one would've seriously tried to prevent it, and most men would have at least some hair by now.  

    Instead, it's the Age Of The Skinhead, with both liberals and conservatives playing along, because liberals figured that once the hammer started very slowly coming down around 1975 it was worth giving up because there were Bigger Fish To Fry and We Need To Prioritize.  (And I'm not even going into punk, which appeared at just the right time to make Getting A Haircut cool.  How convenient for the Reagan crowd!)  They didn't understand that being able to change what a white male could be was essential to the liberal project, because putting white men back into the old box is essential to the conservative project.  Instead, the liberal response was to get back into the box, but to do it "ironically", which ultimately is a sign of submission and weakness.  And then on top of that, the white males who don't go along with that sometimes wind up conservative--well, "libertarian"--because they've been rejected by the liberals for not having the right priorities.  (Now I know that's not the whole story, and there have long been "libertarian longhairs" and "liberal squares", but this is how I see the general thrust of things.)

    The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

    by Panurge on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 02:35:18 AM PST

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