2013: The Year in Whiteness

Joan Walsh, Salon, December 30, 2013

Maybe it was the very fact of enjoying a wonderful Christmas with my family and friends, against the manufactured backlash to a nonexistent “War on Christmas,” that let me appreciate the perilous mental state of a small but noisy and paranoid swath of white America. Somehow over the holiday it became clear: 2013 was the year white grievance mongering became an uglier and even more lucrative racket.

Fox News has been peddling the phony “War on Christmas” for years, of course, but it took new Fox phenom Megyn Kelly to give it an explicitly racial cast. Not only did Kelly wage war against the menace of a black Santa–declaring nonsensically that the fictional character of Santa Claus “just is white”–but when she was called on it, she made herself out to be the victim of politically correct bullies, race-baiters and Fox haters. Suddenly it was clear: The imagined war on Christmas has become an equally farcical war on whiteness in the minds of those sad right-wing warriors.

The next week, “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson also became a martyr for the white right, after A&E briefly suspended him for holding forth on the nastiness of gay sex while insisting African Americans were happy in the Jim Crow South.

The new hysteria and hypocrisy was crystallized by one surreal fact: While paranoid white righties were fighting for their allegedly endangered right to celebrate Christmas (with their white Santa), they could watch a “Duck Dynasty” Christmas marathon on A&E, underscoring that there’s neither a war on Christmas nor on bigoted pseudo-Christians like Robertson. But there’s a lot of cash to be made, and fear to be stoked, by claiming both.

{snip}

2013 was also the year that George Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder of an unarmed black 17-year-old, Trayvon Martin, allegedly in self-defense, becoming a cultural hero to some of that same paranoid white right. {snip}

{snip}

Of course the stoking of white grievance is nothing new. It was at the heart of the GOP’s so-called Southern strategy, which always had a crucial Northern component: deliberately inflaming the anxieties of white working-class Southerners and Northern “ethnics” about racial and economic change. {snip}

{snip}

I’m optimistic nonetheless. A little under a year ago I wrote an obituary for former New York Mayor Ed Koch, outlining how the formerly liberal Democrat rode a wave of white fear and grievance into Gracie Mansion in 1977. I couldn’t know it at the time, none of us did, but New York was about to elect its first Democratic mayor in 24 years, a staunch progressive on racial issues with an African American wife and two biracial children. An ad that tried to depict Bill de Blasio as an anti-police lefty who’d lead New York back to the crime and chaos of the ’70s and ’80s backfired; so did the ravings of Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, which did so much to help elect Koch.

De Blasio’s landslide win, among every racial and ethnic group, showed that white New Yorkers are ready to embrace the city’s multiracial future and tackle its lingering racial and class inequities. The mayor-elect’s influential “tale of two cities” is largely, though not exclusively, a tale of white and non-white New York. Red state demagogues can mock New York as a lonely blue island irrelevant to the rest of the country. But the city helped invent both liberalism and the backlash that tore it down. I’m going to bet that the de Blasio coalition has more influence, in the end, than Phil Robertson or George Zimmerman, Megyn Kelly or Sarah Palin. A noisy, paranoid white backlash against racial change may be inevitable, but it will also pass. That’s what scares them.

Topics: , , , ,

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.