Chauncey DeVaga, Salon, February 23, 2022
One of the most popular lies being circulated by the Republican Party and the larger white right is that white men are somehow oppressed in America. To say that such a claim is absurd would be an understatement. To be white is to have access to unearned advantages in almost every arena of American society and throughout the world. And to be male is also to have access to resources and life opportunities that in general are de facto still denied to women and girls.
Ultimately, white male victimology has historically proven itself to pose an extreme threat to pluralistic democracy. When the group with the most power believes in delusions and fantasies about its oppression, violence is the likely result. This is justified through claims of self-defense against an imaginary threat.
For some White voters, experts say, efforts to give certain groups added help can be seen as unnecessarily onerous and even discriminatory. Such views are often deeply held and affect how people — and voting blocs — feel about any number of issues, such as whether children study racial equity in school, who should receive food stamps, or whether an implicit bias seminar at work is a waste of time.
To gain more context and insight into how the Republican Party and the larger white right are deploying the fantastical narrative of white men as an oppressed and persecuted group, I asked several experts on race, power and society for their thoughts on white male backlash, its origins and implications.
Jessie Daniels is a faculty associate at the Harvard Berkman Klein Center and a Professor of Sociology at Hunter College. She is the author of several books including “White Lies” and “Cyber Racism.” Her new book is “Nice White Ladies: The Truth about White Supremacy, Our Role in It, and How We Can Help Dismantle It.”
There’s a long history of white men seeing themselves as the chief victims of racial oppression. This includes the end of slavery. White men who were also enslavers saw themselves as the true victims of the abolition of their way of making a living, so they went to their government and asked, even demanded, compensation for their “loss” in freeing the people who worked for them for no money. In Britain, this was enacted through the Slave Compensation Act 1837 and continued compensating slave-owning white families through 2015. In the U.S., each slave-owning white man received $300 for each person they owned who was freed because of the Emancipation Proclamation, when at the same time formerly enslaved people were promised 40 acres and a mule, a promise that was mostly unfulfilled.
Fast forward to the era of “affirmative action” in the early 1970s, and even with this very limited federal government program, white men felt attacked.
In the current era, examples proliferate of white men who see themselves as victims, chief among them former President Trump, who in his opening campaign speech referenced the “rapists” and “drug dealers” coming from Mexico, an old racist trope from the white supremacist playbook. It’s also deadly. White men as “victims” easily slides into a white guy with a gun. And there’s often a white woman standing by her man on the front porch of their midwestern palazzo, even with the guns.
The “victim” rhetoric from white men coincides with the white-led backlash against any kind of Black progress. A year after the supposed “reckoning” of the summer of 2020 and the murder of George Floyd (and “Central Park Karen”), it’s not surprising to me that we are experiencing a season of whitelash with white men at the front, proclaiming their innocence for the destruction they’ve caused even as they profess their victimhood.
Wajahat Ali is the author of the new book “Go Back to Where You Came From: And Other Helpful Recommendations on How to Become American.” He is a contributing writer for the Daily Beast. His essays and other writing have been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the New York Review of Books and the Atlantic.
White male grievance is the lifeblood of white supremacy, an endless supply of faux victimhood to justify all sorts of irrational brutality and inequity to maintain power for them and only them. Trump has just tapped into this white rage to fuel the right wing movement; this is nothing new. Just go back and see the movie “Birth of a Nation” from 1915 — it’s all there. Black emancipation, even barely at that, was an affront to white power, rule and dominion. As a result? They were victims who then donned the hoods of the KKK to reclaim their honor. Victims or heroes, never the villains.
Ashley Jardina in an assistant professor of Political Science at Duke University. She is the author of “White Identity Politics.”
Central to Trump’s political strategy was an effort to stoke racial grievances among white Americans.
Feelings of racial victimization among white Republicans grew over Trump’s presidency. According to data from the American National Election Study, in 2016, 30% of white men identifying with the Republican Party reported that whites experience a moderate to a great amount of discrimination in the U.S. By 2020, that number had increased to 40%. But white Republican women also share this sense of racial victimhood. In 2020, nearly 43% of white Republican women surveyed said that white Americans experience notable amounts of racial discrimination.
Joe R. Feagin is a sociologist and the Ella C. McFadden Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University. He is the author of many books including “The White Racial Frame,” “White Party, White Government: Race, Class, and U.S. Politics,” “Racist America” and “Two-Faced Racism: Whites in the Backstage and Frontstage.”
Prominent white men, including major white scholars, created and circulated the terms “reverse racism” and “affirmative discrimination” starting back in the late 1960s and 1970s solely to counter the new civil rights laws and presidential affirmative action orders (from Lyndon Johnson) pressuring whites in major organizations to redress centuries of extreme racial oppression and of white unjust enrichments from that oppression, enrichments passed along many generations of white families to the present day.
In the late 1960s and 1970s this federal pressure sought to redress the severe oppressive legacies of Jim Crow segregation. For decades this reverse racism/white victimology notion has been a standard white deflection tactic to change the necessary antiracist discussions and actions away from those about seriously remedying those past and present unjust white enrichments from 400-plus years of white racist oppression, exploitation and dominance. It is basically an attack on Black America and Black efforts for change.