Why has white superiority become so brazen again? It no longer feels superior
12 Nov 2016
Many of us are still reeling from the results of the US elections, and there’s certainly no shortage of voices trying to make sense of how or why, despite the odds, Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States. Some blame Hilary Clinton for being a weak candidate, others are accusing the Democratic Party for being out of touch and the left for losing its way. Supporters of Bernie Sanders say he would’ve been the better contender. Just as with Brexit, the frustration of the American white working classes has burst the insular political bubble.
But to get a picture much closer to the truth, we have to look at what the exit polls are telling us. Trump didn’t simply get the vote of the disenfranchised or those who don’t believe Hilary was a worthy enough candidate. He was voted in by the white electorate of America – from rich to poor, educated and not, male and female. It’s no wonder people of colour are now terrified about what the future holds for them. America has already seen a spike in racist incidents since Wednesday; another similarity to be drawn with Brexit. We must acknowledge the role white supremacy has played in getting us here. If Brexit was bad, Trump spells disaster. It’s impossible to put our trust in any kind of top-down progress that has been sold to us in the past. The far right isn’t on the margins anymore. It’s at the centre stage of politics, pushing us out.
But why now? Why have these parties and their politics been able to galvanise and appeal to people who may have carried their racism internally but didn’t vocalise it so brazenly before? An anti-establishment stance would make sense if Trump’s credentials didn’t include being a billionaire who inherited wealth and avoided paying taxes for almost two decades. He hardly qualifies as a hero for the working classes. And let’s not kid ourselves, his whole campaign was propped up by bigotry. This was racism climbing up onto the podium and demanding it come out of hiding.
It is no coincidence that this result should come following 8 years under a black president. Or around the ensuing coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement. In the UK, Brexit didn’t just happen overnight. It happened in the same year Londoners elected their first Muslim mayor. It happened at a time when Nadiya Hussain won one of the most popular shows on British TV and her hijab clad image was on every newspaper and magazine front page. When Jesse Williams took to the stage at the 2016 BET Awards, he didn’t just say thank you and walk away when presented with the BET Humanitarian Award. He listed the names of black men shot down by police officers and pointed directly in the face of white supremacy to say we will fight back. Shows like Girls have been called out for having all white leads and even the Oscars were boycotted for all white nominations. Even more importantly, social media has sent examples of cultural appropriation and white privilege viral, bringing these terms into the lexicon at the behest of those who suffer because of it and against the will of those who use or benefit from it.
There’s a pattern to be recognised here; people of colour are now leading the narrative around who we are and demanding the powers that be to see us as more than just black or white. For decades, the image of the “other” has been controlled outside of us. A Muslim is a terrorist and a black man is a drug dealer. The woman in a hijab is meek and submissive and immigrants are benefit scroungers. They refuse to assimilate or conform and their children are ungrateful. And at a time when we are becoming more visible and vocal, white superiority is threatened because we are no longer simply the stereotype that should emulate the white race in order to be “normal”. With people of colour becoming more than just mere statistics or caricatures, white superiority can no longer feel, well, superior.
For decades, despite the few who managed to break through into the mainstream, the rest of us were unable to shout back. Not because we aren’t capable, but because the structures and institutions around us did not provide the space for us to do so and we were shut down whenever we did try to speak up. But the last few years have shown an important shift and people of colour are pushing it forward. It would be more comfortable for white people if we asked them not to see us for our colour. That would mean they don’t have to acknowledge the deeper complexities of being a minority. We are asking for our colour to be seen and our richness to be acknowledged; the Black Lives Matter movement is at the forefront here. We are asking to be accepted as we are, not as white people would like to see us.
And herein lies the issue. People of colour are highlighting the inherent problem running deeper than just the surface, where colour is acknowledged in the name of racism and when colour is erased in the name of progress. When protesters take to the street against the shooting of black men by the police, we are dismantling the image and the safety net that is the institution which serves to protect us. That is uncomfortable. When we demand to see more people of colour in films and TV shows, we are saying it’s not enough for the industry to say they don’t see colour. That too, is uncomfortable. When women in hijabs are seen in the media talking confidently and intelligently, or a Muslim man stands up against extremism on a political platform, where does your prejudice go now? That too, is uncomfortable.
After years of being powerless against the violence of white superiority, be that the KKK and Skinheads or against the media images portrayed at the discretion of the majority, people of colour are holding up a mirror to what is the most difficult truth to knowledge in western society. We don’t want to be white. We want to be people of colour who are treated as equals. We embrace our colour, our cultures, and our individuality. And white superiority is ultimately putting its trust in Trump to ensure that never happens.