The Movement on the Right to Promote White Identity Politics

Last week it was Tucker Carlson making what basically amounts to an argument for white nationalism by suggesting that Americans can’t handle the changes that are underway in this country due to demographic shifts. You might have thought that Bill O’Reilly disappeared after he was booted off Fox News,  but he’s still out there bemoaning what is happening to white men.

In case you can’t watch the video, here is some of what O’Reilly said:

For a long time, skin color wasn’t really much of an issue, in the ’80s and ’90s we didn’t hear a lot…But now, whiteness has become the issue. Whiteness. So if your’e a white American you are apart of a cabal that either consciousnessly or unconsciousnessly keeps minorities down. Therefore, that has to end and whiteness has to be put aside. That’s what the border is all about. The open-border people, and believe me this is behind the movement in California and in the Democratic precients. Let everybody in. Everybody in. That would diminish whiteness because minorities would then take over as they have in many parts of California. That’s what that is all about. Getting whiteness out of power. Particularly white men. …

You’re seeing this almost everyday that the white people whether they know it or not is oppressing and creating macroaggressions in the minority community. So therefore the white people must be swept out of power. Get them out! Let the LGBTs, and the minorities, they have to run the show. That’s what this is all about. That’s what this is all about and they are making strides like crazy.

It is important for all of us to be aware of the fact that a lot of Americans are hearing this kind of thing from people like Carlson and O’Reilly on a regular basis. It is meant to build up a politics of white identity and tap into the very thing described by Cambridge Analytica’s Mark Turnbull:

The two fundamental human drivers when it comes to taking information onboard effectively are hopes and fears and many of those are unspoken and even unconscious. You didn’t know that was a fear until you saw something that just evoked that reaction from you. And our job is to get, is to drop the bucket further down the well than anybody else, to understand what are those really deep-seated underlying fears, concerns.

It’s no good fighting an election campaign on the facts because actually it’s all about emotion. The big mistake political parties make is that they attempt to win the argument rather than locate the emotional center of the issue, the concern, and speaking directly to that.

When O’Reilly says that skin color wasn’t much of an issue in the ’80s and ’90s, what he means is that it wasn’t an issue for white people like him. The disparities in wealth, education, housing, healthcare, police brutality and criminal justice continued unabated for people of color. Changing demographics and the election of our first African American president changed all of that. O’Reilly is right in one sense, that made “whiteness” an issue, as Michele Norris pointed out.

On several fronts, there is growing evidence that race is no longer a spectator sport for white Americans: The growth of whiteness studies courses on college campuses. Battles over immigration and affirmative action. A rising death rate for middle-aged white Americans with no more than a high-school diploma from drugs, alcohol, and suicide in what economists are calling “deaths of despair.” The increasingly racially polarized electorate…The debate over the history and symbols of the Confederacy. The aggression and appeal of white nationalism, with its newest menacing chant: “You will not replace us.”…

The protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August likely will be remembered as a moment when hate groups, wearing polo shirts and khakis, stepped out of the shadows. Most Americans soundly denounce the message and the methods of the neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, and white nationalists who gathered at the “Unite the Right” rally to decry the removal of a monument honoring a Confederate general. But matters of race are complicated, and academics and researchers who closely chart the fractious history of race relations in this country note that the Charlottesville demonstrations—though widely pilloried—also punctuate an issue that animates everything from politics to job prospects and even the world of professional sports: the fear of displacement in an era of rapid change.

It is that fear of displacement that both Carlson and O’Reilly—as well as the election of Donald Trump—are tapping into. Just as we saw historically during the civil rights movement in this country and the elimination of apartheid in South Africa, the lie spread by white supremacists is one of projection: to claim that people of color will treat white people in the same way they’ve been treated. Otherwise, why categorize the fear as being one of displacement?

It is important that we all be very clear about what is going on. There is a movement on the right to promote identity politics. It is based on a myth that white identity is under attack by people who are actually fighting for equality. That used to be the purview of fringe groups and dog whistlers, but now it’s gone mainstream and was exploited to elect a president.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.