Obama and the Death of White Power

Why is White America angry?

The re-election of Barack Obama to the office of President of the United States prompted a wide range of hateful reactions.  From tearful Romney supporters to enraged bigots, the prospects of an African American leading the nation for another four years sent many within White America into panic mode or what I like to call “WDD:” White Delusional Disorder. 

Teenagers took to twitter to hurl racial slurs without concern for the blowback; college students at Ole Miss and Hampden-Sydney (among others) took to the streets to voice their anger.  In displays of violence usually reserved for sports celebrations, or disgust over an early bar closing, White males made their prejudices clear, hurling racial epithets and rocks with little fear of consequence.  As editor Jamilah Lemieux said of those on twitter “the fact that there are so many people willing to publicly express these views… is troubling.”

Predictably, much of the chatter has focused on individual reactions, imagining racism in terms of emotion, anger, and frustration.  The media’s shock and awe is not surprising given its failure to shine a spotlight on the resurgent White nationalism since 2008 and persistent racial inequality in the United States.  Worse yet, the media has consistently portrayed racism as extreme in nature----the extremely young, the extremely bigoted, the extremely Southern, the extremely uneducated, and the extremely low-class. But most of us know that it is more common than any newspaper may have you believe.

The anxieties, anger, and outrage weren’t so much about backlash against liberal values, but what Obama’s victory revealed about the nation. There was a clear, alarming message about demographic shifts and waning White male control.  According to Keisha Bentley-Edwards, “The anger wasn't only about President Obama and his re-election. It was overall frustration at the emerging power of diverse people in this country.”

It became yet another moment to lament “White victimhood,” a fantasy too fictitious for even Hollywood.  It became an instance to mourn “the end of White America,” which for everyone from Bill O’Reilly to Donald Trump, from David Duke to White nationalists marks the demise of American civilization.  O’Reilly laments “a changing country” given the increased power of “people who want things,” recycling the proven politics of White resentment.

Not surprisingly, while White tears were flowing, White nationalists seized upon President Obama’s re-election to further its movement. At Stormfront.org, the hub for global racism, readers were met with a new introduction to the website: 

“The recent Obama victory and the resultant anti-Obama backlash has caused a lot of Whites to visit Stormfront (readership surged up to 600% more than normal). Welcome. I was a little caught off guard by this. If I knew this was going to happen, I would have spent more time putting a "welcome post" together ahead of time. Then again, there is no way to cover everything even with a post ten times as long as this one.”

Yes, in their eyes, and that of Trump and countless other public trolls, the mere prospect of an African American president should inspire a revolution.  Such fear, outrage, and the calls to mobilize White America stems from their belief in the declining significance of Whiteness; it reveals their belief the “White civilization” is under attack.  Sandwiched between comments about the inferiority of Blacks and Latinos and ranting about Jewish conspiracies, the Stormfront introduction highlights the true loss on election night, at least in the imagination of the White nationalist:

So, as the United States and Europe are flooded with Browns and Blacks, eventually the quality of life in these once great lands will become like that of the third world regardless of the social/economic/political system. And, not to be "racist", but we Whites can't have that. That's not fair to us and our families.…Nobody is going to help the United States and Europe if our people fall to a third world status. Thus, our prime directive - the 14 words.

Beyond the efforts to mobilize over a narrative of loss (power; cultural purity) and the fantasy of victimhood that saw the reelection President of Obama as the nail in the White male’s coffin, the shared reaction from White nationalists and the likes of Bill O’Reilly shows how entrenched these racist beliefs are within contemporary America.  The danger isn’t just in racist tweets or rock throwing White male students but in a belief that the tides of turned, that Whites are the minority, that White privilege is a myth.