michael eric dyson: “trump’s election is the fury of whiteness made even whiter by its class rage”

January 17, 2017

Read an excerpt from Michael Eric Dyson*’s new book ‘Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America’:

The election of President Trump was all about whiteness. How whiteness is ingeniously adaptable to a gross variety of circumstances. How it is at once capable of exulting in privilege while proclaiming it is the least privileged of identities. How it is able to hide in plain sight while detesting every other identity that doesn’t, and can’t, conform to its imperative to invisibility. And how it howls in primal pain at being forgotten while it rushes to spitefully forget and erase all suffering that isn’t its own. You will deny it, of course. Already many of those who once bitterly denounced what President Trump stood for have, in startling reversal of their previous positions, embraced the possibility of his goodness, or, at least, his fitful utility, a trend that will no doubt continue into the future.

My friends, the mistake we often make is to believe that whiteness is only prejudice, that it is only bigotry, that it is only racism, that it is only the cry of hate. That is only partly true. The other part of whiteness is the delusion that it can supply every need that our country has. Both of these impulses suffocate the vitality of democracy. Beloved, Donald Trump is what we are left with when whiteness drains the body politic of crucial self-awareness and we stiffen into a moral corpse.

When the defenders of whiteness proclaim that it is not whiteness that was at stake in electing Trump, but, instead, the ache of poverty and class, what they mostly always fail to mention is that millions of black and brown folk are poor, or working class, too. It is only the white lower and middle classes whose silent suffering is portrayed as having got a president elected. As important as their economic vulnerability is, it is not the major engine of their disgust; rather it is the fury of whiteness unleashed, of whiteness unbounded, of whiteness made, not less white, but even whiter by its class rage, a rage that oddly leaves aside solidarity with millions of other hurting souls whose only reason for exclusion is their color.

Beloved, when the defenders of whiteness argue that the white folk who supported candidate Trump were not magnetized by his miserably shining hatefulness toward so many “others,” they defy the physics of race and the algorithm of bigotry. There is a fairly easy calculus to racism: if it increases, rather than decreases, the force, energy, and structure of racial antagonism, then it is racist, no matter the intent or conscious aim of its perpetrator. Beloved, if the enslaved could nurture, on the vine of their desperate deficiency of democracy, the spiritual and moral fruit that fed our civilization, then surely we can name and resist demagoguery; we can protest, and somehow defeat, the forces that threaten the soul of our nation. To not try, to give up on the possibility that we can make a difference, can make the difference, is to give up on our past, on our complicated, difficult, but victorious past. Donald Trump is not our final, or ultimate, problem. The problem is, instead, allowing hopelessness to steal our joyful triumph before we work hard enough to achieve it.

*Michael Eric Dyson is a bestselling author and a revered professor of sociology at Georgetown University. Tears We Cannot Stop will be published on January 17, 2017 from St. Martin’s Press.