“How could ‘we’ let Trump happen?” Don’t include [Black] me in your [white] ‘we’]

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Are white people who consider themselves non-racist and non-Trump/non-Cruz supporters really SURPRISED that there are millions of violently racist white people in the USA ” all of a sudden?”
Here’s a confession: I am more angry and pissed off about this convenient lack of awareness from “moderate” and/or liberal “But I am not racist” white people, more than I am pissed off about the *obvious* racist and xenophobic Pro-Trump or Pro-Cruz supporters I see going viral on social media. This lack of awareness is more traumatizing for me to hear from my white friends and acquaintances; especially when they keep on telling me that they are “shocked” or “surprised” that “we” let this happening or, “I don’t understand how we in the USA let this happen!?”
First of all, don’t include me in your ‘we’– I didn’t let sh*t happen. Own it and what you really should be saying is, “How did we ‘but I’m not racist’ white people let this happen?”
Stop sending me essays and articles that talk about “how did ‘we’ let this happen?” and then never take any ally-building actions. Sharing an article on Facebook or Twitter is not the type of activism that is going to tackle both systemic racism and your learned ignorance. 
Oh, and my quick answer is this: this has been happening since colonialism. Systemic racism, overt racism, etc isn’t new. The mere fact that you don’t have the racial literacy to understand how and why it is happening is frustrating to me. Muhammad Ali had the same frustrations about the ‘not all white people are racist’ in 1970….
The racial ignorance of ‘non-racist’ white people is strategically designed to be this way; this ignorance is the ‘glue’ that keeps the more extreme ‘white racists’ in the place that they are in and have always been in; it is the glue that sustains the millions of [mostly] White people (and those few non-white people who internalized white supremacist notions of ‘nation-building’) that support Trump and Cruz. And I repeat: just sharing posts about ‘bad racist whites’ on social media is not enough. I still consider it bystander mentality. If you don’t [want to] understand the impact of white liberal ignorance (read Marc Lombardo); if you don’t [want to] understand the evolution of the 500+ year long white supremacist racial caste system in the USA…If you didn’t even know that we’re supposed to ‘know’, then of course, “that is how YOU (not ‘we’) let this happen.”
And let’s face it: you’ve been this way since the ante-bellum slavery officially ended. You were that ‘moderate’ white person who didn’t think Black people should be “slaves”… but also didn’t think they really should have the same power, resources, agency as any white person. And yea, you considered yourself one of the ‘good’ whites since you weren’t lynching Black people like those ‘bad’ whites; yours was a kinder non-racist racism.
And I am frustrated that since I was a child, I’ve been trying to explain what a lack of white racial literacy means; what the horribly racialized consequences/impacts are. I have pointed it out, testified, published, etc., and many of my white liberal friends and colleagues just didn’t want to engage and/or have dismissed my concerns and experiences. Many of you have kept on sending me articles with this same theme over and over again:
How could ‘we’ let Oscar Grant Happen?
How could ‘we’ let the mass incarceration of Black and Brown people happen?
How could ‘we’ let Trayvon Martin happen?
How could ‘we’ let Dylann Roof happen?
How could ‘we’ let Trump Happen?
Let’s face it: You have just as much a “progressive”/possessive investment in [neoliberal whiteness] as Trump/Cruz supporters have in their strange investment in Jim Crow-esque or antebellum era types of whiteness. This is what is going on. Some of you are conscious of it while some of you are engaging in it unconsciously. (I’d gander most are unconsciously doing it). A majority of you continue to be a fake bystander in this –– not because you don’t know what to do… but because you un/consciously  know that if you actually do something to dismantle systemic racism you will lose the privileges, resources, power, etc afforded to you as part of the [neoliberal], “but I’m not racist like Trump” [whiteness] club.
P.S. It’s amazing that the majority of people are white who say they will leave the USA if Trump wins; white people who don’t even talk about how being an “ex-patriot” is a white racial privilege when sh*t hits the fan. When you tell me that you have plans to move to a European country, this blows my mind. A lot of non-white ‘we’ don’t have this privilege and a lot of us would opt to stay and fight. I know there are non-white people who have plans to leave too, but there are far more white people saying this than non-white folk in my life.

About Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. A. Breeze Harper

Dr. Harper’s most recently published book,Scars: A Black Lesbian Experience in Rural White New England (Sense Publishers 2014)interrogates how systems of oppression and power impact the life of the only Black teenager living in an all white and working class rural New England town.

Dr. Harper has been invited to deliver many keynote addresses and lectures at universities and conferences throughout North America. In 2015, her lecture circuit focused on the analysis of food and whiteness in her bookScars and on “Gs Up Hoes Down:” Black Masculinity, Veganism, and Ethical Consumption (The Remix)which explored how key Black vegan men us hip-hop methods to create “race-conscious” and decolonizing approaches to vegan philosophies. Her latest book project is Recipes for Racial Tension Headaches: A Critical Race Feminist’s Journey Through the ‘Post-Racial’ Ethical Foodscape (2017).



15 thoughts on ““How could ‘we’ let Trump happen?” Don’t include [Black] me in your [white] ‘we’]

  1. Right on. It rubs me the wrong way when “we” don’t see that racial injustice as a whole is part of a long tradition spanning slavery, lynchings after slavery, Jim Crow laws, school segregation (i.e. redlining) and the war on drugs (which was essentially a war on black people). America is still a slave society today, just a “kinder” one.

    Great commentary!

  2. I will admit that I am somewhat surprised at the number of folks supporting him and engaging in the same level of hateful rhetoric.

    However, this really did start to show itself when President Obama was elected and got even worse after his re-election. I don’t know how many times I heard people refusing to admit they’re racists because they hate him and there’s no doubt in my mind that had he been white, they wouldn’t have been so hateful (and ironically, he wasn’t black enough for Ben Carson to even consider him black because he was raised by white people).

    I still don’t know what to think of Trump. Is this some kind of intentional political theater (a character akin to Stephen Colbert) where he’s intentionally getting these people to wear their prejudice with pride in order to expose them? Maybe he has every intention of losing the general election. Prior to all his birther talk, he had actually supported Democrats. Maybe this is some kind of bizarre attempt to secure another Democratic president that may have been unlikely because of all the hatefulness directed at President Obama. But if he’s so extreme, I have to believe in my heart (maybe naively) that there’s no way the majority of voters will actually vote for him. Maybe some people are voting for him in the primaries with every intention of voting Democratic in the general election in November. Other folks who think that there’s no way the majority of voters would actually vote for him. I know his saluting sycophants can and should be taken at face value, but I still find him hard to believe.

    Yeah, I considered Canada (I live in Michigan, so we’re virtually Canadian anyway, eh). I have my enhanced license. I can get over the border.

    And this doesn’t even go into the big lie these people believe that has been spoon fed to them by the (rich white) people who wield most of the power in this country. It’s the black and brown people that are the problem. Everything would be all rainbows and unicorns if the US was all white.


  3. ” but because you un/consciously know that if you actually do something to dismantle systemic racism you will lose the privileges, resources, power, etc afforded to you as part of the [neoliberal], “but I’m not racist like Trump” [whiteness] club.”

    This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how racism works. An extract from something I wrote on anti-fascism:

    “The destructiveness of fascism – and racism more generally – is not limited to its principal enemies. Far from affording privileges to large swathes of society as some suggest, the oppression of marginalised groups hurts the entire working class. This is true in a social sense – as in the racist externalisation of misogyny mentioned above – as well as an economic one.

    In Black Reconstruction in America, W.E.B. Du Bois first outlined the way that racism was used to pay ‘public and psychological’ wages to white workers; undermining solidarity with their black peers so that ‘the wages of both classes could be kept low’. Recent analyses have reaffirmed this principle, as has the European labour market, where the exploitation of migrant workers hurts pay and conditions for everyone.”

    This individualist privilege theory stuff ignores the role that racism plays in the maintenance of capitalism, and has never meaningfully demonstrated a causal link between the oppression of POC and white privilege. Ignoring class antagonism like this disarms resistance from the outset. This type of politics serves as a vassal of neoliberalism and should be called out whenever we see it.

  4. Surprised?

    A commenter on this post named George West, who’s a white man living in London, is going to explain racism in the USA to a black woman with a Ph.D. in Critical Food Geographies and who has decades of lived experience as a target of racism here in the USA.

    1. I get this all the time that I don’t “fundamentally” understand racism. This is explained to me by a white person. I find it intriguing. Especially since neoliberal or neoliberalism (which I am using to describe a type of whiteness) has everything to do with current forms of capitalism and racism. My use of the term “investment” refers to neoliberal capitalism. And why is there usually this concern that if I talk about “race” or “racism” that I am completely ignoring ‘class’? I know that racism + capitalism + classism are connected and have spoken about this for years. I am someone trained in intersectional activism/social justice scholarship. Seriously, I don’t get it. My post was about Trump and the white neoliberal response of “How did we let Trump happen?” I have had a few white people respond to this post without engaging with the central question. Instead, they immediately try to make something else central (other than whiteness). Someone tweeted “How did the Black Caucus let Hillary happen?” What was the point of asking that question, in response to my post? I’m specifically talking about neoliberal whiteness but leave it to usually white people to not want to talk about THAT. (shaking my head).

      1. I’m interested in what you mean by ‘neoliberal whiteness’ here. If your use of the the term investment refers to an investment in neoliberal capitalism then, as was my first impression, you seem to be asserting that white people actively benefit from their own oppression and exploitation under said system. This is the central claim which the piece rests on, so I’m confused as to how I’m attempting to decentre whiteness; I’m actually disputing your conception of it.

        It’s telling that Veganelder and yourself both responded to a critique of the ideological content of your post with references to my personhood. Presumably if I was not white, or not a man, or a combination thereof you’d need to respond to the content of my argument; something you haven’t done. At its most radical the sort of identity critique you’re engaging in adds a layer of analysis to discussions of how power manifests in discourse. At its most ineffectual it attempts to replace that discussion, as it has here.

        We’d all be much better off if the left got back to evaluating arguments with reference to their ideological impact – how they perpetuate the power structures of whiteness, patriarchy, capitalism, and so on – rather than the subjectivity of their proponents. By asserting that white people benefit from racism, and concomitantly capitalism, arguments revolving around privilege dismiss the one strategy which has historically – both in the long and short terms – posed a serious threat to those power structures: working class solidarity. Your blackness doesn’t change that.

  5. Mr. West referencing your personhood was my, perhaps inept, way of noting the fact that your lived life precludes your having any experience of being targeted by racism. Indeed, your personhood (white and male) means you’ve benefited your whole life long from racism. (as have I)

    That said…the presumption you present by suggesting that Dr. Harper “shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how racism works” is so absent of any meaningful foundation on your part that it is virtually incomprehensible. Albert Memmi noted that “racism is a lived experience”. It isn’t a concept untethered to a lived experience and hence…anytime someone without that lived experience undertakes to teach someone with an experiential grounding in being targeted by racism about racism…it becomes problematic…if not absurd. Especially when the person you presume to ‘school’ has years of education in this area.

    I’m a white guy like you and I’m not unsympathetic to your struggles to understand or comprehend. Our culture carefully taught us to be oblivious and to be oblivious about our obliviousness. I wish you well if you are interested in learning. I would, though, if I were you, refrain from attempting to teach those who experience being targeted by racism about what racism is. You’re doomed to failure…not because they don’t understand…but because you don’t understand.

    You might find this essay written by Abe Lateiner useful to you. He is delineates some of his insights and grapplings as he struggles to recover from being victimized by our culturally induced unawareness. You also might find Charles Mill’s writings about the epistemology of ignorance helpful. Good luck on your journey.


  6. Response to the charge that identity critiques seek to replace discourse with appeals to personhood: “Here, have a more verbose appeal to personhood, with a dash of condescension”.

    Yeah, thanks. Let the adults talk now, ok?

  7. Your rage is understood. But how about you offer some positive solutions. Yes expose the problem. But just doing that isn’t enough. You want change? Let’s work together to make that happen.

    1. Thanks. I’ve been offering positive solutions for about 12 decades now through consulting, giving workshops, lectures, publishing literature, etc. It’s what I’m paid to do, but please let me know what your thoughts are on on how I can do even more. Thanks.

  8. “Are white people who consider themselves non-racist and non-Trump/non-Cruz supporters really SURPRISED that there are millions of violently racist white people in the USA ” all of a sudden?””

    We’ve been lucky enough to be able to *ignore* the violently racist. Pretty much every “don’t read the comments!!!” thing is an act of burying one’s head in the sand. Also, https://negeenblogs.wordpress.com/2015/09/10/for-my-iranian-american-community-a-letter-of-my-sorrow-rage-and-tough-love/ calls out some more ignoring.

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