As I’ve written before, the shifting demographics of America will create a white backlash because of white fears of what will happen when whites are no longer the racial majority. More liberal whites now realize that the era of the “post-racial” was not inaugurated by the election of Obama, but with Trump, there are clear indications that racial tensions can worsen rather than steadily improve (contradicting the myth of the post-Civil Rights era that race relations will steadily get better).
Activists involved in the struggles for racial equity believe that clear, direct statements concerning systemic racism and racial bias are what’s needed. One cannot solve a problem without accurately describing it. Yet, at the same time, how are we to address rising white fears and resentment? What is the most effective language and approach to addressing the problems of racial equity and winning the support of whites? Or should that be a question we should be asking?
A white writer friend of mine recently wrote me that she’s stopped using the term “white privilege,” not because she doesn’t think there is such a thing but because every time she used it, the white person she was talking to or writing to immediately shuts down. Now it says something about the entrenchment of “white privilege” that any mention of it can cause a white person to stop all dialogue. But will the ceasing of dialogue help us create greater recognition of the racial inequities that plague our society?
One of Baldwin’s gifts was his ability to examine the psyche of both black and white America, to articulate both how blacks thought about and approached the issues of race and how whites thought and approached the same issues. That’s one of the reasons why his work is so valuable today.
In the recent HBO film “All the Way” about the struggles to pass the Civil Rights bills of the early sixties, we see LBJ trying to win over those in Congress who were resisting the passage of these bills. Johnson was a genius at this work, and he of course relied on his position as a white Southern politician. Johnson could talk to these white men–for they were all white men–in ways they would never have allowed Martin Luther King to talk to them. Both LBJ and King were instrumental to the passage of these bills. Part of King’s genius was his ability to keep various black leaders and factions working together–until that coalition fell apart. King obviously sacrificed more, including his life, but both men had an ability to persuade those who disagreed with them and we surely need such people now. But what language and what strategies do we in the present need to use to be able to do this?
Clearly I don’t have answers here to any of these questions. But I do think they are questions we should be asking.
Here’s a summary of a psychological study on white reaction to our shifting demographics by Northwestern University psychologists: “Recent Census Bureau projections indicate that racial/ethnic minorities will comprise over 50% of the U.S. population by 2042, effectively creating a so-called “majority–minority” nation. Across four experiments, we explore how presenting information about these changing racial demographics influences White Americans’ racial attitudes. Results reveal that exposure to the changing demographics evokes the expression of greater explicit and implicit racial bias. Specifically, Whites exposed to the racial demographic shift information preferred interactions/settings with their own ethnic group over minority ethnic groups; expressed more negative attitudes toward Latinos, Blacks, and Asian Americans; and expressed more automatic pro-White/anti-minority bias. Perceived threat to Whites’ societal status mediated the effects of the racial shift information on explicit racial attitudes. These results suggest that rather than ushering in a more tolerant future, the increasing diversity of the nation may instead yield intergroup hostility. Implications for intergroup relations and media framing of the racial shift are discussed.” http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/spcl/documents/Craig%20&%20Richeson%202014%20PS.pdf