Sunday, December 4, 2016

Until the recent presidential campaign, the Alt-Right was just one more fringe group unknown to most of us. But the campaign rhetoric of the President Elect has encouraged these far right wing groups and brought them to the attention of the general public.

Unlike more familiar conservatives, the members of the Alt – Right are not terribly interested in defending the so-called free market, or reducing the size of the federal government. They are mainly interested in issues of racial identity. They believe that whites, what they call the "white race," are superior to all others. They also believe that this white race is in danger of being submerged in waves of persons of color, of Jews and other "inferior" races. They lay claim to a "scientific" theory of race and dedicate themselves to the preservation of the white race.

Such a hard-edged position of white racism appears very far from what most Americans believe. There is no such thing as a biological race. There is no evidence that groups of people who look different from other groups of people regularly inherit superior or inferior characteristics – different competencies, different character traits, different social relationships.

In addition, many Americans believe in diversity as an important value. In 2008 and 2012 Pres. Obama was elected with a convincing majority. The people who voted for him did not believe in the inborn superiority of the white race.

And yet……

It seems quite clear that the passionate opposition to Pres. Obama by large sectors of the American electorate has racial overtones. His black ancestry is not irrelevant to the blind hatred of many Americans. Many whites, I think, are in some way humiliated by having a black president. Many white Americans believe that black people are getting special consideration from the federal government while they themselves feel unsupported in the midst of economic crises. White males especially feel abandoned by their government while they have to lower their standard of living because the good jobs have been moved outside the country (by Jews?). They believe that they need to work harder than ever to make a passable living, while women and men of color are receiving special favors from the government and can afford to live off welfare and other social programs. In plain English, white men feel done to. That is not only unfair but it is more than unfair because they, the white men, deserved better because they are, after all white men.

The Alt – Right is unambiguously committed to a belief in the superiority of white men. A lot of Americans reject that talk about a white identity and the inferiority of people of color or of women. But most Americans, perhaps all of us whites, are ambivalent about race, about superiority and inferiority. Many white Americans – however you decide who is white and who is not – will surprise themselves when they find themselves making definitely racist assumptions.

A few blogs back I published the newspaper story of the black woman physician who offered to help out when a passenger on an airplane was taken ill. The airplane attendants refused to believe that she was a doctor because she was a black woman. These airplane attendants were probably very much like you and me, white Americans who rejected racism but every now and then surprised themselves, and shamed themselves by discovering that they too in some secret place of their mind harbored ideas of white superiority.

Most of us, unlike the Alt – Right, are ashamed of those remnants of racism we harbor. But we should resist the temptation to think that the beliefs of the Alt-Right are beyond the pale and that we have completely emancipated ourselves from this inheritance from America’s racist history.

We must forcefully reject the Alt – Right and everyone who refuses to join that rejection. But we whites must also continue to monitor closely our own racist impulses and correct ourselves wherever necessary.

The white superiority doctrine of the Alt-Right is sick, but most of us whites are infected by the same virus. We may speak with conviction about pluralism and diversity in America and how all of us are human beings and thus the same in important respects. We may undergo sensitivity trainings and participate in discussions about race. We should be justly proud of these actions to combat racism. But we need to remain watchful because we too are affected by the American disease of racism.