In this week's Windy City Times, we are publishing the third installment of a four-part in-depth essay by Max. S. Gordon.
A beautiful woman whom I love and respect, white and in her early fifties, is thinking about leaving her husband over Donald Trump. It's not just that he plans to vote for him ( although living in New York, a blue state, it's unlikely that his vote will be decisive ), it's the man he's become over the years that could even consider supporting a candidate like Trump.
They had a fight recently when their straight teenage son went to a costume party in drag. The father exploded and claimed my friend was encouraging their son to be gay by lending him a pair of clip-on earrings. There was a time when they might have laughed off this incident, but the humor between them is nearly gone.
At night she lies awake, unable to sleep, uneasy about what's to come. They watch television together, and she sits beside him, appalled at the spectacle of Trump. Meanwhile, her husband feels vindicated, having a candidate who finally speaks the "truth," whom he can trust and believe in - a real man. It is deeper than just a political disagreement between them; she feels stifled and suffocated and notices he has become more controlling recently, as if he intuitively senses that his relationship to societal power and power over her may change under a woman president. She wants out; away from him and his friends who are also Trump supporters, as they sit around drinking and discussing Obama and what has happened to "their" America.
My friend and her husband can't be the only couple experiencing this now; it must be taking place in households all over the country. I'm shocked when she tells me her news over lunch, as I've had dinner with her husband, I've been to their home, and I like him, although we've never talked politics. ( When I told her I wanted to include her story in this piece but feared it might upset him if he ever found out, she touched my hand reassuringly. "Don't worry, he'll never see it," she said. "He doesn't read." )
I know he's not one of the scary people on my television screen who comes from some far away town in America, people who show up at Trump rallies and who cheer when he allows a black man to be pummeled by the crowd for speaking out, who swoon when Trump attempts to silence a Latino journalist during a press conference, who praise him for throwing a Muslim woman out as she quietly expresses her dissent. But still he wants to vote for him. Trump is now making sense to people I care about. And if my friend's husband feels this way, a man whom I've known to be a bit macho at times but never considered a fascist freak, then there are others like him, and a Trump presidency becomes even more of a possibility.
"Donald say he wants to run for president and move on into the White House. Why not? It wouldn't be the first time ( he ) pushed a black family out of they home." Snoop Dogg, The Comedy Central Roast of Donald Trump
Donald Trump is the perfect presidential candidate for a wounded white male consciousness. He is John Wayne, Rambo, Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry asking you through squinty eyes to Go ahead, make my day. He is Buford Pusser in Walking Tall, Charles Bronson in the Death Wish movies. He's white male vigilante justice to be sure, but he's smarter than earlier incarnations of "numbskull" macho. He's more vulnerable than they are, which means that his appeal is even greater to some women and men. When he pouts, especially after he's been put down, or told no, he's a wounded boy who didn't get the train set he wanted for Christmas.
Trump has talent, and not just as a businessman. Lots of people in America make money, wage deals, and have charisma, but he's different, and it is important to acknowledge his gifts if we are to assess what is happening in politics at this time. Trump is a direct communicator, an entertainer who thrills his audiences, and he has gifts as a comedian. His personable style obscures the evil in his message.
Years ago, I was thoroughly disgusted with him, as many were, during his reprehensible birther movement against Obama ( which he refuses to talk about now, of course ). And like many of us, I later allowed myself to be amused by him, as he remained a curiosity in the political three-ring circus. I watched as he read everybody in the room like a white male queen in corporate drag. And don't get it twisted, Lady Miss Donald can read. Arriving at the party in her jewels and tiara, if you offend her, she will set down her drink, lift up her gown, kick off her pumps, and read you for filth in front of the entire crowd. And she will keep reading your ass to the front door, out to your car, and will still be reading you in your rear-view mirror as you drive off. It's pretty obvious by now that Donald Trump holds grudges and never walks away from an insult, slight or fight.
And granted, Trump can be pretty hilarious, especially when he is letting someone "have it," someone you yourself can't stand; Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, or Fox News. He can also "play the dozens", another form of "reading" which involves trading insults back and forth ( Donald vs. Rosie O'Donnell ) in black culture. Perhaps this was one reason, in addition to satisfying their own greed and starfuckery, that a group of black preachers famously sold out their communities in order to meet with him. They claimed not to be endorsing him, but having their picture taken with Trump was endorsement enough. With their black stamp of approval, the birther questions disappear. How can Donald be racist when they agree to meet with him?
Black preachers might give Trump a pass, but Chris Matthews, host of Hardball, doesn't. The black comedian W. Kamau Bell, creator of the WhitesAgainstTrump hashtag is credited with the phrase, "White people come get your boy ( Trump )" or as a friend of mine paraphrases, "White people come get your white people." Bell's hashtag suggests that as black Americans, racism is not our problem to solve, it's white people's. Matthews attempts to dismantle the cult of whiteness when he confronts Trump on the Birther movement, one white man to another: "I do think that's a blemish," he says. "I think it's your original sin, I'm an American and I think our president should be respected. I think there's a little ethnic aspect to it…He's African American and we're saying he's not a real president, I don't like that. It's not a good thing about you." Trump is obviously embarrassed, awkwardly thanks Matthews for the interview and leaves. Soon after, the jokes from Donald, like the tone of his campaign, get nastier, and suddenly, nothing seems funny anymore.
In Iowa, Donald Trump comes in second place behind Ted Cruz. Whether this is the result of his skipping the final debate before the caucuses, which may have been seen as a sign of disrespect, or Cruz's nefarious ground campaign, Trump isn't discouraged. His speech to Cruz and Iowa is generous, as he makes his way to New Hampshire. He knows that whatever happens with the nomination ( his most deleterious effect, if he drops out, would be bringing more voters to Cruz ), he has electrified the party in a way no candidate has since Reagan. The Ted Cruzes of the world come and go, but Trump, a rock star, has had a tremendous effect on the country and political landscape, an effect that relates specifically to the cult of whiteness.
Donald promises to return a world that used to spin around white men and white privilege, a world that Obama and Hillary Clinton archetypically threaten, back on its proper axis. He has no experience as mayor or governor; we don't know, in fact, if he was even the leader of a boy-scout troop. But what we do know is that his wealth and success as an entrepreneur make him a winner in America, and for some that is more than enough to make him our next president.
And for those of us who have watched his poll numbers rise, and who keep trying to wake up from this bad dream, perhaps no one is more surprised by what has happened to Donald Trump than Donald Trump himself. The irony is that Trump isn't really the right leader for the people he's leading. He's more progressive than they are, he's kinkier and shrewder than they are, and has more of a sense of humor ( although he can't laugh at himself, the true sign of a narcissist ), but they are willing to worship him regardless. And because Donald Trump above everything else is a megalomaniac, he will compromise his principles to maintain their devotion. Even Sarah Palin has managed to forgive him for being a friend of Hillary's and for giving the Clintons money in the past. Trump continues to shape-shift, and tea-party himself into the creature we watch on our television screens, promising to build walls to keep foreigners out, to impose bans on Muslims, and to send immigrants back where they came from. Anne Frank's stepsister, Eva Schloss, recently compared Trump's rhetoric to Hitler's. Hitler gets tossed around a lot as a cultural reference, but if there is anyone whom I would trust to know what the new Hitler looks like, it would be Anne Frank's stepsister.
White supremacist groups endorse Trump, and he denounces them, but without much vigor; he responds defensively as if he doesn't want to alienate them, but knows he must say something. I have read that he plans to go after gay marriage next. ( My own gay marriage is less than two years old. ) Frankly, I don't believe that Donald Trump gives a shit about whether gay people are married or not. I suspect he is pandering to Ted Cruz's evangelicals again, much like his disastrous attempts to quote and read from the Bible. But at some point Trump may forget that he is pandering, and, in an effort to get re-elected one day, his pandering will become policy.
Trump's tweets read like patriarchal whiteness's greatest hits. He backhandedly calls Megyn Kelly a bimbo, a term with obvious sexual connotations. Regardless of what one thinks about Kelly as a journalist, if the Republican party were really about morality, his campaign would be over tomorrow because we don't want a presidential candidate who calls women bimbos. ( "Bimbo" is kind compared with the epithets hurled at Meagan Kelly by Donald's "Trumpeters". ) Trump is aware that his supporters will do anything for him. He even said at a rally, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Trump, the Little Lord Fauntleroy who hurts back when he's been hurt. His followers, or rather enablers, listen to his attacks and see them as endearing and "honest" and not for what they really arepotential threats to national security from a presidential candidate who has an enormous chip on his shoulder. So one day, when the leader of some antagonistic country wants to piss us off, they'll tweet that our president has a tiny dick ( and not even a limp dick, but the kind that looks like someone punched it in and it never popped back out again ), and we're going to find our country at war.
One of the interesting things about studying religious cults is trying to make sense of the belief systems that guide them. And because the cults that usually make the national news and headlines are so bizarre, most people imagine they could never find themselves in one. Our judgment distances and protects us so we may examine them with fascination, ignoring, of course, the many cults in our own lives that claim us.
From outside the cult, we see how humans construct systems, and how everyone involved must play a part in that system in order for it to work. For those who are newly initiated, it may seem appalling when they are first introduced to its precepts: ( "Mommy, why did the kids at school call me a nigger?" "Well, honey, let me explain, you see when I was a little girl … ." ) but after a while you adjust and may even take the system for granted. For those caught deepest in its web, it may seem impenetrable, allowing for no escape. Eventually it destroys your imaginationyou find the possibility of another system inconceivable. I remember traveling to Senegal and Zimbabwe during my college years and noting the differences between African countries that had been under French and English colonial rule. It hadn't even occurred to me that there were differences, and it helped me to appreciate that colonization was a social construct, and that I had myself in fact been colonized. ( The good news was that if something could be constructed, it could also be deconstructed. ) With awareness, there may come a day when one wakes up and says of the cult, "What the hell is going on and how did I get here?" In that moment of illumination, one has the power to awaken oneself, and through one's newly-found clarity, liberate and awaken others.
I truly believe there are many white people in this country who are also tired of whiteness, who want to escape the cult of whiteness themselves. They don't want their children to grow up in it, and while they may benefit from it at times whether they want to or not, they know the cost of it on a global scale, the enemies that it creates for us around the world, and the fact that all our children are in more danger because of it. They are ready to share, they are ready for a new paradigm that is more inclusive. These are the white people who voted for Obama and made him president. ( Whether they got a commander-in-chief who destabilized whiteness or who actually helped reinforce it is the subject for another essay. )
Others may suspect that an article on the end of whiteness is actually a rallying cry for blackness or black chauvinismbut this isn't so. Whiteness, in the context I am referring to here, doesn't find its opposition in blackness, but in "otherness". And since true otherness, given the complexities of the human race, doesn't actually exist, one can then surmise that whiteness, when practiced at a pathological level, has no opposite it is absolute.
The simple truth is, white Americans aren't white, and never have been. This theme exists throughout the work of the great American writer James Baldwin, and it is as true today as when he was writing more than half a century ago.
I'm not sure when it happened, when the nigger was created, and when we stopped becoming a country of Italians, Irish, German, French, Indian, Spanish, African, Japanese, Chinese. Things became, literally, black and white. Or rather…black vs. everyone else. It has been my experience in America that immigrants arrive and seem to be given a tour. "There's the Statue of Liberty, there's the White House, and those are the niggers" as if part of the experience of being an American means separating oneself from blackness - both the culture and the people. ( Enjoying black culture as entertainment and making money off it is allowed, even encouraged. The commoditization of black culture means enjoying a rap video, black music or television show, but doesn't require an actual relationship. The consumer always remains in control of what he is consuming without the messiness and terror of dealing with an actual human being's anger or a spontaneous interaction and dialogue. ) Immigrants and some American whites want the American dream without the American nightmare that comes with it - slavery. Black experience is American experience, and any attempt to separate the two means that one begins a descent into mental illness.
Talking about slavery in our culture is not unlike talking about rape. We can't really have an honest conversation about either one, because in a society that feeds so heavily on greed ( the kind of greed that inspires a Bernie Madoff ) the perception is you can't have empathy and still make money, and you definitely can't empathize with those who are victimized. Patriarchal imperialist whiteness taken to the extreme requires total invulnerability, which is why it attacks the feminine, and rapes, why it seeks to control women's reproductive rights, to destroy the homosexual, to make a beast of the African, and allows its kids to go hungry. Instead of facing the many transgressions that take place in this society every day, we are unwilling to look in the face of the victim. We project our shame onto her, and instead of trying to find our way back to wholeness, choose omnipotence and brutality instead - hating the victim's guts for having allowed us to violate her.
Slavery and the rape of African women in this country changed us inexorablyif white Americans ever were white once upon a time, after slavery they were never white again. Nursed at a black woman's breast, the white American has an enslaved African mother and he is haunted by her, by her blackness and her relationship to him. We know racism has driven black people crazy for years, but this is why the cult of whiteness has the power to drive or keep white Americans insaneit forces them to dissociate themselves from their own Africanness, from their own black mother.
White Southerners know this relationship most intimately. It is in their literature, the moment when the white child becomes the white adult and is told by society that he "owns" the black woman who raised him, and who may have been the only one, in fact, to show him any affection or for whom he feels any affection. At this point he must decide, and it is a decision that often leads to madnessto join the cult of whiteness and betray his own mother, or stand with her and reject his inheritance as a white man.
It is fascinating to me as a black American, watching men with the last name Cruz and Rubio advancing the cult of whiteness despite endless references to their immigrant parents and to Cuba, talking about "no amnesty" and keeping immigrants out, while they must have memories of sitting on their abuelita's lap, nibbling on her cultural food while she coos to them in Spanish. They are men of color, feverish with the desire to win at whiteness, and their betrayal of their own pasts and their Latino background makes them seem desperate and overeager on the political stage, running to and running from ( to paraphrase Jesse Jackson ) at the same time.
Meanwhile, patriarchy finds a staunch ally as Carly Fiorina continues to sink her teeth into Planned Parenthood, overturning Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose. She exudes a steely confidence on the campaign trail, but her spiritual energy suggests great disappointment, and a woman's heartbreak rides her face. Ben Carson babbles on, black and foolish, looking somnambulant and managing to sound incoherent; no small feat, given his impeccable credentials and accomplishments in the medical field. He disparages gays, downplays racism, and uses the Bible and the Constitution to further the perception of the world as "us" vs. "them".
We live in a cultural twilight zone where the greatest proponents of cultural whiteness and patriarchy, those most against difference and change, may be blacks or women themselves. Fiorina and Carson, a woman and a black, lead us further into racist, patriarchal chaos. We must reach a place where black men truly understand that if we don't make the connection between racism and a woman's reproductive rights we will never escape racist patriarchal control; white women must demand for the children of Flint the same water they'd want for their own children. But unfortunately, our greed ensures that too many black men continue to defend rape culture and too many white women benefit economically from the exploitation of others. Until whiteness and patriarchy are no longer seen as in any way benefiting those of us who are marginalized in this society, we will be stuck in the matrix forever. I titled this piece "The Cult of Whiteness" because I believe that in America we have a cult-like devotion to whiteness ( which includes patriarchy ), and to the extent that we are unable to explore it, face it and finally abandon it, it will be our ultimate undoing.
Max S. Gordon is a writer and activist. He has been published in the anthologies Inside Separate Worlds: Life Stories of Young Blacks, Jews and Latinos ( University of Michigan Press, 1991 ), Go the Way Your Blood Beats: An Anthology of African-American Lesbian and Gay Fiction ( Henry Holt, 1996 ). His work has also appeared on openDemocracy, Democratic Underground and Truthout, in Z Magazine, Gay Times, Sapience, and other progressive on-line and print magazines in the U.S. and internationally. His published essays include, "Bill Cosby, Himself: Fame, Narcissism and Sexual Violence" and "Maybe Yesterday, But Not Tonight: A Black Homosexual Speaks to Governor Mike Pence." This column originally ran on www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/ .
Part I at the links: