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The birth of a new white supremacist movement

Jeremy Adam Smith, Editor, Greater Good Magazine | March 4, 2016

We’re seeing the birth of a new white supremacist movement in the US. I want to talk about the responsibility of white liberals and progressives for letting it happen.

This movement has been growing, and growing bolder, since President Obama was elected. It’s not covert or subtle; it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. The Republican Party isn’t dying; on the contrary, it’s being revitalized by open racism.

Amid calls for Bernie Sanders to quit for the sake of unity, Democratic primary turnout is dropping  —  while internal Republican conflict drives their turnout ever higher. Those new votes are racist votes. Donald Trump is giving voice to a tribe of white people who felt unheard. Now that he’s helped them find their voice, I don’t think they’ll fall silent once he’s been defeated. If he is defeated.

I look at what’s happening and I remember the investigation I published last year into racial segregation in San Francisco schools. People think of San Francisco as the liberal capital of the United States, and so I think it’s fair to use the city as a kind of social and political barometer. In the San Francisco Public Press story, we showed how racially divided the city’s schools were becoming. We showed how this was hurting the kids. We showed how racialized poverty had become.

The facts weren’t in doubt; no one disputed them. But I am still haunted by the defensive, indifferent, jaded, apathetic response to the facts from San Francisco liberals. Many, many readers and leaders asked why racial diversity should be considered important. Many people talked about diversity and academic achievement as mutually exclusive, simply ignoring evidence to the contrary.

After the story came out in January 2015, teachers shared stories with me about how their kids were being made to feel like outsiders in San Francisco’s gentrified neighborhoods. The response from San Francisco Unified? Nothing substantial. In fact, I think voices against racial and economic diversity have only grown stronger in the past year. Sure, on social media, we all share outrage at the latest clueless missive from one of the city’s “tech bros,” but real-world San Francisco, the liberal capital of the United States, just keeps on becoming more exclusive, and more frightened of racial and economic differences.

‘When cities governed by people who call themselves progressives become increasingly segregated, we’re paving the way for a guy like Trump.’

It gradually dawned on me that we — and by “we,” I mean white, educated Bay Area liberals and progressives — simply lost our commitment to building a multiracial society. It’s not one of our goals anymore. Now, it may still be one of your goals. It’s certainly one of mine. But I’ve felt increasingly alone with that goal. Have you? And I think it’s actually becoming more difficult to live that value, regardless of intentions. When our schools, neighborhoods, and hang-outs become more racially and economically divided, segregation starts to seem natural and inevitable. Desirable, even.

Many of us are upset by images of black people being driven away from Donald Trump rallies. Few are as upset by the fact that black people have been driven out of San Francisco. And are now being driven out of Oakland and Berkeley. After all, it was their “choice” to move. When cities governed by people who call themselves progressives become increasingly segregated, we’re paving the way for a guy like Trump. How can we claim with any moral force to fight Trump when we’re creating the racially divided world he wants?

I’ve suggested some solutions elsewhere. My point here is that we all let Donald Trump happen. Hillary Clinton let it happen. Bernie Sanders let it happen. So did the San Francisco Supervisors and Board of Education. We all did, by gradually dropping our guard against white supremacy — by step-by-step accepting that “choice” was the goal, instead of “justice” or “equality” or “diversity.”

Many of us stopped being liberals and became neoliberals, by simply not paying attention. We lost sight of the vision that emerged from the earliest days of the Civil Rights movement: a society where many different people could live together in peace and understanding. The degree to which those words sound goofy and idealistic should serve as a measure for how far we’ve fallen.

Comments to “The birth of a new white supremacist movement

  1. wow.. posted in 2016 and its a prediction. You just said it. I’m not much aware of our politic [politricks] but it happened.. yup we let it happen. Humanity is lost..
    Need to raise, otherwise this will end badly for the entire human race as the whole atmosphere is filling with hate and such bad things..
    Hope something good will and makes earth a beautiful place.

  2. Great article!

    One other reason for well above average racial inequality in silicon valley and the bay area compared to the U.S. average is that the majority of the white working class has left and been replaced both with immigrants and with high-income and/or highly educated whites from around the country. I am “white” and grew up in the Temescal area of north Oakland and we were gentrified out of the area during the first bubble back in the late 80’s (1987 to be exact). What remains of the bay area’s white working class is now highly suburban/exurban.

    -Something similar has been true I think of a lot of more “progressive” regions in the U.S., -which contributes both to elevated racial disparities/segregation in many cities as well as now, increasingly, the growing geographic isolation of much of the white working/lower class (and parts of the white middle class as well) not only in rural/exurban areas but in increasingly depressed and non-diverse small to mid sized metro’s areas not just in the South and Midwest but throughout the country, including parts of California.

    -I can’t help but think that this plays into the hands of Trump and people like him.

  3. The creep of neoliberal thought into progressive circles is a worthy topic of conversation. So, too, is how to address the negative impacts of reinvestment in the urban core in the U.S.

    Poor neighborhoods in the inner city are predominantly black and Latino not because of choice, but because of decades of pathologically racist, segregationist policies. Those policies needed to end. Ending them has implications for cities and for urban residents, especially poor and ethnic residents, and I think all progressives would agree that something should be done to protect their interests.

    But I don’t see how any of this has a connection to Trumpism. Would Trump’s supporters be less vitriolic if we had greater housing subsidies for low-income residents (mostly ethnic), stronger protections for urban renters (mostly low-income ethnic), and community land trusts to protect low-income (mostly ethnic) neighborhoods? It seems highly unlikely.

  4. I think that Trump’s virtues or his vices can better be judged on their own terms. If you want to understand Trump, talk about Trump. If you want to understand gentrification in San Francisco, talk about gentrification in San Francisco. Mixing the two is a red herring fallacy.

  5. I read this article in tandem with Steve Martinot’s article about racialized gentrification in Berkeley and finished the book Economies of Whiteness: On the Social Ecology of White Liberals. Reading them together was very helpful for my own work as a Black anti-racist educator and scholar. Thanks. I’ll add to my resources for my workshops and lectures.

  6. It feels like there is a fear line. Above which, everyone talks about the big ideas of greater goods of society. Below which, people start to think about personal interest in expense of the greater good.

    Usually great challenges unite people on the common enemy. With the crisis that America has faced in the last 15 years, the country was united against the common enemy of terrorism and the poor economy brought by the financial crisis. However, the economy is still in a fragile stage of recovery where militant terrorist and economic terrorist continue to bombard the world with fear. Fear that the hard-fought recovery will be lost again. Fear that America cannot afford another war into other countries economically or morally. Donald Trump plays the strings on that core. Fear of losing the economic interest and America’s international moral standing. He gives a loud “reason” to fight the “bad people” on economic and military front, based on public fear of going through such difficult challenges over 15 years.

    We needed someone to point finger to for the tough times America had to deal with the last 15 years. It is a psychological void that no politician has effectively addressed because the wound is almost still too raw. Some movies like American Sniper and The Big Short touch on the raw skin. However, not everyone wants to dig below the skin. It is the fear to look underneath it all. We want a pink bandaid that has a princess cartoon on it for our wound.

    Donald Trump sells that bandaid well. I love Berkeley’s liberal environment. Where else can I say these things and feel it is my duty to say something like this? 🙂

  7. I think liberals are in denial. Neo-liberal trade deals and H1B Visa programs that hollowed out middle class jobs are the issue. And telling the middle class that such programs create jobs and if you don’t like it your a bigot is not working anymore.

    Further, nice article but you miss the central point academics have lost there relevance, they have been too busy supporting these failed policies while cashing fat checks for their research from US Chamber of Commerce and the banking industry. Middle class economic insecurity and Trumps popularity are directly tied to these failed progressive policies that don’t work… will never work and have only served to create middle class financial insecurity which Trump took advantage of…even if Trump does not win…he has blazed the path to success for future would be dictators, all thanks to progressives and their betrayal of the middle class.

    I’m not voting for Trump but definitely wont for Hilary either…wake up!

  8. “We’re seeing the birth of a new white supremacist movement in the US. I want to talk about the responsibility of white liberals and progressives for letting it happen.”

    White liberals and progressives have for decades been worshiping at the Altar of Diversity and extolling ever more mass immigration. The result? California and the Bay Area have filled up with millions upon millions of foreign born and their subsequent offspring*. Predictably housing costs go up, poverty go up, schools deteriorate and our highways turn into parking lots. Despite the threat of long term drought liberal voices can still be heard chanting, “We are a Nation of Immigrants, We are a Nation of Immigrants, We are a Nation of Immigrants, …”

    Any wonder there just might be some appeal in Herr Trump? Might not be racism at all but just a plea for slowing the madness.

    * See data report from USC research group (pdf)

  9. Thank you, Jeremy , or your thoughtful and critical piece and comments. I sometimes wonder how some people “just don’t get it,” but your calm and non-defensive, conversation-style writing helps me feel that there is a way to get through to people and their prejudices.

  10. I don’t know who you are or where you’ve been or why UC Public Affairs or some similar office seems to have sent me your blog, but I can assure you that many of us white liberals have worked steadily against racism — in my own case for close to 60 of my 76 years. Many of us have been consistently aware that racism is the primary cause of both segregation and economic inequality, though Bernie Sanders sometimes seems to forget that.

    Some people (you, perhaps?) enjoy using “liberal” as a pejorative term — that seems kind of Trumpish to me. The UC Public Affairs title “How white liberals share blame for the rise of Trump” is a deliberate attempt to provoke, which does no good for any of the causes we both espouse.

  11. Missing are Berkeley Greater Good Science Center core themes:
    Gratitude
    Altruism
    Compassion
    Empathy
    Forgiveness
    Happiness
    Mindfulness

    Present in this blog post are far left/liberal core themes:
    Finger-pointing
    Despair
    Stereotyping
    Post hoc fallacies

    • We had an explicit conversation amongst our staff about Mr. Trump. The GGSC is a non-partisan organization, but we agreed that Trump is beyond the pale on many issues of human and civil rights, and that his behavior and statements are antithetical to our vision of a compassionate society. There is more to mindfulness, for example, that counting your breaths–mindfulness is a tool that can also help you to understand and counter your kneejerk prejudices. There’s more to compassion than pity–compassion must also include real action (and public policy) to alleviate human suffering. Empathy is an essential attribute to political discourse; we are not on the same page with those who try to diminish empathy for other human beings. Many Republican leaders–most recently Mitt Romney, at this writing–agree. Trump has become a non-partisan issue. My own, personal feeling is that we all have an extraordinary responsibility to speak out against his campaign. At a minimum, we need to tell the truth about what is happening, and not pretend that everything is fine or ordinary.

    • I’m glad you raised these points, because they’re critical. The factors you mention hurt everyone; they’ve hurt my family, that’s for sure. And everyone benefits when we address, for example, the cost of housing. But the question we need to ask ourselves is this: Who gets hurt the most, and why? We know, as an empirical fact, that whites makes more money and have more wealth than Asians who make more and have more than Latinos who have more and make more than African-Americans. That’s what I mean when I write that poverty is racialized. It’s not an accident that African Americans in the Bay Area make, on average, the least amount of money–and are more vulnerable than the average European American to the problems you mention.

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