White Fragility and Politics of the Blood

Josh Marshall (boldface mine):

The most dangerous uprising that’s threatening America’s stability isn’t black protests in places like Ferguson or Baltimore. It’s taking place among an aging white majority that is losing its bearing on reality and destroying the gears of government, media and public welfare. At its center is an inexplicable, illogical and dangerous fear that some sociologists are now defining as white fragility….

Conservative callers were predicting the end of democracy, how 2008 might be the last election ever held in America, how the economy was going to be destroyed. In some exchanges the radio host egged on the callers’ conspiracies, while other times he warned listeners to be afraid: Taxes were going to skyrocket for the average working family, gas prices would climb. Rush Limbaugh encouraged everyone to start referring to the economic blight rendered by President George W. Bush’s administration as ‘the Obama economy.” And so they did. He proposed that all the issues in Iraq and Afghanistan were now Obama’s fault. And so they are. He predicted the end of American dream. And so they have worked to see the fulfillment of their prophecy.

These callers were borderline hysterical. Even though I couldn’t see what they looked like, I could make a safe guess as to the age and race of the average listener. As I sat in my rental car listening to the unfolding audio riot of an aging generation, it felt like I was at an unveiling of some absurdly humorous and horrific performance art piece. I was watching the polite mask fall away from a hateful, illogical and destructive mindset that has thrived for hundreds of years and is still going strong today: white fragility.

White fragility is a termed coined by Robin DiAngelo, an associate professor of education at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. In her 2011 academic pedagogical analysis titled “White Fragility,” DiAngelo goes into a detailed explanation of how white people in North America live in insulated social and media spaces that protect them from any race-based stress. This privileged fragility leaves them unable to tolerate any schism or challenge to a universally accepted belief system. Any shift away from that (like a biracial African-American president) triggers a deep and sustaining panic. Racial segregation, disproportionate representation in the media, and many other factors serve as the columns that support white fragility. Professor DiAngelo said she came up with the term when she was a diversity trainer for the state of Washington.

We called this “Palinism” in 2009 (boldface added):

While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.”… In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?

In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas)… It’s also romantic: it invokes a noble stand on behalf of the oppressed (as ridiculous as that is in an overwhelmingly Christian country).

But that romanticism is at the heart of Palinism. It’s not a forward-looking utopianism, but a desire to return to a mythical, halcyon America that was Christian, low-tax, small government, and had less racial and ethnic discord (the latter is the most absurd, but, if you were white, there weren’t racial problems: you were white–no problems!). This vision has not existed for decades, if at all, but it is a predictable reaction to the loss of primus inter pares status of Christian whites; they are no longer the default setting.

What’s potentially dangerous about Palinism is that it is not the usual form of ‘identity politics.’ …What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group. This isn’t ‘old-school’ identity politics–getting a fair share; even if we disagree about the amount of shares and methods, traditional identity politics are not marginalist. There is a disconcerting streak of marginalization of the Other…

One of several successful cons movement conservatives have pulled is the idea that they do not engage in identity politics, when, in fact, the essence of modern movement conservatism is the lowest, nastiest form of identity politics.

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2 Responses to White Fragility and Politics of the Blood

  1. domesticharmony
    domesticharmony says:

    Why Palinism? Why not Huckabeism, Santoriumism, Peter Kingism, Trumpism, McCainism? Palin is actually an outlier. This is white, MALE fragility. Real men keep their women barefoot and pregnant (Duggerism?)

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