Whether it be individual psychology, sociology, religion, or politics, identity formation is so fundamental to all of our human interactions. What we saw in Charlottesville is the expression of racial identity formation. White privilege versus true equality and equity. How are we to interpret these events? How can we make reason of the perpetuation of militant White extremism in the wealthiest nation on Earth?
I start with Occam’s Razor. Occam’s Razor is such a gift to logic and reason; Occam stated almost a thousand years ago that the simplest explanation is most often the actual explanation. What percentage of women were at the White Supremacist rally in Charlottesville this past weekend? How many first or second-generation Americans?
What we have is a sociological situation in which multi-generational Caucasian American males feel that something is fundamentally unfair, that the sand has shifted beneath their feet. And they are right; economic factors have shifted, and not in their favor. Those factors are automation, international trade, increased female participation in the workforce, and the increased chasm of compensation between the lowest paid employee in a corporation and the CEO.
Historically, this phenomenon is rooted in the Southern white male experience. As described in Thandeka’s book, Learning to be White (2000), there is a historical and artificial division between the white and non-white lower/middle classes. The Southern elites used racial stratification to instill a superiority complex in lower/middle class whites to distract from the economic stratification of the colonial and antebellum South. This continues to pervade our racial interpretation of class, economics, and status. And as the great factories of the North have oxidized into the Rust Belt, that mentality has migrated north as well.
And combined with this, in my opinion, in the mutt-ification and alienation of Anglo-Saxon and German Americans. It is my opinion that there is a deep-seeded sense of alienation among poor Anglo-Saxons who look at the nationalistic fervor of Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans, etc., and wonder… why not me, why not us? These same WASP males look at immigrant populations, particularly Mexican-Americans who have maintained their culture/language and even the contrived celebration of Cinco de Mayo, and wonder… why not me, why not us?
Immigrant Catholic Latinos, Sikhs and Hindus from India and Pakistan, Muslim refugees, and warped perceptions of Affirmative Action…. and disenfranchised white males wonder… why not me, why not us? “Wasn’t this a Christian (Protestant) nation? Remember Antebellum and the 1950s, ‘we’ didn’t have all these problems… A purported Chicken in Every Pot and a Car in Every Garage (apologies to FDR) … and many Anglo-Saxon Christians wonder… why not me, why not us?”
In Ohio, before WWI, Cincinnati had daily newspapers in German. In fact, German-Americans still make up a plurality of the US population demographically; most Americans are German. And Germans and Irish immigration waves entered the US at approximately the same time. But now, after two World Wars, who flies German flags in their front yards? Each St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is an Irishman, but when are we all German-Americans? And many multi-generational German-Americans wonder… why not me… why not us?
Indeed, many Anglo-Saxon and German Americans do not recognize their ethnicity; they identify as “American,” and see the embracing of ethnic and non-white racial identity as un-American. In homogenous nation-states, to the extent they even exist anymore, it is easier to see economics in class terminology, but here? In America, the great classless society, where everyone from the store manager to the CEO is “middle-class,” how can we see the economic realities of the New Jerusalem? In the America that was established not as a social ‘revolution,’ but as a conservative reaction to the threat to wealth, in the America that annexed the Mexican Cession to further the expansion of slavery, in the America that pointed its White Fleet guns at Japan, Opened Doors in China, and took the Philippines from Spanish-speaking Catholics… how can we NOT see economics in racial terms?
Only four of the Fortune 500 companies have an African-American CEO, and 43 of the 44 US Presidents have been Caucasian (remember Grover Cleveland counts as both the 22nd and 24th US President). So, given the racially-charged history of the United States, how does a multi-generational Anglo-Saxon or German American male look himself in the mirror and understand why he too is not a CEO or the President of the United States. “Why Alice, I oughta, one of these days! POW!”
And there you have it. In a culture in which females traditionally have measured their self-worth through family and relationships, and males have judged each other by “bringing home the bacon,” many Anglo-Saxons and German-Americans wonder… why not me… why not us?
They wonder, whatever did happen to the American Dream? “Did I do something wrong? I don’t think so; it must have been taken from me… you know… by those people who look different….”
As globalization came to China in the late 1800s, some Chinese resisted in what became known as the Boxer Rebellion. Westerners called the anti-immigrant nationalists shadow boxers for the shadow boxing techniques of the nativist movement. The nomenclature, shadow boxing, has lasted much longer than their rebellion against globalization. And that’s precisely what this new rise of the angry White Male Christian is, it is a movement of shadow boxers angrily fighting for a privilege that is not morally theirs, against an enemy that doesn’t exist, while Palpatine fuels their fire and consolidates wealthy and power with his national and international oligarchs.
These are the angry white males from Charlottesville. Personally, I neither agree, nor condone the hatred and violence that they have readily accepted. I reject their self-described victimization and jingoist perceptions of history, but I understand them. I understand, and feel, their pain. They are shadow boxing a phantom menace that they neither see, nor understand. And they collectively killed Heather Heyer. They killed those two State Troopers as true as if they had swiped their helicopter out of the sky themselves. They have killed.
We can kill too. Or we can stand in solidarity with the spirit of Heather Heyer, with the spirit of MLK, Caesar Chavez, Susan B. Anthony, and Chief Joseph. We too can turn the other cheek. We too can love our enemy as our brother…. We too shall overcome.