Global and National Political Discourses around White Supremacy and Their Influence on How We View Racial Diversity
The economic foundation of the United States was built by the sacrifice, toil, and labor of immigrants who arrived in this nation either seeking asylum from oppression or in search of the American Dream, and of course Africans who were enslaved and brought to the country involuntarily. However, when politicians like Trump and former President Reagan use the phrase “Make America Great Again” they are not referring to populations indigenous to America such as Native American, Alaska Native, Chicanx and Mexican-Americans, or the history of ethnic immigrants who also represent a foundational fabric of our nation. Instead, there is a collective pining for an America that is rooted in our white colonial past and present, white supremacy, and a white mythology about what it means to be an American who aspires to ascend the racial hierarchy to whiteness (see Kendi, 2016; Omi & Winant, 2015).
This constant barrage of white folklore comes directly from the mouths of our elected officials. For example, Trump’s comments on the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 when he claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides” and there are “two sides to a story” in terms of who is to blame, plus the numerous times he has publicly called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and used derogatory language when describing immigrants from African countries or origins. Now, with the rise of social media, white folklore is easily consumed and then passed on in conversations amongst family members, friends, and neighbors. Thus, our national, and even global political spectacles like Brexit, the rise of white nationalism in Europe, and attacks on Jewish and Islamic places of worship in the U.S. and even New Zealand, mean that our collective responses to the diversifying of our communities is rooted in xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and white resentment and fear of losing out to diversity.
In our previous research we called district and school communities’ responses to becoming increasingly diverse ‘colorblindness’ (see Welton et al., 2015), for which our now preferred term is ‘colorevasiveness’. However, even color-evasiveness may constitute terminology that is too sanitized to describe our current sociopolitical context where the structures and policies serving racism seem very intentional (see Kendi, 2016). Although Trump continues to use very overtly racist sentiments and political spin to push his nationalist agenda, this rising tide of intentional racism was gaining traction prior to his election, and even had a stronghold during the supposed “post-racial” historical moment when we elected our first Black president.
For example, in our research on a racially diversifying suburban school district in the San Antonio, Texas metropolitan area, data which we collected during Obama’s first term as president, central office leaders spoke of how the Tea Party movement was gaining traction in their community and had significant influence on the racial discourse and politics among some of the white residents in their district (Holme, Welton, & Diem, 2012). The Tea Party sees itself as a grassroots movement that safeguards free-market ideals like anti-tax, anti-government, and anti-regulation. And although this movement had been in the making since the early 1990s, it officially came to the fore during Obama’s first presidential term (Nesbit, 2016).
It is said that even Obama’s speeches during his presidency appealed to whiteness by publicly admonishing Blacks (Haney-Lopez, 2014), like in the unveiling of his My Brother’s Keeper initiative where he used language that seemed to blame young men of color for the racial oppression they face, but did not point enough blame towards how social and education systems have failed them (Welton & Diem, 2016). Thus, white supremacy is a bipartisan phenomenon, as leaders across the political spectrum have contributed to its maintenance. In education policy we are grappling with how to eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline and dehumanizing ways in which we discipline Black and Brown children in schools (see Crenshaw, Ocen, Nanda, & Carranza, 2015; Morris, 2016). And it can only be assumed that educators’ punitive actions towards Black and Brown youth in the classroom can be linked to our policing of Black and Brown bodies nationally, starting with former President Clinton’s support of the federal “three strikes” law that increased incarceration rates in the U.S. Clinton also cut social welfare programs like the Aid to Families with Dependent Children to publicly demonstrate that he was getting tough on African Americans (i.e., “welfare queens”) dependent upon government assistance (Haney-Lopez, 2014). Thus, we have never had a post-racial moment in the political sphere, and so an undercurrent of white supremacy has always remained a fixture in our American policy consciousness. Given how racially minoritized groups are debased in American political discourse, it is inevitable that these racist views are constructing how educators and other local school actors view and address the diversifying of their communities.