Three days ago, at the end of the agonizing political shit show that was the 2016 RNC, Connie Schultz posted a really insightful analysis of the convention titled “RNC Message: Be Very Afraid.”
The gist of the convention, and Trump’s platform, are captured plainly and rather perfectly in the following lines from the article:
The Republican Party of Trump wants us to fear the other.
If we’re straight, we should fear the LGBT community.
If we’re working-class, we should fear the poor.
If we’re white, we should fear African-Americans.
If we speak English, we should fear anyone who speaks with a foreign accent, which is any accent that doesn’t sound like ours.
We should fear Muslims, all of them, always.
In Trump’s world, we should fear anyone who is not like us . . .
As you can see, Schultz writes from the first-person plural in her article (“we”); she writes as a white women speaking to other white people about this “problem” they’re experiencing–this presidential candidate whose disastrous ascendancy they have facilitated.
Under other circumstances this would be exclusionary, but, in this circumstance, it’s correct; she’s right to extrapolate from the point-of-view of the “average” white American.
Because the “average” white American is Trump’s target demographic. He’s not pitching a “restored” America to educated and affluent whites because they haven’t experienced any significant losses in jobs, wages, political power, or social position in the last 16 years. They don’t need to get back to a time when they could live more decent lives. They never stopped living decent lives, despite George W. Bush’s abysmal failures as President or Obama’s attempts to fix Bush’s mistakes (no matter what the GOP may say).
No, Trump is promising poor, disprivileged whites that he will give them back the money and power they’ve lost over the last 16 years while at the same time convincing them that they lost this money and power to blacks and Mexicans and not the educated and affluent white men (like him) that actually run the country and make and move around the jobs and money.
Trump is distracting poor, disprivileged whites from the truth about the oppressive economic and class structure of America–from which he benefits just as much as any other member of the 2%–with wild, bigoted claims about blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims and their fanaticism, xenophobia, anti-whiteness, and criminality.
Not to mention his homophobic and misogynist rhetoric about how “progressives” are ruining the so-called moral fabric of this country, making it ripe for minorities, immigrants, and terrorists to “take over.”
Trump’s brand of bullshit works because the whites that he is targeting are afraid; they were already afraid, before he even began to campaign for President.
They heard experts predicting, throughout the aughts, the loss of their racial majority status by 2050; they witnessed 9-11 and the loss of America’s status as the ultimate superpower; they watched as a black man became President, and they panicked.
They became terrified of where they would end up in the hierarchy as the 21st century progressed past the paradigms of the 20th century.
The root of white people’s fear lies in the fundamental truth about race in America that all whites–and blacks, for that matter–understand, even if they equivocate about it like Trump and other leaders of the GOP:
Whiteness puts them at the top of the societal totem pole.
White people in America understand that the lives that they lead–which are scientifically proven to be more comfortable, more prosperous, healthier, freer, and safer than the lives that most minorities lead–are largely enabled by their whiteness. So threats to the hegemonic (ruling or dominant in a political or social context) status of whiteness make them afraid.
People exaggerating the tenuousness of their hold on hegemony are striking a very raw, newly exposed, nerve in their collective psyche, and people promising to preserve their hold on hegemony are saying exactly what they want to hear: their dominance (which was never really lost) can be restored.
Another reason that white people are cleaving to Trump and GOP conservatives and their vows to build walls and ban immigrants and blah, blah, blah is–due to their conditioning as part of the privileged class–they feel entitled.
They believe the Constitution, under the guise of “freedom,” guarantees them lives that are not marked by fear, which is why fear can have such a profoundly negative effect on them.
And this is where I want to enter the discussion–where Connie Schultz essentially ducks out. “A leader reminds us who we are — and inspires us to try harder” she says at the end of her article. She gives this mild rebuke, and then she’s done. “Try harder”–and that’s all.
She doesn’t say who exactly might be a more fit leader for Trump’s followers or define what it would mean for white people falling victim to Trump’s rhetoric to “try harder.”
So I will.
This is actually a perfect place for me–a black woman–to take up the conversation because I am a fucking expert in fear.
So here is what I have to say to Trump, his followers, and all the other Rpublican fools that are letting fear lead them in a movement that just might occasion the toppling of our constitutional democracy, at least in terms of our civil liberties. About fear.
I wake up every day in the guest room of my parents’ suburban house. I don’t have my own place because there are only about four really good school systems in Northeast Ohio, and I can’t afford to live in any of them working as an adjunct English instructor. Now, I’m afraid of what I am teaching my daughter about dependency and the scope of her future as a black woman in America by living with my parents as a 40-year-old, but I am also afraid to live in a more affordable neighborhood where my daughter would go to lesser schools. I am afraid of what will happen to her when it’s time to apply for college–as a black female–without a high-quality grade school education and all of the extra opportunities that she receives as a part of an affluent school system. So I stay here. I contend with my fears.
I work two or three part-time jobs at a time to pay for my car, insurance, food, clothes, gas, and other expenditures. I don’t have a full-time job, not because I don’t want one, but because universities across the board have cut back on full-time teaching positions (it is cheaper for them to hire part-time, contingent instructors for which they don’t have to provide medical, life insurance, or disability coverage). This means that at the start of every semester I have to wait to see whether any of the colleges with which I am affiliated have classes for me to teach. Every semester, I am afraid that I will get no classes and make no money. I am afraid that if my parents, who are nearing 65, lose their jobs or die in the next few years (God forbid), my daughter and I will starve. I am especially afraid of the ramifications of my poverty now because of the GOP and all its promises to cut back on SNAP and other government benefits for disadvantaged people. But I contend with my fear.
I don’t deal passively with my employment situation, either; I look for full-time work, but as an English MA with more than 10 years of experience teaching, it’s all I’m really qualified to do. I already owe the government over $100,000 in loans for the education I’ve already obtained, so I don’t want to go back to school. I’m afraid to take out more loans, increase my debt, and face the same scarcity of jobs afterward. So I keep working as an adjunct and looking for full-time work in a tight market. I contend with my fears that I will always be living and working hand-to-mouth, and I will never experience the full benefit, in terms of my earnings, of the rigorous education I purchased for myself in my 20s.
Or pay back all those fucking loans I used to purchase said education.
I have a fiancé, father, future brother-in-law, and gang of black male friends whose safety I fear for daily. Northeast Ohio doesn’t have the best history when it comes to police harassment and brutality, and several of the men in my life have been victims of both. They are lucky to be alive, but their luck can give out at any time in dealing with law enforcement. I know this, yet I love them anyway. I contend with my fear for their lives.
I am a woman. I could be the victim of a sexual assault at any time. One in six women in America has been sexually assaulted. One in five black women in America has been sexually assaulted. This is my reality, yet I don’t lock myself in the house. I don’t own a gun (most people that own guns are killed by guns). I don’t hate men. I contend with my fear.
On top of all of this, I am an American. Anything that happens to America as a whole happens to me. If the stock market crashes, I am affected. If a pandemic breaks out, I could be infected just like anyone else. If there is a mass shooting, I could be shot or killed. If there is a massive terrorist attack, same thing. If there is a horrible natural disaster, I could lose everything I have, or be injured or killed as a result. Yet, I don’t commit suicide or move away from this crazy country I call home. I contend with my fear.
I am a consumer that doesn’t know whether the companies that sell my food, prescriptions, beauty products, shit, even my bottled water and moisturizing eye drops are telling me the truth about the “safety” of all these things or just lying to me so I will continue to buy from them until I finally do drop dead from toxicity. I am afraid, in a very vague way, of everything I put in and on my body. But I won’t starve or walk around naked or reeking. I contend with my fears. I eat, wear the underwire bras, and wash my ass and pray that I’m not poisoning myself any more than the pollution and unabated sun rays already do.
I am not a superhero. I am not a soldier. I am not exceptional in any way except perhaps my talent for writing (smile). I bleed blood like any other human being, and I cry tears, and I have an expiration date. I’m not a machine or animal. I’m not a queen or beast or boss or any of that other gimmicky shit people say.
I am a black woman, as I said, living in America. Trying to make a living in America. Trying to have a life.
I am not inherently better equipped to handle the exigencies of being a person just because there are a surplus of exigencies, as a black person, as a poor person, as a woman, for me to handle.
So handling these fears that I have–these logical, and, in a few cases, unavoidable, fears–is fundamentally a feat of strength, character, and integrity.
It’s a feat of spirituality, desire, forbearance, and attitude.
But I do it.
I don’t victimize or exploit other people to make up for the things I am missing. I don’t abuse people to feel better about myself and my situation. I don’t roll my shit downhill onto others.
I refuse to because I don’t want to–I want to be decent and contribute positively to the world and the lives of those around me–and, also, I am wise enough to know that even if I did displace my fears onto others, that wouldn’t actually remove any of the threats or uncertainties from my life.
The irony of white supremacy is that white people that believe in their supposed superiority are always touting their intellect, morality, facility, integrity–their bravery.
Yet, when they are put in situations where these characteristics should “kick in” and keep them from devolving into weakness, they rarely do.
I’m not going to be the asshole that says, well, if you’re so much better than everybody else, followers of Trump, then prove it. Get off the whole “fear” thing and cope like the rest of us.
But I will say this.
Everyone in America is afraid of what will happen to them as the century progresses. Everyone.
Only white people have their whiteness to cushion whatever fall they may take.
None of the rest of us have anything as powerful or dependable as that.
Yet, we contend with our fears.
You don’t see black people or Latinx people or LGBTQIA+ people or American Muslims talking about building walls.
Only cowards hole up in times of fear.
Leaders (right?) try harder.
Being afraid is debilitating. It clouds out joy and blocks pleasure. It leeches the meaning from life, and it can even ruin something as divine as love.
But if it’s good enough for all the rest of us, Trump followers, then it’s good enough for you.
You’re no more American than the rest of us. We’re in this thing together. This ship goes down, and we all sink.
So if you can’t fathom how you will survive, living in perpetual fear, just watch the rest of us.
Minorities in this country live in fear of people like you–that seek to thwart us in every possible way–every day, and we survive.
We come up with creative and edifying ways to convert and use our fear. We use it as fuel to make better lives despite all of the obstacles and hardships we face.
You can, too.
You can live with fear, and fight fear, without making an absolute mess of the country or continually scapegoating Others (the capital-O is intentional).
“It can feel easier to believe the worst about our world–and rely on someone else to save us–than to take charge of our own lives,” as Connie Schultz says, but “anyone can conquer fear by doing the things he fears to do,” according to Eleanor Roosevelt.
Stop trying to hobble others to ensure that you remain in front.
Be braver than that.
Accept that creating prosperity, safety, health, and freedom for all people will make the entire country more livable, and that will unpreventably include you.