It is only natural that in the wake of this historic, shocking presidential election, stunned leftists should ask what went wrong. For many of us, a Trump presidency represents the destruction of political life, of national community, as we knew it. Many of us say we are not surprised. I speak for myself, however, when I confess that I was floored. I never imagined that my fellow Americans would vote to disown me. It takes tremendous love of country to end up this heartbroken.
To make sense of this stunning upset, many of my leftist friends instinctively look inwards. “We failed the white rural and working classes,” they say. They devour mountains of think-pieces about the Democratic party’s slow but steady estrangement from its old base. They criticize the application of reductive labels like “racist” or “xenophobic” to Trump supporters, urging reconciliation. They fire steely accusations at leftists of color, claiming that our “elite” struggles against racism deepened the rift between poor whites and the Democratic Party. Never mind that Trump won with the support of educated and wealthy whites. Now that our former countrymen have elected a fascist bigot, minorities are expected to extend a whole olive tree.
Fellow leftists of color: resist the temptation to blame yourselves. White liberals: hold the phone. To all of who urge greater empathy with disenfranchised rural working-class whites instead of condemnation in the wake of this presidential election: I agree — but with two caveats.
Whiteness is not carte blanche to support racism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and fascism. Whiteness is not a free pass to threaten the existence of our shared republic. And to ignore why disenfranchised white voters chose to vote against the interests of disenfranchised Black, Latinx, Muslim and other marginalized voters — instead of joining us in a coalition — is to excuse and deny the politics of white supremacy.
Disenfranchised communities of color do not bargain away the humanity of others for political advantage. Black Lives Matter seeks equal protection of the law for Black Americans. The water protectors at Standing Rock seek basic respect for their sovereignty and personhood. In short, we all seek the rights white Americans, even the economically marginalized, take for granted. We seek our due. As minorities we are vulnerable, so we work together. Lacking a political party to champion our cause, we tolerate the ambivalent embrace of the Democratic Party and organize on our own terms, rising and falling on the inclusivity of our political ideals.
Our defensive appeals for inclusion are met with brutality and political marginalization, while the victorious, aggressive visions of disenfranchised right-wing white voters are met with calls for self-reflection and empathy from the left.
White Democrats who call for reconciliation with disillusioned white voters while taking the continued exploitation of Black, Latinx, Native and Muslim voters for granted may be politically savvy, but they are either misguided or morally bankrupt. Their angry denunciations of POC frustration with Trump supporters perpetuate a double standard in which destructive white anger is more valid than the inclusive aspirations and loyal votes of POC. Well-meaning, racially oblivious, unity-seeking white Democrats refuse to recognize why disenfranchised POC voters embraced unity, while their white counterparts voted for an unabashed bigot.
“They’re isolated!” white Democrats insist. Certainly. In this age of segregation, so is everyone else. “They’ve been forgotten!” — again, still true. The difference between disenfranchised minority voters and disenfranchised white voters is that white supremacy is powerful enough to convince rural or working-class white voters that their interests are tied to the interests of economically sadistic white elites like Donald Trump — even when the Trump candidacy became a byword for danger, violence and hate. The age-old fault line of race, mobilized from Bacon’s Rebellion to the present to quash the possibility of poor white-disenfranchised Black solidarity, has been mobilized again. A majority of white women have voted for a rapist. Poor whites have voted for a card-carrying member of the dreaded “elite.” White voters are numerous enough to thrust this vision to victory without the consent of anyone else, while their perceived enemy — those Other Americans — have never been. (We may soon be.)
Empathy is important, and as an unapologetic opponent of global capitalist exploitation and the daughter of immigrants from rural, agricultural communities, I would like more than anything to join forces with disenfranchised white voters against the power of white supremacy that deceives and divides us. But when white liberals use the plight of disenfranchised whites to silence the legitimate concerns of people of color within their own party — when they insist on perpetuating a double standard in which disenfranchised white voters deserve empathy, while disenfranchised Americans of color deserve recrimination — that’s white supremacist apologism.
Alejandra Padin-Dujon is a junior in Davenport College and formerly served as editor in chief of DOWN Magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .