For the first time in my life, my family and I are leaving town for Thanksgiving (details of which will follow). Because it’s a smaller group, I predict no arguments about kneeling football players, Harvey Weinstein, Hillary Clinton and uranium, or Roy Moore. Alas, I can’t say the same for the rest of you.
One of the paradoxes of Cuban experience is the vehemence with which we identify as white despite the U.S. Census declaring otherwise. I knew parents of friends who checked off “white” on the census or when forced to write “other” wrote “Cuban.” Essentialism also gets sprinkled in this broth. Woe be the relative or family friend whose eyes are almond-shaped: he is called, affectionately, el chino. You are what you look like. If you look white, you are white. Acting white matters too. To be white and Cuban is to reject behavior that would inspire a scowl from abuela. It isn’t that you have “class” — it’s that the non-whites lack it. It isn’t that you’re sophisticated — it’s that the non-whites, poor things, can’t help their vulgarity. Exceptions are common, especially if the non-whites were nannies, neighbors of your great grandmother’s in Olguin, or movie stars.
An continuation of fine work by The New Yorker‘s Peter Hessler’s fine work unearthing the unfettered racism animating Donald Trump overs, Adam Serwer’s Atlantic story contextualizes his reporting with history: the candidacies of David Duke and George Wallace, the birtherism phenomenon. This passage struck me:
Trump’s great political insight was that Obama’s time in office inflicted a profound psychological wound on many white Americans, one that he could remedy by adopting the false narrative that placed the first black president outside the bounds of American citizenship. He intuited that Obama’s presence in the White House decreased the value of what W. E. B. Du Bois described as the “psychological wage” of whiteness across all classes of white Americans, and that the path to their hearts lay in invoking a bygone past when this affront had not, and could not, take place.
Although Trump voters understand that “the president’s policies and rhetoric target religious and ethnic minorities, and behave accordingly,” Serwer writes, they stop short of calling these policies racist. Racism has nothing to do with endorsing Muslim bans or believing that statues of Confederate traitors should remain in place as a tribute to history. To be a racist is to endorse lynchings, use the n word, or never to invite a Mexican to your home — evils, radical and banal, unlikely to happen in a suburb. Violence, devoid of ambiguity, that offends liberty and affects property is the only racist act. Serwer even addresses an argument I’ve heard from Beltway hacks since last November: you can’t be racist and have voted for Barack Obama, the sort of balderdash peddled by the same voters who loved their black nannies and boast of their many black friends.
“For centuries, capital’s most potent wedge against labor in America has been the belief that it is better to be poor than to be equal to niggers,” Serwer writes. The rhetoric force of the sentence is attractive. Better to say that the blacks most attractive to the Duke or Trump voter are those who most fit expectations of white class and sophistication.