The white supremacy that fuels white supremacy has always been a central part of the mythos of whiteness.
Even today, as the Black Lives Matter movement has taken over the US, the “race card” continues to play a central role in whiteness discourse.
But the history of race and whiteness has also had a role in defining the boundaries of what is acceptable and what isn’t.
“I would say that the most salient piece of the narrative of whitness that we’re dealing with today is the idea of whitening,” says Rachel A. Brown, a scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles who has studied race and white supremacy for the past 20 years.
This idea, Brown says, is that the very essence of whiting, the idea that white people have always had a superior way of life, is somehow tainted or diminished by the rise of Black people.
And because of that, the white gaze is supposed to be the only valid one.
As a result, Brown explains, “white people have a sense that they can say, ‘I don’t want to be in that community, I don’t know about you, but I don’ want to interact with Black people.'”
In the aftermath of Trump’s election, Brown was one of the first researchers to look at how Trump voters viewed race, gender, class, and sexual orientation in the aftermath.
“The most telling piece of evidence that I’ve found is that white Trump voters are the ones who have the most negative perceptions of race,” she says.
“In the general population, a white person is viewed as more of a person of color than a Black person, so they have a harder time coming to terms with that.”
For example, Trump voters were more likely to say that Blacks were not as intelligent, experienced in business, and experienced in social justice than were white Trump supporters.
Similarly, a recent Pew Research Center study found that a majority of Trump voters believe that Black people are not as smart or experienced in politics as white people, and that their children have lower IQs than white children.
But while many white Americans might view black people negatively, Brown notes that the racial makeup of Trump supporters is not the same as white Americans themselves.
“White people have never really been the most privileged, because there was never this sense of a white-on-black-face, white-to-black crisis,” she explains.
And while Trump’s victory in the 2016 election has brought racial tensions to the fore, it has also left many white people with the impression that white supremacy is still a part of America.
“Trump supporters were not really looking for anything that challenged their idea of what America is supposed for,” Brown says.
Instead, they’re focusing on Trump as an exemplar of the way white people can “self-identify.”
But there are other parts of whitestrism that remain untouched by this transformation.
In 2016, Brown also wrote a book about whiteness called White Supremacy: How America’s Most Elite Group Is Racist and the Myth of Whiteness, which explored the intersection of whitewashing and white privilege.
“A lot of the time, people think of whitethat’s just the norm, and they’re not actually part of this system that is being challenged,” Brown notes.
In the book, Brown argued that whiteness was a social construct, that white Americans have always been defined by their race, and white people were not always in control of the process of whitifying.
“Whiteness is an ideological construct that’s not only perpetuated by white people,” she tells me.
“There’s a long history of this, but this idea that you can’t be white, you’re just a white guy or you’re not a white man, that’s a very big part of whitenethat, as a way of talking about race.”
As a part-time student in the 1960s, Brown lived in Chicago with other black people who would refer to themselves as “white devils,” a derogatory term that refers to people who live in a way that denies their humanity and identity.
Brown says that her experience was an eye-opening experience.
“It was really difficult to understand what I was seeing,” she recalls.
“So when I started reading up on whiteness and what was going on in Chicago in the early 1960s that I was exposed to, it made me realize that this was not just an urban problem.”
“I think there’s a kind of racism at work here,” she continues.
“That there are some white people who are so deeply, deeply embedded in this system, and are not willing to see it come apart.”
She thinks that in this way, whiteness can be a tool of power.
“We’re all living within this system of whitelist whiteness,” she argues.
“If you look at it from that point of view, then, yes, it’s a racist system.
It’s a system that makes it impossible