By Dr. Christopher Metzler
Barack Obama’s meteoric rise has caused joy for some, dismay for others and racial repellency for some Whites. Among those who are both overjoyed and nauseated at the same time are White supremacists and other hate groups. “I haven’t seen this much anger in a long, long time,” Russellville, Arkansas’ Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution, told The Washington Post in a story about the rise of hate group activity on the Internet. “Nothing has awakened normally complacent White Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly non-White president,” adds Roper.
The Internet provides the opportunity for these groups and their supporters to “gather” and exchange vitriol about a potential Obama presidency. Stormfront.org constantly rails against Obama, even comparing him to the anti-Christ. So, what is it about Obama’s rise that has caused a corresponding rise in hate by these groups? There are at least three things.
First, Blacks have always been “othered” in American culture. So, many Americans still see us as being less than human. Second, many of the people who flock to these sites to address their views on race have long accepted the mantra that “You may be poor, you may be unemployed, you may be uneducated, but at least you are White.” Third, many in these groups believe that an Obama presidency would mean that Whites will become “the emerging minority.” Realizing how they have treated Blacks, they would not want Blacks to treat them as “The New Negros.”
Since the days of slavery, to the present, Blacks have been largely treated as outside of the mainstream of America. Further, Blacks have been portrayed as lazy, ignorant, vile and base by individuals and institutions such as the courts, the police and the media. This has been done largely to ensure that we are seen as so different from the “norm” of civilized American society that racism and discrimination are justified. After all, what “normal” White person would want to associate with people who are morally, intellectually and socially inferior? This creation of a stable other has served to concretize White as superior and Black as inferior. Since White is the ideal, and Blacks can never become White, Blacks are relegated to the static and permanent “other” — to be feared, marginalized and excluded. Obama’s rise as the presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee challenges this racial “logic” in ways that unnerve the people who patronize the Web sites of which I write. In their view, despite his multiracial heritage, Obama is still the much feared Black “other.” His election to the presidency would serve as a symbol that “othering” has lost its currency. The result will be a paradigmatic shift that will turn White supremacy on its veritable head. Their job then is to gather in this virtual space and let Whites know that an Obama presidency would mean that White supremacy has lost its luster. To them, Obama’s rise is an indication that the bell tolls with increasingly jarring tones for thee.
Many of my colleagues have written extensively about Whiteness as property. According to Professor Cheryl Harris, “Whiteness has functioned as self-identity in the domain of the intrinsic, personal, and psychological; as reputation in the interstices between internal and external identity; and, as property in the extrinsic, public, and legal realms. According Whiteness actual legal status converted an aspect of identity into an external object of property, moving Whiteness from privileged identity to a vested interest.” Given the prominence of Whiteness as “property” in all aspects of American life, the mere thought of Obama in the White House means, according to the racialized thinking of these White supremacist aficionados, that like the current foreclosure crisis in America, they will lose the sanctity of their house of Whiteness and see a rise in Blackness as property. Of course, this argument is simply droll.
The election of a Black person to the Presidency of the United States, without more, cannot and will not mean that the proprietary nature of Whiteness, which has been enshrined in every social, political and legal institution in the United States, will simply vanish. In fact, some Whites will point to Obama’s election, should it happen, as evidence that America has finally resolved the race question. Fear not White supremacists, there will be no wholesale plan by an Obama administration to establish a “Secretary for the Dismantling of Whiteness” or a “Secretary for the Elevation of Blackness.” Black Supremacy shall not reign anew.
Among the claims on the racist anti-Obama Web sites are the following: “Hewill make things so bad for White people that hopefully they will finally realize how stupid they were for admiring these jigaboos all these years,” White Supremacist stalwart “Darthvader” wrote on the neo-Nazi Vanguard News Network Web forum, “I believe in the motto ‘Worse is Better’ and Obama certainly fits that description.” J. Ron Doggett, a Virginian who has been a key activist in the Klan, the paramilitary White People’s Party and the neo-Nazi National Alliance, wrote, “I hope Obama wins because in four years, White people just might be pissed off enough to actually do something. … White people aren’t going to do a thing until their toys are taken away from them. So things have to be worse for things to be better.” Of course, the “toys” he speaks of include power, position and access to opportunity that he and others believe is a birthright given to Whites and denied Blacks.
Some even claim that Obama’s “yes we can” mantra translates into “yes we can kill all of the White people.” This simply proves that some Whites fear that an Obama presidency would mean that they will be relegated to the status of a mere Negro. For these Whites, this is a fate worse than death in a country which entitles them to privilege based solely on the color of their skin.
In the Civil Rights Cases, the Supreme Court of the United States held that the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which provided that “all persons within the jurisdiction of the United States of the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement; subject only to the conditions and limitations established by law, and applicable alike to citizens of every race and color, regardless of any previous condition of servitude” was unconstitutional. The majority went on to say that “when a man has emerged from slavery, and by the aid of beneficent legislation has shaken off the inseparable concomitants of that state, there must be some stage in the progress of his elevation when he takes the rank of a mere citizen, and ceases to be the special favorite of the laws, and when his rights as a citizen, or a man, are to be protected in the ordinary modes by which other men’s rights are protected.” (Emphasis added)
A review of the discussions on the aforementioned Web sites suggests that the fear of the Whites who are threatened by a potential Obama presidency is that they will lose their most favored status that has been granted them for oh so many centuries. This means that their rights would have to be protected to the same extent as “the ordinary Black person.” Thus, they would be subjected to racial profiling, redlining, discrimination in employment and always being the “suspect” on the 6 O’Clock News. The thought of being “The New Negroes” is just too much to take.
Dr. Christopher Metzler is Associate Dean at Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies and the author of a forthcoming book, “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a Post Racial America (August, 2008).