Roots Of White Rage: America’s Clash Of Class And Race, From The Civil War To The Rise Of Trump

Roots of white rage: America’s clash of class and race, from the Civil War to the rise of Trump.

Salon talks to Keri Leigh Merritt, author of “Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South”

lib­er­als, pro­gres­sives and oth­er dream­ers who want a true democ­ra­cy in America often lament how race and the col­or line have inter­fered with and too often made still­born a uni­fied strug­gle that advances the col­lec­tive inter­ests of all poor and work­ing-class peo­ple in America, and around the world. At present this takes the form of how Bernie Sanders and oth­er lib­er­als bemoan how “iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics” have become too promi­nent on the left and among the Democratic Party. Of course this for­mu­la­tion is impre­cise and myopic: all pol­i­tics is iden­ti­ty pol­i­tics; it is only when black and brown peo­ple as well as gays, les­bians, women, and oth­er mar­gin­al­ized groups orga­nize for their full and equal rights that some­how “pol­i­tics” needs a mod­i­fi­er which dimin­ish­es the legit­i­ma­cy of a giv­en claim on rights and jus­tice.

And there are oth­er obvi­ous com­pli­ca­tions as well. From at least before the found­ing through to the present those Americans who are con­sid­ered “white” have con­sis­tent­ly cho­sen the psy­cho­log­i­cal wages of white­ness over work­ing with black and brown peo­ple to advance shared mate­r­i­al inter­ests.

In the United States, this rid­dle often focus­es on why poor whites in the South and else­where chose to fight for the Southern slaveoc­ra­cy and the trea­so­nous Confederate States of America when as a group they were not made wealthy by the trade, abuse, and mur­der of black human prop­er­ty.

Why did poor whites not ally with black slaves and black free peo­ple to bring down a sys­tem of racial tyran­ny that was also a means for the slave-own­ing plan­ta­tion-indus­tri­al class to wield great pow­er over whites of the low­er class­es? How did the lives of poor whites dif­fer from those of poor blacks, both free and enslaved? What of the per­verse­ly dis­tort­ed view of American chat­tel slav­ery where some­how it was “poor whites” who had it “worse” than black human prop­er­ty? How can this fic­tion be exposed? What type of polit­i­cal work do myths about the South and the Civil War do in a moment of resur­gent white back­lash and white suprema­cy under Donald Trump and the Republican Party?

In an effort to answer these ques­tions I spoke with Keri Leigh Merritt. She is a his­to­ri­an and author of the wide­ly-praised and provoca­tive book “Masterless Men: Poor Whites and Slavery in the Antebellum South.

You are a his­to­ri­an whose schol­ar­ship focus­es on the American South, cul­ture, and the world made by white on black chat­tel slav­ery. You are also a Southerner. There is the oft-cit­ed quote that, “To under­stand the South, you have to under­stand that they’re the only part of the coun­try that lost a war.”

What does “Southern pride” mean in a moment of white rage, when the Republican Party has embraced neo-Confederatism and all the poi­son that comes with it?

When peo­ple are usu­al­ly talk­ing about Southerners, they’re talk­ing about white Southerners. So I want to make that dis­tinc­tion because there is an incred­i­ble lack of will­ing­ness by white Americans, and par­tic­u­lar­ly white Southerners, of deal­ing with the sins of our fore­fa­thers. It is hold­ing us back a great deal. We must con­front what our ances­tors did. The ten­den­cy to cling to Confederate stat­ues and the whole Confederate myth has stemmed I believe large­ly from sheer igno­rance. Most peo­ple don’t know when and how these stat­ues were erect­ed, and most peo­ple do not know under what cir­cum­stances their ances­tor may or may not have fought in the Civil War. Were they forced? Compelled? Did they do it to just earn a wage?

And being thought of in terms of being those Americans who lost the war does put a chip on the shoul­der of white Southerners. Therefore they cling to false nar­ra­tives of the Confederacy.

A huge ques­tion, but one that is cen­tral to your new book: In America how do race and class inter­twine?

Well, it’s a very com­pli­cat­ed rela­tion­ship depend­ing on place and time, and how dif­fer­ent groups of peo­ple nego­ti­ate com­pet­ing inter­ests. But dur­ing times of great eco­nom­ic upheaval, there’s always a chance, a glim­mer of hope for work­ing-class peo­ple and poor peo­ple to band togeth­er across lines of race. At times they do start doing that and then there’s always a big back­lash.

In those moments there is despair and want, but also the kin­ship between peo­ple across the col­or line to achieve some­thing on behalf of work­ing peo­ple.
Read more here: https://​www​.salon​.com/​2​0​1​8​/​0​6​/​1​9​/​r​o​o​t​s​-​o​f​-​w​h​i​t​e​-​r​a​g​e​-​a​m​e​r​i​c​a​s​-​c​l​a​s​h​-​o​f​-​c​l​a​s​s​-​a​n​d​-​r​a​c​e​-​f​r​o​m​-​t​h​e​-​c​i​v​i​l​-​w​a​r​-​t​o​-​t​h​e​-​r​i​s​e​-​o​f​-​t​r​u​mp/