Pulitzer prize-winning and prolific author Toni Morrison has penned an important essay in response to Donald Trump being elected president — as well as to the vile beliefs and violent actions of his supporters — in an effort to explain exactly why he won in the first place.
In her essay, “Mourning for Whiteness,” which was published in The New Yorker, Morrison’s central thesis is simple: Trump won because privileged white people, white men especially, feel threatened by a “rapidly” diversifying United States of America.
“Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force. Here, for many people, the definition of “Americanness” is color,” she begins.
She continues: “Under slave laws, the necessity for color rankings was obvious, but in America today, post-civil rights legislation, white people’s conviction of their natural superiority is being lost. Rapidly lost. There are ‘people of color’ everywhere, threatening to erase this long-understood definition of America. And what then? Another black President? A predominantly black Senate? Three black Supreme Court Justices? The threat is frightening.”
Morrison goes on to explain that white people, whether consciously or subconsciously, fear Black people and otherwise non-white people fighting for and obtaining equality, as this ultimately means losing their superiority. Equality for all is a loss for white people.
Because of this fear, white Americans, “[i]n order to limit the possibility of this untenable change and restore whiteness to its former status as a marker of national identity, a number of white Americans are sacrificing themselves. They have begun to do things they clearly don’t really want to be doing,” Morrison writes. “[T]hey are (1) abandoning their sense of human dignity and (2) risking the appearance of cowardice.”
The cowardice that Morrison writes of is specifically the racism that white Americans allow — and commit — every day: “Much as they may hate their behavior, and know full well how craven it is, they are willing to kill small children attending Sunday school and slaughter churchgoers who invite a white boy to pray. Embarrassing as the obvious display of cowardice must be, they are willing to set fire to churches and to start firing in them while the members are at prayer. And, shameful as such demonstrations of weakness are, they are willing to shoot black children in the street.”
In this particular paragraph Toni Morrison alternates between racially motivated happenings both old and new, from the church bombing in 1963 that killed four young Black girls to Dylann Roof‘s slaughter of nine Black church goers in 2015. Morrison articulates easily just how eerie it is that things have not changed in that time frame.
Morrison continues, saying, “These sacrifices, made by supposedly tough white men who are prepared to abandon their humanity out of fear of black men and women, suggest the true horror of lost status.”
And it is for these reasons — the imminent “collapse of white privilege,” as Morrison calls it — “that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.”
Morrison skillfully illustrates that all white Americans did this, not just rich, not just poor, not just men and not just women — ALL of them:
“On Election Day, how eagerly so many white voters, both the poorly educated and the well educated, embraced the shame and fear sowed by Donald Trump. The candidate whose company has been sued by the Justice Department for not renting apartments to black people. The candidate who questioned whether Barack Obama was born in the United States, and who seemed to condone the beating of a Black Lives Matter protester at a campaign rally. The candidate who kept black workers off the floors of his casinos. The candidate who is beloved by David Duke and endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan.”
She concludes her essay by recalling an old novel by William Faulkner titled “Absalom, Absalom!” and how even in 1936, there were people who understood how serious whiteness was to white Americans: “William Faulkner understood this better than almost any other American writer. In “Absalom, Absalom,” incest is less of a taboo for an upper-class Southern family than acknowledging the one drop of black blood that would clearly soil the family line. Rather than lose its “whiteness” [once again], the family chooses murder.”
Toni Morrison feels that, with the election of Donald Trump, white America has once again chosen murder.