How white narcissism affords only white people the right to fear
I have never seen anything more narcissistic than whiteness.
This essay briefly mentions sexual and reproductive violences.
A group of Trump-worshipping, MAGA hat-wearing white boys from Covington Catholic High School surrounded and taunted an Indigenous elder with the racist, xenophobic, and nationalist chant, “Build the wall!” last week. But somehow the mainstream media has framed the boys as innocent victims, despite the fact that additional videos of these same kids loudly advocating for rape and wearing Blackface to specifically target a Black athlete have surfaced.
The smirking little asshole most visible in the viral video of the group’s harassment of the Indigenous elder was quickly given a televised damage control interview. It intentionally worked to infantilize him, even as he showed absolutely no remorse, and the group has now received an invite to the White House from Trump.
One of the biggest lies white supremacy tells is of white individualism. This lie tells us that all white people are individuals, that their thoughts, words, and actions are not representative of anyone other than themselves and are certainly not representative of whiteness. But it also says that all non-white racialized groups have monolithic pathologies.
It’s a dehumanization tactic, first and foremost, and it also serves to protect whiteness when incidents like the one with the Covington boys happen. Their “Build the wall!” chant at an Indigenous person, who has every right to this stolen land, highlights what we have always known to be true: The very idea of Trump’s wall is nothing more than a monument to white supremacy, white nationalism, and the hopes of a white ethnostate. And this truth is so apparent that even white children understand it.
There’s been a lot of effort put into spinning this story in their favor, predictably so. It was easily done. White boys and men continue to receive every benefit of the doubt, even when they are (future) mass shooters and serial killers. White supremacist logic allowed the mother of one of the Covington boys to blame “Black Muslims”—i.e., the Hebrew Israelites engaging their own bizarre brand of nonsense nearby—for what happened, so that the story became about how their response was informed by this intimidation.
The story became about the imagined terror these white boys felt in the presence of vocal “Black Muslims,” while terrorizing an Indigenous elder during his prayer. By extension it also became about who has the right to fear.
There are plenty of reports about the studies which show how conservatives respond with fear to “danger” more than those on the more liberal/left end of the political spectrum. Usually, these reports ruminate about why Trumpers share more fake news due to this fear, but none state plainly why the conservative right is so fearful of things like immigration, racial diversity, and reproductive justice. They don’t examine why the conservative mind interprets these things as “danger” to begin with.
The simple answer is that conservative white Americans are deeply invested in protecting what their whiteness affords them, and the thought of losing institutional power terrifies them. For them, it would be the end of the world. And as white people’s fears of this impending reality increase, so does the popularity of dystopian narratives—ones that center white people, white prosperity, and white reproduction, of course.
White people only see dystopia as possible when the social and economic hardships disproportionately laid upon racially marginalized people in reality become fictional imaginings white characters are written into. From The Handmaid’s Tale to The Hunger Games, the imagined dystopian futures mine the past and present realities of mostly Black and Indigenous people, dramatizing them and attributing the stories to white characters instead because the average white consumer can only identify with white victimhood.
It’s why Hunger Games fans erupted in racist vitriol when the films were released and they learned that Rue, the most important character in the series, was Black rather than the white girl they had always pictured. It’s why these same fans—who easily understand the fictitious Katniss Everdeen’s resistance, the rage of the poor, criminalized, and marginalized citizens of the districts in Panem, and the revolution against an oppressive, abusive, and exploitative government in The Capitol—just can’t seem to identify with our protests against police brutality and anti-Black state violence in real life.
It’s also why Margaret Atwood said about the sexual and reproductive violences in her novel from which Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale is adapted, “Everything I wrote in that book was happening at that time, or had already happened. It just wasn’t happening in America,” conveniently erasing the sexual and reproductive violences historically committed against enslaved Black people, and how eugenics excused these violences against many other people of color, as well as the poor and disabled.
These types of injustices simply don’t exist until they happen to white people or until white people are ready to recognize them as such, and this rationalization requires a world of contradictions and revisionism. This is why Sarah Huckabee Sanders was able to state confidently in defense of the Covington boys, “I’ve never seen people so happy to destroy a kid’s life.” Many swiftly reminded Sanders and her supporters of the fact that Trump took out a full page ad in New York Daily News and did an interview on CNN to advocate for the death penalty against the innocent Central Park Five in 1989, and did so with the memorable quote, “Maybe hate is what we need.”
Exchanges like this seem to be a never-ending cycle these days. Just this week, Representative Peter Welch, incensed by the fact that government workers are now forced to work without pay due to Trump’s government shutdown, tweeted, “Never in the history of this country has it been legal to make people work for free but that’s what’s happening to federal employees. This can never happen again.” Almost a year ago, conservative gun advocate Jacob Wohl tweeted, “Remember that period in American history when people were crushed by the government and marched off to camps? Neither do I. That’s because we have the Second Amendment.”
I don’t need to tell you that slavery or “mak[ing] people work for free” obviously was and still is a fixture in this country’s history (as are unpaid internships designed to hoard access for the wealthy). Nor do I need to rant to you about Japanese internment camps, or the assimilation camps/”Boarding Schools” Native children were forced into, or the concentration camps and convict leasing plantations Black people were forced into following the “abolition” of slavery.
But white people like Sanders, Welch, Wohl, and of course Trump don’t care about facts. They care about upholding white supremacy, and that requires lies and cruelty. Whiteness is so narcissistic that even white folks who oppose Trump find themselves gasping like never before at immigrant children being separated from parents at the border, as if America hasn’t been separating Black and Indigenous parents from their children for centuries. These are the same people who conveniently ignore all of history and declare “This isn’t the America I know” or “We’ve never been more divided”, as though America wasn’t founded on and sustained through racism and white patriarchy.
White fear must always be validated, regardless of how irrational it may be or even how much it reveals about whiteness itself, because the validation of white fear is in service of white supremacy. Determining who gets to feel fear is closely situated with the defining of pain, who feels it, and how. This is how it becomes so easy to spin a story about ugly, racist and misogynistic white boys who enjoy taunting and offending others into a story about how their humanity, their pain, and their fear should be centered, rather than that of the Indigenous person they harassed.
I have never seen anything more narcissistic than whiteness. It’s truly delusional, thinking itself more human than the rest of us, it tells constant lies to justify this belief system and the violence it requires. Black and Indigenous people in America have always lived in a dystopian reality, but this will never be recognized by those invested in white supremacy because it must refuse to recognize our humanity, pain, and fear in order to justify itself.