Opinion, Berkeley Blogs

The birth of a new white supremacist movement

By Jeremy Adam Smith

We’re seeing the birth of a new white supremacist movement in the US. I want to talk about the responsibility of white liberals and progressives for letting it happen.

This movement has been growing, and growing bolder, since President Obama was elected. It’s not covert or subtle; it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is. The Republican Party isn’t dying; on the contrary, it’s being revitalized by open racism.

Amid calls for Bernie Sanders to quit for the sake of unity, Democratic primary turnout is dropping  —  while internal Republican conflict drives their turnout ever higher. Those new votes are racist votes. Donald Trump is giving voice to a tribe of white people who felt unheard. Now that he's helped them find their voice, I don’t think they’ll fall silent once he's been defeated. If he is defeated.

I look at what's happening and I remember the investigation I published last year into racial segregation in San Francisco schools. People think of San Francisco as the liberal capital of the United States, and so I think it's fair to use the city as a kind of social and political barometer. In the San Francisco Public Press story, we showed how racially divided the city’s schools were becoming. We showed how this was hurting the kids. We showed how racialized poverty had become.

The facts weren’t in doubt; no one disputed them. But I am still haunted by the defensive, indifferent, jaded, apathetic response to the facts from San Francisco liberals. Many, many readers and leaders asked why racial diversity should be considered important. Many people talked about diversity and academic achievement as mutually exclusive, simply ignoring evidence to the contrary.

After the story came out in January 2015, teachers shared stories with me about how their kids were being made to feel like outsiders in San Francisco’s gentrified neighborhoods. The response from San Francisco Unified? Nothing substantial. In fact, I think voices against racial and economic diversity have only grown stronger in the past year. Sure, on social media, we all share outrage at the latest clueless missive from one of the city’s "tech bros," but real-world San Francisco, the liberal capital of the United States, just keeps on becoming more exclusive, and more frightened of racial and economic differences.

'When cities governed by people who call themselves progressives become increasingly segregated, we're paving the way for a guy like Trump.'

It gradually dawned on me that we — and by “we,” I mean white, educated Bay Area liberals and progressives — simply lost our commitment to building a multiracial society. It’s not one of our goals anymore. Now, it may still be one of your goals. It's certainly one of mine. But I've felt increasingly alone with that goal. Have you? And I think it’s actually becoming more difficult to live that value, regardless of intentions. When our schools, neighborhoods, and hang-outs become more racially and economically divided, segregation starts to seem natural and inevitable. Desirable, even.

Many of us are upset by images of black people being driven away from Donald Trump rallies. Few are as upset by the fact that black people have been driven out of San Francisco. And are now being driven out of Oakland and Berkeley. After all, it was their "choice" to move. When cities governed by people who call themselves progressives become increasingly segregated, we're paving the way for a guy like Trump. How can we claim with any moral force to fight Trump when we're creating the racially divided world he wants?

I’ve suggested some solutions elsewhere. My point here is that we all let Donald Trump happen. Hillary Clinton let it happen. Bernie Sanders let it happen. So did the San Francisco Supervisors and Board of Education. We all did, by gradually dropping our guard against white supremacy -- by step-by-step accepting that "choice" was the goal, instead of "justice" or "equality" or "diversity."

Many of us stopped being liberals and became neoliberals, by simply not paying attention. We lost sight of the vision that emerged from the earliest days of the Civil Rights movement: a society where many different people could live together in peace and understanding. The degree to which those words sound goofy and idealistic should serve as a measure for how far we've fallen.