• Motto

Toni Morrison Explains Why White Supremacy Is Spiking

2 minute read

After the 2016 election, hate crimes against people of color have spiked. Just last week, a group at an alt-right conference were shown shouting ‘hail Trump’ and performing the Hitler salute. Where is this violence and white supremacy stemming from? Toni Morrison penned an essay for The New Yorker which points to the fear some Trump voters feel: America is losing its whiteness.

“Unlike any nation in Europe, the United States holds whiteness as the unifying force,” Morrison wrote. “Here, for many people, the definition of ‘Americanness’ is color.” But now, that way of life is being challenged by a black president and, potentially, a more diverse government.

“In 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,” she explains. “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.”

She lists the crimes that have been committed against people of color — like church shootings and murders in cold blood — as the white man’s fear overtakes his dignity. “If it weren’t so ignorant and pitiful, one could mourn this collapse of dignity in service to an evil cause,” Morrison says.

But she does her best to explain the phenomenon: “The comfort of being ‘naturally better than,’ of not having to struggle or demand civil treatment, is hard to give up. The confidence that you will not be watched in a department store, that you are the preferred customer in high-end restaurants— these social inflections, belonging to whiteness, are greedily relished.”

Morrison concludes: “So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength.”

Read the full essay at NewYorker.com

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com