Since the seemingly never-ending presidential election week finally concluded with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris crowned victors, we’ve understandably heard a lot about why the race was so close in a contest between a racist misogynist whose ego partially contributed to the deaths of nearly a quarter million people and the man who essentially ran as “not that guy.”
We won’t have accurate data on the 2020 election for some time, but exit polling indicates Trump increased his support among some people of color and white women. For those of us who believe in decency, democracy and diversity, it is surely disheartening to see people vote against their best interests. But it’s hardly a new phenomenon in America, and by avoiding the main problem, fails to see the forest for the trees.
A high school friend on Facebook posted a series of graphics a few days ago, showing the coloring of a 2016 electoral map if only certain genders and races voted. For people of color, it was all blue. For white women, it was mostly red with several blue states. For white men it was almost completely red. The accompanying post warned: “white folks (especially white women) this is why people of color don’t trust you.” (My friend is of Asian descent.) It’s not a controversial statement for many progressives and generally reasonable adults. And, it’s also not wrong – white women do bear much of the responsibility for Trump’s enduring support.
But the glaring, primary, problem is being omitted in too many of these conversations – white men. Yes, white people as a whole need to do better. But to only single out white women is the same problematic logic that blames people of color for increasing their support of Trump – that anyone non-white should not support a racist, and that a woman should not support a misogynist. Why are white men not held accountable for supporting him to the same degree that I would be as a woman of color? What would truly make this country great is if more people began to vote in the best interests of all, instead of only on the issues that affect them personally.
There are a slew of articles examining white women and Trump, and many make the argument that white women deserve extra shame because they claim marginalization in the name of feminism. White feminism has a long history based in racism and many of its disciples continue that behavior today. So in supporting Trump, these women are hypocritical in their claims of being oppressed by the patriarchy while opposing an intersectional and inclusive vision of feminism. Again, this isn’t wrong. There is certainly some overlap between the 47 percent of white women (the more accurate number than the widely-used 53 percent based on initial exit polls) who voted for Trump in 2016 and the 42 percent of self-identified feminists who lean Republican – and they deserve our scrutiny.
But, you know who benefits the most from the patriarchy and white supremacy and also constitutes the bulk of Trump’s support? White men. Exit polls show 61 percent of them voted for Trump in 2020, a one-point decline from the 62 percent exit polls showed in 2016 – this number could grow larger as more data comes in, but if it follows the pattern of white women and white men’s voting from 2016, will likely only be a single digit difference that will still leave the plurality of his supporters white men. Why are they not expected to be held accountable to the same extent, or more, given their higher support, as their female counterparts? Are we not capable of holding two groups accountable at the same time, while also being clear about which is the primary offender?
If we truly want a world that is anti-racist and free from patriarchal oppression we should be clear about the main problem: white men. To let them off hook, while doubling down on critiques of people of color and women, only serves to uphold white supremacy and patriarchal thinking.
Imagine applying that type of logic to any other problem. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., cancer is the second. Would we only invest in cancer research and say “to hell with treating heart disease, since it’s just too hard to deal with?”
Part of the problem is that we view accountability in this country as a punishment, when it should be seen as an opportunity to do better, to be better. It is not the duty of people of color to provide this enlightenment, but we can and should be honest about the fact that there is no way we can achieve equity in this country without focusing on who benefits most from systems of injustice.
By not holding the majority of white men accountable, we are essentially writing them off, saying they aren’t capable of developing empathy or evolving as human beings. This is not beneficial to them, and it certainly does not get us closer to a more equitable and just society. This moment we find ourselves in, where too much of the population co-signed on the racism and misogyny of an authoritarian, demands we treat the problem and not the symptom.