PBS Guests of Tavis Smiley Fret Over 'White Rage,' GOP 'White Nationalism'

On Tuesday, PBS's Tavis Smiley show hosted two guests to discuss the issue of "white rage" in America in the age of Donald Trump. So did the taxpayer-funded network hold a balanced discussion with two opposing points of view? Of course not. True to form, the show was merely a conservative-free zone with two left-wing guests joining the left-wing host to go after Republicans with charges of "white nationalism," "white supremacy," and efforts to "move African-Americans back in their place."

Emory University Professor Carol Anderson began by recalling that black Americans receive criticism for social problems, and then added:

And the response has been white rage. The response has been, when African-Americans achieve, when African-Americans succeed, when African-Americans refuse to accept their subjugation, a range of policies come forth to undermine and undercut that advancement. I track it from the end of the Civil War all the way through the election of Barack Obama.

Host Smiley followed up: "And the source of their anger -- the source of their angst or rage is what?"

Anderson then portrayed whites as resentful of "black achievement" as she responded:

Black achievement. And black refusal to accept a subordinate place in American society, African-Americans demanding their citizenship rights, and that quest for full citizenship. And then achieving that creates this incredible response coming out of the courts, coming out of the White House, coming out of Congress, coming out of school boards to find ways to, in fact, undermine and undercut that, to move African-Americans back in their place.

On a show dominated by the views of two liberal guests, Smiley asked only a couple of contrarian questions, in one case relating that white viewers of the show would disagree with her assessment and argue that they do not "begrudge black folks' achievement." The Emory professor argued that there is still a "large swath" of whites who do.

When anti-racism essayist and author Tim Wise had his turn to speak -- from the point of view of himself being white -- his analysis was even more bizarre as he suggested that whites do not view themselves as a race:

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Whiteness hasn't really been racialized the way that blackness has. So white folks have the ability to believe ourselves as unraced. We view ourselves as the neutral sort of floor model of an American. And that's part of what whiteness does. It creates a mentality of entitlement.

After asserting that white men have long taken for granted that they can succeed if they work hard in a way that blacks cannot take for granted, he went on to argue that whites now find themselves feeling "psychic trauma" at having to "see black folks succeeding." Wise:

We have to understand -- white folks -- if we're ever going to get to that place that your question suggests -- where white folks understand it's our problem, we're going to have to understand what that mentality of white supremacy and expectationalism -- if I can make up a word, which, as a white person, I think I have the privilege. They let me do that. ... (laughter) ... That white expectationalism comes at a great cost for us. Part of the psychic trauma that white folks are experiencing when they see black folks succeeding, or they see Latin folks succeeding, right, and they reason they think it's "You're taking my job" is because we've been led to believe that, "All of this is ours and y'all are just here at our pleasure."

He went on to claim that a desire by whites to see races treated equally is actually based on a wish to "preserve the head start" that whites supposedly have over blacks, as whites resist giving extra help to blacks to make up for starting off behind. He even criticized liberal whites who claim to want a "color blind" society:

I think the way white folks think about this has been for many years this sort of color blind racism -- as Bonilla-Silva calls it and others -- where the idea is, "Let's just treat everyone" -- and you'll hear nice, white liberal people say it -- "I treat everyone the same," you know, and so that's equality. "I treat everyone equally." And that sounds very, I guess, very nice in the eyes of some. They believe that makes them very progressive and open-minded. But if I treat people who are facing unequal and differential experiences the same, then by definition I do an injustice to those who need more. So if I say we're going to fund all the schools with exactly the same money, but some folks also got their parents kicking in and they got the big PTA where they got a lot of rich folks that can put more money in, then equality won't suffice. 

But I think when you're the dominant group, there's a real incentive to say "Let's just treat everyone equally" because, at some level, we know that if I've already got the head start -- I mean, if I'm two laps on you in a five-lap race, and then you say, "We're all going to run by the same rules," but folks are two laps back, then equality will end with a two-lap head start and me crossing the tape first. Equity is something we haven't ever really embraced because we're so wrapped up in that sense of being colorblind, not noticing, not talking about the stuff as a way to really preserve the head start that we have but don't want to acknowledge.

Below is a transcript of relevant portions of the Tuesday, September 19, Tavis Smiley show on PBS:

TAVIS SMILEY: Carol, let me start with you. What is the unspoken truth of our racial divide?

PROFESSOR CAROL ANDERSON, EMORY UNIVERSITY: The unspoken truth is that we've -- right now in America -- we live in a space that has a narrative of black pathology: If only black folks would value school -- if only black folks would vote -- but -- if only black folks wouldn't do drugs. But what I found in doing this research, is that, in fact, African-Americans have valued education, have voted, do drugs the least or about an equal amount.

And the response has been white rage. The response has been, when African-Americans achieve, when African-Americans succeed, when African-Americans refuse to accept their subjugation, a range of policies come forth to undermine and undercut that advancement. I track it from the end of the Civil War all the way through the election of Barack Obama.

TAVIS SMILEY: And the source of their anger -- the source of their angst or rage is what?

ANDERSON: Black achievement.

SMILEY: Yeah.

ANDERSON: And black refusal to accept a subordinate place in American society, African-Americans demanding their citizenship rights, and that quest for full citizenship. And then achieving that creates this incredible response coming out of the courts, coming out of the White House, coming out of Congress, coming out of school boards to find ways to, in fact, undermine and undercut that, to move African-Americans back in their place.

SMILEY: To those white folk who are watching right now -- and we're on PBS, so there are a whole bunch of them watching -- thank you, by the way, I appreciate it. Thanks to viewers like you I'm still here every night. But to those white persons who are watching right now who say, "I don't connect to what Carol just said. I don't begrudge black folks' achievement. I watch Tavis every night -- I voted for Barack Obama -- I'm a season ticket holder to the team that ain't got nothing but negroes on the team and they ain't even winning the season and I'm still going to the games -- so I -- I love Oprah Winfrey" -- so when you say they are enraged about black achievement, unpack that for me.

ANDERSON: And so, to unpack it is to understand that this isn't about all white folk, but this is about a large swatch of white Americans who are then in positions of power and are encouraged by those in the larger society who find that rights and access to resources, they treat it like a zero-sum game. So that you see, for instance, in the discussions for instance about affirmative action, right, in those discussions it's always cast as some unqualified minority taking my slot.

(...)

ANDERSON: Coming out of the Civil Rights Movement -- when you have the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65 -- the response of white rage was the War on Drugs, which led to mass incarceration, which led to gutting the Voting Rights Act for convicted felons, and which led to stripping away of a lot of the rights in the Civil Rights Act. The United States spent one trillion dollars in a failed War on Drugs, so this isn't about resources. This is about priorities. And so the rage that is being turned toward African-Americans for refusing to accept their subjugation is rage misplaced.

(...)

SMILEY: I want to just do one quick followup here. What would you expect from white folk other than rage if their mean incomes had not increased for 30, 40 years, and the numbers pretty much bear that out. These angry white men -- I don't like the way they're going about it -- I don't like the way they're pointing the finger, and I know you're going to say that -- but their incomes have been stagnant or decreasing for decades now. Did you expect something other than rage from them?

(...)

TIM WISE, ANTI-RACISM ESSAYIST: Whiteness hasn't really been racialized the way that blackness has. So white folks have the ability to believe ourselves as unraced. We view ourselves as the neutral sort of floor model of an American. And that's part of what whiteness does. It creates a mentality of entitlement. So, to connect that to what Carol's talking about, if you are raised generation after generation to not only expect that, if you work hard and play by the rules, it'll work out for you -- which is something that no person of color can take for granted or has ever been able to take for granted -- but white folks could, particularly white men -- particularly white, straight men, white middle class and above could sort of assume that.

Even working class white guys could assume sort of horizontal mobility, right? As in, "My daddy worked at the plant, I'm working at the plant, my son's going to work at the plant" or the coal mine or whatever. So if you're led to believe that you're entitled to the best of everything, that meritocracy is real at least for you if not for those people, and then all of a sudden, right, you find yourself in a system that seems as though it has limits and where that entitlement is challenged, if I've had 90 percent of the good stuff, and you tell me I'm going to have to make do with 75 (percent), equality begins to feel like oppression.

(...)

WISE: We have to understand -- white folks -- if we're ever going to get to that place that your question suggests -- where white folks understand it's our problem, we're going to have to understand what that mentality of white supremacy and expectationalism -- if I can make up a word, which, as a white person, I think I have the privilege. They let me do that. ... (laughter) ... That white expectationalism comes at a great cost for us. Part of the psychic trauma that white folks are experiencing when they see black folks succeeding, or they see Latin folks succeeding, right, and they reason they think it's "You're taking my job" is because we've been led to believe that, "All of this is ours and y'all are just here at our pleasure."

(...)

WISE: I think the way white folks think about this has been for many years this sort of color blind racism -- as Bonilla-Silva calls it and others -- where the idea is, "Let's just treat everyone" -- and you'll hear nice, white liberal people say it -- "I treat everyone the same," you know, and so that's equality. "I treat everyone equally." And that sounds very, I guess, very nice in the eyes of some. They believe that makes them very progressive and open-minded. But if I treat people who are facing unequal and differential experiences the same, then by definition I do an injustice to those who need more. So if I say we're going to fund all the schools with exactly the same money, but some folks also got their parents kicking in and they got the big PTA where they got a lot of rich folks that can put more money in, then equality won't suffice. 

But I think when you're the dominant group, there's a real incentive to say "Let's just treat everyone equally" because, at some level, we know that if I've already got the head start -- I mean, if I'm two laps on you in a five-lap race, and then you say, "We're all going to run by the same rules," but folks are two laps back, then equality will end with a two-lap head start and me crossing the tape first. Equity is something we haven't ever really embraced because we're so wrapped up in that sense of being colorblind, not noticing, not talking about the stuff as a way to really preserve the head start that we have but don't want to acknowledge.

(...)

PROFESSOR CAROL ANDERSON, EMORY UNIVERSITY: You now have states that are in deficits that are now using millions of dollars for voter ID in order to begin to make sure that their black and brown populations cannot vote.

WISE: And we need to be willing to call what they're doing "white nationalism" because, see, it isn't just white rage or white anxiety. We use the term "white nationalist" to refer to Nazis. So we call David Duke a white nationalist because he is. He's a white supremacist, a neo-Nazi, whatever terminology we prefer. But we don't want to call these very mainstream, erudite folks at the Heritage Foundation -- we don't want to call these folks in the Trump administration "white nationalists" because that conjures images of skinheads. But if I am trying to suppress the vote of black and brown peoples to limit their access to the franchise, to limit their ability to participate in democracy in this nation so as to maintain a white majority -- not just numerically but in terms of power -- what is that --

SMILEY: White nationalism.

WISE: -- if not white nationalism? So we've got to understand white supremacy, white nationalism are not problems up here (points to his head), they're problems out here in the world of policy and systems.


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