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  • What Is Going On?Where Do We Go from Here? Should the Souls of White Folks Be Saved?
  • Gregory Fernando Pappas

in "whites: made in america," the Rev. Thandeka takes on the issues that have recently been in the minds of many Americans in light of racial problems and the shocking results of the elections: "What is going on?" She does not pretend to provide a full diagnosis, but argues that there is a need for a new conceptual shift and new target of our inquiries. Thandeka argues that underneath the veil of whiteness, there are troublesome feelings and emotions that need to be revealed and, if possible, transformed. What we find are not feelings of racial supremacy, but feelings of "fear, dread, confusion, anger, rage, shame, anxiety, sorrow, embarrassment, humiliation, and loss."1 Historical events have helped create "the white psychological mind-set of terror, fear, and trembling when the white body becomes its own victim."2 It is then not surprising to have a Trump. "Trump, simply put, did not create the toxic system of white voter anger, fear, rage, desperation, and frustration that brought him to the forefront of American electoral politics in 2016. Rather, the toxic mix of aggrieved emotional passions in white Americans created him. Trump played on white fears of non-white outsiders."3

In this essay, my aim is to provoke a dialogue between Thandeka and the American philosophical tradition we study in SAAP. I frame this imaginary dialogue around two important general issues: (A) "What is going on?" (diagnosis), and (B) "Where do we go from here?" I argue that in disagreements about these important issues, we cannot neglect the important role of metaphysical assumptions and our affective-value commitments.

What Is Going On?

Thandeka argues that whatever is going on, it is clear from recent events that "white racism" and "white privilege" may have "outlived their usefulness as [End Page 67] concepts and judgments."4 Those of us working from the American pragmatist tradition should welcome this provocation and find it congenial to our approach.5 For us, such concepts are nothing more than tools for inquiry in the analysis of concrete injustices. As tools, they should be open to revision and modification. However, aren't these concepts still relevant and even necessary to explain some of what is going on in America today? Thandeka points to the differences in the set of beliefs that are operative in Steve Bannon's discourse, but would she discount the idea that, to some extent, the belief in white superiority is still operative? Bannon may speak as if the "threat" comes from outside (cosmopolitanism, Muslims, and globalism) but just as with Samuel Huntington,6 it is a reaction (fear) of the unavoidable demographic and cultural changes in the United States. Nothing has being able to stop the diversification and "browning" of America, and for whites in power, this is a serious threat. Granted, one can describe this ideology without using the terms "white privilege" or "supremacy," but aren't these assumed?

In any case, can we really determine what Bannon and other whites believe based simply on what they actually say and write? In a pragmatist's understanding of "belief," cognitive awareness of white superiority or privilege is not required for there to be a belief in such things; all that is needed is that one behaves or participates in practices in a certain way that assumes such superiority. In Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (2016), Eddie Glaude argues that whites have inherited and keep perpetuating a "value gap," a belief in their superiority even if they are not conscious of it. He explains: "The value gap is this: the belief that white people matter more than others. And to the extent to which that belief animates our social arrangements, our political practices, our economic realities, under different material conditions, as long as that belief obtains, democracy will always be in abeyance in this country."7

I think we should welcome Thandeka's challenge to revisit our conceptual resources. "White racism" and "white privilege" may not be as useful today in explaining the recent election results or people like...


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pp. 67-80
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