I already hear you disagreeing with the title of this story. I’m sure you are listing dates in your head. You’re probably saying something about the year when European settlers landed in America and injected the continent with the uniquely Caucasian concept of manifest destiny. You might even ask, “What about 1619, when the first slaves were brought to America, jump-starting white supremacy?”
Maybe you’re considering 1860, when 11 states decided they’d rather host the bloodiest war in the country’s history than give up chattel slavery. Perhaps you think 1892 is the whitest year ever, when 161 black people were lynched, according to Tuskegee University’s “Lynching, Whites and Negroes” (pdf). Even 1989 might stand out in your mind if only because it was the year Taylor Swift was born.
Nope. 2017 was worse.
Despite the trouble and turmoil in all of those years, they pale in comparison with 2017. While the previously mentioned time periods were unquestionably white, they were usually less white than the previous year. Despite one’s opinion on racism in this country, whether it’s because of inevitability, progress or the sheer force of blacks fighting back, white supremacy has steadily lost its toehold in America. It is a foundation that we saw eroding with each revolution around the sun. Whiteness was like LeBron’s hairline: fading but holding on.
But not this year.
This year, caucasity returned like Afros and bell-bottom jeans. Just when we thought it was defeated, it burst back into our living rooms, sat down on our sofas and screamed “Fuck yo’ couch” to anyone who could hear it. It wasn’t just the achromatic versions of tears, privilege and fragility. It wasn’t just racism or hate. It was whiteness itself.
Whiteness is a liar.
2017 tried to fool us into thinking that the collection of unmelanated degenerates who gathered on the National Mall to celebrate the goldfish-cracker in chief was the biggest crowd ever. It gave us a straw-haired skeleton queen named Kellyanne Conway to thrust the phrase “alternative facts” into the American lexicon. It gifted us with Sean Spicer’s befuddled fibbing, Anthony Scaramucci’s confidence-man condescension and Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ blatant bullshitting as they stood in front of the press and lied in our faces. This was the year of “both sides,” “white lives” and “I do not recall.” 2017 lied its ass off.
Whiteness is a thief.
Police stole 220 black lives in 2017, more than the previously mentioned worst year of lynching. White women tried to rob black women of the credit for an Alabama election. They swiped the #MeToo movement from a black woman. 2017’s whiteness tried to steal health care from those who couldn’t afford it. It took tax breaks from the rich and gave to the poor. It stole the blame for violence from white supremacists and mass shooters and placed it at the feet of anti-fascists. And Black Lives Matter. And “black identity extremists.” And Chicago’s top gang thugs. And Mexican immigrants. And Muslims. And everyone but white people.
Whiteness is fragile.
In 2017, whiteness felt oppressed. It said that white people were discriminated against. It carried tiki torches while whining that it will not be replaced. It rallied for the cause in Charlottesville, Va. It cried when it found out it was in trouble. It called everyone else “snowflakes” but melted down when NFL players took a knee. It boo-hooed about white genocide. It reminded its fellow milky martyrs that it was “OK to be white.”
But more than any other year, whiteness regressed. This country moonwalked backward instead of toward the light. 2017 put us in reverse, and it wasn’t because Americans wanted to go backward. White people did.
After millions enjoyed universal health care for the first time, they repealed the mandate for the Affordable Care Act and will eventually make insurance unaffordable again. They stripped away regulations that made the environment safe and kept Wall Street in line. They committed two of the five deadliest mass shootings in recent history and refused to pass any gun legislation.
They returned to mandatory minimums. They went back to mass incarceration. They took a regressive stance on marijuana. The Ku Klux Klan returned in force. Nazis started walking around proudly. Confederate sympathizers sprang out of nowhere. So did Confederate flags. And swastikas. And hate crimes. And people ranting in Starbucks.
2017 might not be as white as 1860, but 1860 wasn’t as white as 1859. 2017, on the other hand, is whiter than the previous year. And the one before that. And the one before that.
This was the year of whiteness—not white supremacy, racism or any other euphemism for discrimination or hate. It was that, too. But it was more than that. It was a big, fat rolling back of the hands of time. Even if this country is getting demographically darker, white America is fighting to make it as white as it always was. White will always be the new white.
We thought we knew what they meant when they said they wanted to make America great.
We forgot about the “again” part.