Why So Many Liberal White Guys Just Can't Admit The Election Was About Race, Explained

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Who are liberal White people?

Liberal White people are somewhere trying very, very hard.

Where can you find them?

Trader Joe's parking lots. Inner-city bike lanes. Jason Derulo listening parties. Giving TED Talks about couscous. Writing for Slate. Producing feminist porn.


I see. So, how are liberal White people taking Donald Trump's election?

Well, I'm not a liberal White person — so this answer may seem incomplete — but it seems as if Trump's election shook their foundations more than it affected any other demographic. Sure, people of color and other historically marginalized people were definitely hurt by this too. But we never quite lost sight of the possibility of this happening. This is America, after all. It just reinforced shit we already knew.

Liberal White people, however? You'd think someone told them their favorite gluten-free bakery has been using wheat. And some of their reactions to this have been quite telling, particularly in regards to how they feel about race and America's relationship to it. Liberal White men, in particular.

How so?

As I mentioned last week, their steadfast refusal to acknowledge the role race played in the election makes it seem as if they're playing some sort of devolved, pre-racial game of Taboo. Of course, there was Mark Lilla's "The End of Identity Liberalism" which I assumed would be the pinnacle of this train of thought — the fuckshit thinkpiece to end all fuckshit thinkpieces. But a few days later, Mother Jones (perhaps the crunchiest major platform on the Internet) published Kevin Drum's plea for us to be "careful with the White supremacy label." Here, Drum defines and limits White supremacy to "people believing non-White people are inferior"; ultimately failing to realize that whether they believe we're inferior doesn't matter as much as the effort to ensure White dominance. Which is why the White Supremacy label fits. (It also must be said that Drum's piece was a defense of Crunchy Jesus himself, Bernie Sanders, who also attempted to minimize the value of identity politics.)

Even Paul Krugman threw his hat into the ring. And while "The Populism Perplex" isn't as dismissive as Lilla's and Drum's pieces were — and acknowledges the role "White resentment" played in Trump's win — he still expresses a bit of confusion about why so many working class White voters seemed to vote directly against their financial interests. As if the answer isn't on a fucking billboard.

Interesting. So why do you think this is? Why are they having so much trouble admitting to what's right in front of them?


One of the more positive byproducts of existing while Black in America is that it forces you to be multilingual. Ebonics, the King's English, code-switching, Cardi B — we're well-versed in several different dialects and means of communication. We're also more in tune to the language of race and racism. We know what's really being said when Chicago is seemingly randomly name-dropped by a conservative; we immediately knew what "Make America Great Again" meant to convey. It's a linguistic sensitivity taught to and learned by us; perfected and fine-tuned to the point of virtuosity.

Anyway, maybe this isn't actually right in front of them. They've never had to be as aware of it as we've had to be. And maybe they just don't see or get it because they've never had to. White men — by virtue of being White and male — just don't need to develop the same defense mechanisms everyone else has to.


Also, maybe they do see it, but they just don't want to admit that the country is as flawed as we've been saying it is. Perhaps they're Neo immediately after he's taken the red pill; the shock of the real world too much for them to comprehend. And there's no Trinity available to myrrh for their hot foreheads; just selfies with Ann Coulter.

Those, of course, are optimistic answers to that question. A less optimistic answer would be that they too have a critical stake in the preservation of White supremacy, and their obliviousness is an intentional ploy to retain that status. How do you feel about that?


You said it, not me.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



I work at Good White People, Inc. And I have to say, whether they are conscious or not, even the liberal whites do believe that we are inferior. They are just not self aware. They may think we're funny or we're fuggable or we tug on their little heart strings with our sad little lives but most of them, even The Good Ones, don't actually see us as equals or as capable or as smart as them. And they feel even more self-congratulatory to "dedicating their lives" to saving us from our sad little selves.