This article was written by Stephen M. Gillon, an scholar-in-residence for HISTORY and professor of history at the University of Oklahoma. He openly asks and ponders on why a lot of white males are ticked off as recently seen in Charlottesville in this article written for the Washington Post:
What emboldened white nationalists to brazenly march through a sleepy college town and then violently assault counterprotesters? That’s the question lingering in the minds of Americans two weeks after Charlottesville.
Although many forces came into play to produce these heartbreaking events, a crisis of white identity drove them. More than a half-century ago, minorities, women and immigrants began to challenge the economic, political and legal hierarchy that had favored white men for centuries. Their efforts produced a white backlash that burst into the open after Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
Donald Trump has tapped into this anger and manipulated it to his political advantage. The bond between President Trump and his white followers is not based on policy but on grievance. They both reject the cultural changes over the past half-century, and Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan signals his intent to unravel them. Last week in Phoenix, he extolled his overwhelmingly white audience as “honest, hard-working taxpaying … Americans who love our nation, obey our laws and care for our people.” He warned that the hated media was trying to “take away our history and our heritage,” fanning the flames of white discontent.
The past five decades have not been kind to the white, heterosexual men who made up the overwhelming majority of those who invaded Charlottesville and who support the white nationalist movement. Until the 1960s, white men sat unchallenged atop the United States’ cultural and economic pyramid. They did not have to compete against women or African Americans in the workplace, and they benefited from laws and customs that sustained their privileged position. They not only ruled the workplace, they dominated American politics and exercised virtually unchallenged power at home.
At the same time, a combination of unprecedented prosperity and a muscular labor movement provided well-paying jobs in large manufacturing plants with generous benefits. (There were, of course, many whites who lacked meaningful employment and battled poverty, but compared to other groups, white men clearly enjoyed advantages.)
And then their world exploded. African Americans, unwilling to accept the legacy of Jim Crow, confronted the white power structure in the South. With the help of liberal allies, they pushed Congress to pass two major pieces of civil rights legislation that outlawed legal discrimination. Feminists, inspired by these successes, challenged laws that confined them to traditional roles in the private sphere. They smashed the notion that women could not be lawyers, doctors and corporate leaders, and they made clear they were not content to be subservient housewives. They were later joined by the LGBT community that demanded equal treatment while questioning traditional conceptions of gender and sexuality.
But by far the greatest threat to white male dominance has been immigration. The Immigration Act of 1965, which made “family unification” the centerpiece of the nation’s immigration policy, produced a dramatic increase in the number of people coming to the United States. According to the Pew Research Center, immigrants and their children born in the United States account for 55 percent of population growth since 1965. Immigrants made up 5 percent of the population in 1965; they make up 14 percent today.
This legislation also fundamentally altered immigration patterns. After 1965, the vast majority of new immigrants came from Asia, Africa and Latin America. Many whites view these immigrants as a threat to America’s “common culture” — a culture that white men created. From their perspective, instead of assimilating into the American culture, recent migrants have given rise to a new identity politics that celebrates cultural differences and rejects shared values.
Beginning in the 1960s, many white men perceived the changes wrought by the rights movements and increased immigration not as building a fairer, more diverse society and rectifying past wrongs, but as a direct assault on them and their values. In response, they mobilized in opposition to policies designed to promote diversity, from busing and affirmative action to bilingual education and gay rights. Grievance defined their targets. They fumed about companies and schools giving preference to less-qualified minorities in an effort to achieve greater diversity. And they’ve battled against liberal academics who want to erase them from the history books by stressing multiculturalism and celebrating the contribution of minorities while distorting and minimizing the achievements of white men.
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