It’s time to talk about being white in America

It’s time to talk about what it means to be white in the United States.

That’s what I was trying to do Saturday afternoon at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Northwest Washington when I was interrupted by a group of white nationalists. Ironically, the protesters’ chant — “This land is our land” — served only to reinforce my point.

For too long, many white Americans have avoided this conversation, and we’ve done so for a reason: We don’t have to see the color white. Race scholars often argue that white privilege broadly means not needing to reflect on whiteness. White is the default setting, the assumed norm. A white American does not have to think about being white when walking down the street — while people marked as not-white are often noticed and surveilled. White people have the superpower of invisibility.

Yet with the rise of President Trump’s brand of resentment politics, American whiteness is increasingly hard to overlook. Trumpian rhetoric defines white identity not by shared values but by shared resentments. Whiteness, in this telling, is under siege.