Charlottesville and white identity politics

Earlier today I was struck by a passage giving a first-hand account of what took place in Charlottesville Saturday. From Splinter:

Approximately 100 white nationalists, most from Vanguard, marched into the park, chanting “Blood and soil! Blood and soil!”—a reference to the belief that those born to families on a specific plot of land (e.g. the United States) have an inherent right to that land. One member gave a pep talk to those assembled.

“If you don’t racialize, if you don’t tribalize, you will go extinct,” he said. “We’ll be a minority soon, and do you think we’ll get a reservation? Do you think we’ll get affirmative action? If we don’t adopt an ethnocentric mindset, we’re finished.”

The group then kicked out press and people of color from the park—even those who identified with the alt-right (“We have nothing against them, but this is a white identity rally,” one leader said). They closed the entrance with a barricade. A coordinated group of armed militiamen with semi-automatic weapons formed a line in front of the park’s entrance, helping block anyone who tried to get through.


The phrase “Blood and soil” is a Nazi reference but the rest of the arguments sounds a lot like the identity politics of the left, it’s even couched in the premise of whites being a minority group in the near future. As for clearing the park for the “white identity rally” that’s completely un-American. It’s also reminiscent of the University of Missouri protesters who created a “black healing space” by asking whites to leave and the treatment of students at Evergreen College who were told they should not enter a room or speak up during a campus discussion because they were white.

At FiveThirtyEight, a piece examining the rise of white identity politics offers some data suggesting this type of white identity politics is relatively new:

This strain of white identity politics, which sees white people as the group in need of special protection, is relatively new. In 2005, 6 percent of both Republicans and Democrats thought white Americans experienced “a great deal” of discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center survey. In 2016, the share of Republicans had jumped to 18 percent, while Democrats ticked up only slightly to 9 percent. Forty-nine percent of Republicans — compared to just 29 percent of Democrats — said whites face at least “some” discrimination.


People on the left and right can certainly debate what this means, i.e. what caused the numbers to change over the last 10-12 years. I’d like to see more data before offering a firm conclusion but if I had to guess, I’d say some of this is a reaction on the right to Black Lives Matter over the past 2-3 years. BLM also made a case for an ethnocentric mindset as necessary for group survival, first in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin and, later, after the shooting of Michael Brown. There is political power in that approach. BLM leaders were profiled in the papers and held meetings with several presidential candidates last year. So it shouldn’t be surprising that a fringe on the right might adopt some of the same language.

I’m not arguing the white nationalists in Charlottesville are justified in what they are saying. White guys marching around with Tiki torches and giving Hitler salutes are look like idiots to me, not members of an endangered minority. But, frankly, that’s missing the point. The young (often white), college-educated BLM protesters marching and shutting down various events on campuses around the country also don’t seem particularly downtrodden in many cases. People don’t have to be members of a historically oppressed group to adopt the stance, either in solidarity or for their own purposes.


Rod Dreher argues the solution to this problem is for both sides of the aisle to reject identity politics:

Thirty-one percent of the US population is white and male. The percentage of whites relative to non-whites is declining, and demographers expect the US to become a majority-minority country in the 2040s. If America is going to manage this transition into greater pluralism without a rise in racial hatred and violence, people on both the Left and the Right have to abandon identity politics, and stigmatize it…

We had better find some other way to bind Americans together, and to conceive of a common good, or what happened in Charlottesville is a picture of our nation’s future.

That’s a chilling thought but I think there’s something to it. The conservative response to Black Lives Matter can’t be “white lives matter,” which some of the white nationalists in Charlottesville were chanting over the weekend. The correct response is a rejection of identity politics and a focus on treating people as individuals first rather than members of a racial or ethnic group.

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David Strom 6:00 PM | February 27, 2024