Illustration by Michael Leo

Behind Closed Doors, White Supremacy is Pervasive in the U.S.

The private conversations that permeate through conservative communities in the U.S. highlight how the nation has a long way to go in curbing racist views.

Nov 8, 2020

Content warning: Discussion of racial violence.
In 2016, Donald J. Trump won the U.S. presidency. People were surprised, especially on the NYU Abu Dhabi campus. I wasn’t. Neither was another American student from Texas. Trumper values and ideology were nothing new to us, even though they had only recently reached the national stage. The problem was, Trump was speaking to the stance that many white people across the country hold in secret, behind closed doors.
I’m from the South. I come from an old family and went to the “right” schools; I was a quiet little white girl. My family was liberal for our town, but voicing my political opinions would often lead to very passionate arguments, always with boys. It’s exhausting to keep fighting with these people, especially when it feels like you’re just turning yourself into a pariah. That fear of speaking out permeates childhood, but as you grow, you gain the courage to leave these communities. Yet, that rejection is nothing compared to those who are at the actual receiving end of the structural racism.
When I was 12, I told a girl I had a crush on our mutual friend. He went to the movies with us and was in my science lab group. He was popular and she had invited him to her house. But, in a very serious and hushed voice, she told me I wasn’t allowed to like a Black guy, as if I had committed a social faux pas and should be embarrassed for not knowing such an obvious fact.
My mother said something similar; she told me that while it was fine with her if I wanted to be with a Black man, it wouldn’t be fine with everyone else. She said that some boys would never touch me if they knew I’d been with a Black man. I told her I didn’t want to be with someone who thought like that, but I didn’t realize how many people actually thought that way.
At another party, I was nursing a drink at a kitchen island when one boy, within a large group, began talking about his plan to open a massive ranch in Texas, even drawing ideas on a napkin. He said he would only hire Black people to work on this ranch. Once they got there, he would murder them. The boys debated whether Holocaust style gas chambers would be better than just shooting them. They were laughing.
When a Black girl entered the party, their conversation stopped. They went on to talk to this girl, being nice after they had just openly joked about a genocide of her race. This is what people don’t get about the United States: we don’t own up to our racism. After telling my friend what had been said, she responded, “Yeah, that’s awful, but he’ll get better when he gets a girlfriend.”
And she was right. He got a nice girlfriend and stopped spewing hate at parties.
So often, I’ve seen girls and women transform these prejudices into socially acceptable formats. I’ve seen women groom their racist partners to not be so overt and aggressive with their prejudices, to become socially palatable. It’s not fashionable to don white bedsheets and burn a cross anymore — although those who did do those things still have streets and buildings named after them in my town. The boy who used to lead Nazi salutes when we ran past a synagogue during gym class is now a respectable young man with a lovely girlfriend.
These are people I grew up with; people who were my friends. They are also incredibly sexist, elitist and racist. Reckoning with this reality has been incredibly painful. You are not going to change anyone’s mind with a hashtag, a million man march or a celebrity endorsement. The only thing you can do is hope that there is someone else in that conversation who is keeping quiet, who is not a loud voice, but whose hatred is chipped away just a little bit.
There is a lot of hidden hate. You see the crazy nut in a sleeveless tank screaming on the news, you see the men marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville, you are just starting to see the suburban moms who don’t want the property value in their neighborhoods to drop when the “new family” moves in. Power, money and influence stay in the same circles in the South, where generational wealth was, quite literally, built upon hate. It’s not surprising that Trump won in 2016. It’s not surprising that the US has racial turmoil. It’s not surprising that people want to go back in time.
For this nation, there is such a long way to go. A lot of this hatred and prejudice is held behind closed doors and that is not going to change any time soon. The Trump presidency has given a lot of people a platform to voice the sexist and racist views they were practicing at home. A large part of the problem with predicting Trump’s rise to power is that people lied about voting for him, the shy Trumper effect. His elite, educated supporters know not to let outsiders see too much of this because once you’re labeled as something in this country, you lose access to certain groups.
Discrimination is dressed differently nowadays, but it’s still very strong and influential in the spaces where it exists. This is nothing radical or new being said, but there are plenty of smiles, plenty of Jay-Z fans, plenty of concerned parents, plenty of good Christians who will do whatever it takes to make sure things stay as they are. There are more than you know, and more than you will ever see.
C. Neel is a contributing writer. Email them feedback at
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