FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
January 12, 2021
Shauntia D. White, MSW, MS
Saying Goodbye to a Slaveholding Democracy in 2021
The question no one is asking following the failed insurrection in the U.S. Capitol that Wednesday is, Did Donald Trump succeed in co-opting the United States? And the answer is yes, and by controlling the racial divide in America and across the white community.
America stands on two sides of the same coin of whiteness. Either abolitionist or confederate, privileged and supremacist, rage and fragility. But Trump’s use of race attacks (and especially, law and order) as political tactics to appeal to white voters and men was as old as the slave codes originated by slaveholders to keep black slaves oppressed and poor whites working.
What Wednesday should remind us is that there was more than a breach in our government when unmasked mobs of pro-Trump supporters barraged Congress temporarily ripping the fabrics of American democracy. It was an antebellum political struggle mirroring the antagonism of old.
Unfortunately, the more we read, the more knowledge we acquire; the more we realize it is not denial but rather silence that keeps Americans living and hiding in the shadows of slavery. And it has been here and moving silently across American institutions for as long as slave catchers became police, slaveholders became politicians, and 250 years later, a slave descendent becoming the first black First Lady of the United States.
What does not surprise me about democracy at the dawn of the most diverse administration in American history is that Trump’s militia left many Americans either outraged, traumatized, or gloating over the outright fetishism of violence and blood lust. But what is most disconcerting to unpack is how we see this collision of the American past and present before getting closer to the future.
Consider interpreting two countermovements and their relationship with 18th-century slave codes. Black liberation movements and the alt-right regimes across American history illustrate different ends of the American experience. Any form of slave resistance was a problem among slaveholders and poor white laborers in the colonial South, from which Black Lives Matter (BLM) represents (unarmed black men and women being killed at the hands of police officers). To white immigrants, whose ranks were commonly second to slaves, slavery gave them social and economic status. Still, these whites were likely underemployed, uneducated, and faced similar treatment to blacks we see today. In a post-racist America, or what we believed to be, one can not help but notice the similarities between poor working-class then and now. Just like the slaveholding class in the 18th-century, Trump is the epitome of wealth and power, manipulating lower working classes, but in this case, to terrorize and overthrow the government. However, this slaveholder mentality in American democracy has circumvented the fear of black resistance from one generation to another and professions where social controls deprive people of color.
So, no matter how much progressives and liberals reimagine institutions in American society free of racism, a starting point of social and economic reformation should begin in a profession known for dealing with problems of poverty and inequalities. And that is social work. Social workers are the ones who carry the brunt of the responsibility to protect the social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of public services. However, what becomes problematic is when fundings are often discretionary, only widening the economic and racial divide.
But what is often overlooked when considering the failures of social work in society is the underlying intent behind saviorism in social services resulting in an oversupply of workers in urban areas and a shortfall in rural ones. This problem of implicit bias is a contributing factor to the urban-rural division of poverty. More social workers are needed in rural communities, whereas eighty percent of social workers are employed in urban and metropolitan areas, mostly black and Democratic. The lack of professional preparation for rural social work practice has been an even greater concern that must be addressed. It is no coincidence that the same states with the lowest welfare spending have a lower cost of living and a lower percentage of households receiving public assistance are Trump’s largest voter base. These states included but were not limited to Georgia, Utah, South Dakota, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Nevada, Nebraska, Virginia, and Idaho.
When Trump intensified tensions with the government and between the American people, the inequities in social services were also at fault. Needless to say, racism has a long history in the American story and is embedded in our government and across every single American institution. So as we simultaneously call to defund the police, we need to take a racial equity lens to the inadequacies across rural and small-town, not just urban or metropolitan areas. The first step to challenge the system is to create and expand recruitment strategies in social work education and practice in rural communities and begin to get to the roots of racism in America centered on shared and collective power. This era is a pivotal time in American history that represents the bad, worse, and ugly of American fascism, but also an opportunity to build American back in a better way until it is no longer blinded by colonialism. In the wake of this new Biden administration, the time to find the loose thread that unravels an entire colonized system is now.
And this year, at YSocialWork, we intend to encourage more discussions about how history is repeating itself. Social workers and emerging leaders need to utilize a historical narrative that is holistic and transformative. As a non-profit and progressive learning space, we want to spark investigation and inquiry not just to share our whole past but take others along a journey to highlight the two worlds that reside in our nation.
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