Excerpted From: Gregory S. Parks, Whiteness as Ideology, 73 Case Western Reserve Law Review 613 (Spring, 2023) (524 Footnotes) (Full Document)


GregorySParksIn 1993, Cheryl Harris published her pathbreaking article “Whiteness as Property” in the Harvard Law Review. In it, she explored the interrelations between whiteness, a socially constructed form of racial identity, and property. As highlighted in her abstract:

Following the period of slavery and conquest, whiteness became the basis of racialized privilege--a type of status in which white racial identity provided the basis for allocating societal benefits both private and public in character. These arrangements were ratified and legitimated in law as a type of status property. Even as legal segregation was overturned, whiteness as property continued to serve as a barrier to effective change as the system of racial classification operated to protect entrenched power.

Three years after Harris's publication, Ian Haney López offered additional nuance and texture to the idea that race is a social construct. Such construction refers to the “historically contingent social systems of meaning that attach to elements of morphology and ancestry” and is comprised of “three interrelated levels[:] the physical, the social, and the material.” Physically, “skin color, ethnic origin, and other physical features become markers of race ... 'because society has invested [them] with racial meanings.”’ Socially, “because the meanings given to certain features and ancestries denote race, it is the social processes of ascribing racialized meanings to faces and forbearers that lie at the heart of racial fabrication.” Materially, “racial meanings ... 'gain force as they are reproduced in the material conditions of society’ through '[t]he distribution of wealth and poverty”’ and power. It is this material meaning that depends on “actors who have accepted ideas of race.” In short, skin color, in and of “itself, does not mean that [an] individual belongs to a particular race. Rather, it is society, not biology, which gives meaning to that skin color ... [;] that meaning is then ascribed to a racial identity.” In turn, that racial identity manifests and perpetuates itself through various economic, legal, and other institutions to allocate power and resources to some--and not other--“racial” groups. In the United States, some whites use race as a social construct to support a racial hierarchy or caste system.

Political ideology reflects the interrelated attitudes and values that people have about society's proper goals and how to achieve them. It influences people's beliefs, emotions, thoughts, and actions. The conservative-to-liberal spectrum provides a continuum along which one can assess these components. It is a “yardstick” by which one can identify parties, political leaders, laws, and policy. Political ideology is predictive of the extent to which individuals are discriminating or inclusive, status quo or change oriented, past or future oriented, and obedient or challenging of authority. In this Article, I argue that whiteness is the ideology of a sizable portion of American citizens, largely on the political Right, more specifically among President Donald Trump's supporters. For them, whiteness--and the historical power, value, and control of resources associated with it--has become all-consuming, the driving force behind their ideology. It is why the values that have traditionally been associated with conservatism have been cast aside by those on the political Right in exchange for Trumpism. Nothing more clearly highlights this phenomenon than many Republicans' rejection of the rule of law/law and order and support for law enforcement in light of the January 6, 2021, insurrection.

In Part I, I argue first that President Trump spread repeated lies that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, despite being aware that he had lost. This influenced his supporters to believe that the election was a fraud. When Trump was informed that his message could result in acts of violence, he persisted in his argument that the election had been stolen from him. Second, I argue that Trump sought to obstruct Congress's January 6 joint session. He attempted to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into unilaterally selecting him as the next President. Additionally, Trump attempted to pressure state legislators to reverse the results of the election in their states. He also tried to recruit the Department of Justice (DOJ) to aid in overturning the election results, which included efforts to install loyalists to do his bidding. Third, Trump had a scheme to overturn the election by pressuring public officials to state that the vote had been compromised by fraud and they should throw out the votes. He directly participated in coordinating and furthering the plot to substitute fake electors for legitimate Biden electors by casting and submitting votes through fake certificates. When public servants and elected officials would not do Trump's bidding, he “worked to ensure they faced the consequences: threats to people's livelihood and lives.”

Considering these facts, data show that political conservatives have more positive views about “law and order,” as a concept, than do liberals. Despite conservatives' staunch support for the rule of law/law and order, most--laypeople and elected officials alike--have either kept their heads in the proverbial sand, blamed left-leaning groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter (BLM), continued to applaud the so-called “stop the steal” efforts of January 6, or attacked Republican leaders who sought to hold Trump accountable. Arguably, what explains this paradox is that both “law” and “order” have been racialized--the perceived object of them has been, and is still, Black and Brown people.

In Part II, I argue that Trump and members of his senior team were well aware of the fact that their efforts on January 6 would likely lead to violence. Law enforcement officers testified about their experiences responding to the January 6 insurrection. Their narrative accounts provide insight into the racism, racist threats, and physical violence experienced by officers working at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Another officer also offered insights about the racist threats he received after January 6 for shooting and killing a rioter. One officer died because of injuries sustained while fending off rioters at the U.S. Capitol that day. Two other officers who defended the Capitol that day later committed suicide. And members of Vice President Pence's Secret Service on January 6 believed that rioters were going to kill them.

Considering these facts, data show that political conservatives--especially Trump supporters--have had more positive views about law enforcement than liberals. Despite conservatives' staunch support for law enforcement, they have remained relatively silent about the January 6 attacks on law enforcement.

In Part III, I argue that racism and white supremacy lie at the heart of Trumpism. It is evident by how he has aligned with groups like the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, Proud Boys, and white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia during the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally. These groups are only different in degree and not kind from the political Right's long-standing approach to race--that is, maintaining harsher and less tolerant attitudes toward racial minorities than the political Left. Even still, Republicans find it difficult to own this fact. They engage in psychological gyrations to not look in the proverbial mirror and see that Trumpism's supplanting of republicanism is because it more fully reflects the appeal of white supremacy. Hence, whiteness has become the central ideology of much of the political Right--certainly the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement, which consists largely of whites “who have felt a loss of status as other [racial] groups have become more empowered,” a status that they are willing to die and kill for.

[. . .]

During the 2022 midterm elections, some GOP candidates included talk of violence and a possible civil war in the United States in campaign advertisements and speeches. Candidates Michael Peroutka and Dan Cox, both Republicans running in Maryland, warned supporters that the United States is headed toward war as liberals and current political leaders are destroying the country. GOP ads included explicit references to violence, including footage of “Antifa” and BLM protesters running from tear gas and candidates handling semiautomatic firearms. Other candidates promoted “RINO hunting.” Following the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, chairman of the St. Croix County Republican Party John Kraft implored followers to “prepare for war” in an online post.

Since the investigation of Trump and the search on his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, he and his supporters have attacked and denounced government agencies including the FBI, the National Archives and Records Administration, and federal judges. On August 11, 2022, just two days after the FBI search of Trump's Florida home, an armed man attempted to breach the FBI office in Cincinnati, Ohio. The suspect, Ricky Shiffer, had posted 374 messages on Trump's social network, Truth Social, within the eight days leading up to his attempted attack. Some of his messages included, “If you don't hear from me, it is true I tried attacking the F.B.I.” and “Be ready to kill the enemy.” Shiffer tried to break into the FBI field office's visitor-screening area before he fled and was shot and killed by police. Although his account on Truth Social has been taken down, the trending topics online the following day were “#FBIcorruption” and “DefundTheFBI.”

While this has been the only physical violent attempt to attack a government agency, staff of the National Archives faced dangerous threats online. Extremists, like Shiffer, erupted online, outraged and calling for civil war. These ideas were ignited by Trump and his allied Republican lawmakers in their response to the investigation against him. In addition, one person in particular became a target, U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart. Judge Reinhart received numerous death threats for approving the search warrant of Trump's home.

Professor of Law, Wake Forest University School of Law.