A Political Shift for Moderate Whites (maybe) by Christopher S. Parker

Monday, June 8th, 2020

In a recent piece for Politico, GQR Senior Advisor and professor of political science at the University of Washington, Christopher S. Parker, joined a group of experts in explaining why It Really Is Different This Time.

Below is Parker’s excerpt from the full article.

A political shift for moderate whites (maybe).


Christopher S. Parker is professor of political science at the University of Washington and author of the forthcoming Great White Hope: Donald Trump, Race, and the Crisis of American Democracy, with Matthew A. Barreto.

This time could be different, but the jury—at least for me—remains out. It’s easy for one to believe that the sum of recent events will lead to more enduring racial progress. Race-based health disparities rendered visible by the current pandemic. Check. Blue on black violence. Check. The election of a racist president. Check. By virtue of the sheer weight of these combined events, how could one possibly gainsay the proposition that the current moment will result in more permanent racial progress? Here’s how. Race-based health disparities have always existed; the pandemic merely reminds us of this. Blue on black violence is as old as the republic; this isn’t even the first time police brutality catalyzed nationwide unrest. The latter half of the 1960s attests to this. And, of course, racist presidents have long existed, too (does Woodrow Wilson ring a bell?).

Nonetheless, I think it’s possible that the present conflagration might represent an inflection point. The potential to make this moment different is, I submit, the so-called white moderate, a term deployed by Martin Luther King Jr. in the Letter from Birmingham Jail in 1963. Moderate white people assumed a perch in no man’s land during the civil rights movement; they weren’t practicing white supremacists, but they weren’t racial progressives, either. Basically, they refused to take a side. For this reason, King suggested that if they weren’t part of the solution, they were part of the problem. In the present context, moderate white people are those who recognize that racism is wrong but choose to do nothing about it, while ultimately benefiting from white supremacy. However, recent evidence suggests that moderate whites might be ready to break with President Trump’s blatant racism. Not only Democrats, but a majority of political independents in the United States say they are repulsed by Trump’s racism. This represents a shift; 46 percent of independents supported Trump in 2016.

Only time will tell whether the president will continue to alienate white folks in the middle. If he does, Americans finally might move toward an anti-racist majority, hopefully for the foreseeable future.