Five Decades of White Backlash
In January, Vann R. Newkirk II argued that the Trump presidency can be traced to the politics of white backlash in the wake of the civil-rights movement. “Trump’s only real concrete policies,” he wrote, “have been negations of King.”
“ … built on King's bones.” What a fine phrase.
The Atlantic’s article about the white backlash in the U.S. helped me see a lot of things. I’m a 70-year-old white lady who left the U.S. for good to go live in Canada (though I didn’t know that at the time) in late August 1968, right after the Democratic National Convention, in Chicago, and the riots that went with it. The first day I had ever seen Canada was the day Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered. Driving eastward across Ontario, 45 minutes after we had passed through the tunnel from Detroit, my friend and I heard on the car radio that the border had been closed behind us because of the spreading riots. That night I sat with friends in a living room in Kitchener watching big cities burn on the 11 o’clock news. I was 20 years old, and it felt so weird to be in a country that wasn’t at war—with itself or with half of Vietnam—and to be shut out of a country that was.
When I became a Canadian citizen some years later, I renounced my U.S. citizenship. I didn’t have to, but I did; I was so disgusted with that country. And I thought I had made my peace with it all until Donald Trump was elected 48 years later, and now it is all coming back. I find I can’t just shrug and say, “That’s their problem.” When I was talking about leaving for Canada in ’68, some of my friends said, “If you think there’s a problem, you should stay and fight for what’s right,” but in a (rare) moment of self-knowledge, I saw that I didn't have the stamina to dedicate my life to that fight. There were all those bumper stickers at the time: America: love it or leave it. Since I could neither fix it nor love it, I left. And I was right about me, but fortunately, so many other folk were stronger than I.