With one month left in 2020 and the transition to a Biden administration underway, Teen Vogue returns its young audience to grievance mongering about white supremacy. Running in this month’s issue of Teen Vogue is an article titled “The 2020 Election Was a Reminder of White Supremacy’s Hold on the U.S.”
The title wasn’t entirely wrong (even though it would have been more accurate if the word “election” had been left out). This year raised the curtain on new groups of supremacists and their complex identity structures. Also, this year, a Department of Homeland Security report also formally found white supremacy as “the most consistent and lethal threat.”
However, after the article’s title, the piece sharply drops into a cocktail of dramatic emotional outpouring mixed with the rhetoric of separation that fuels race-based supremacists on both sides.
First, the article plunges into a victim narrative by giving power to white supremacy on the issue of climate action:
“White supremacy is the biggest threat to climate action, large or small, in this country; white people, its most powerful defenders and beneficiaries, are not only the group most capable of and responsible for diffusing the threat of white supremacy, they are also the biggest obstacle to progress.”
In other words, the piece communicates that white people are an obstacle to a collective goal. According to the author, even with the election over there is now another reason to demonize “white people.”
As is obvious, this type of pejorative language will do less to solve any climate crisis and more to rally and grow true white supremacists movements by empowering recruiters with material on how white people are still under attack.
Second, the article assumes that the increased minority support for Trump is because of the desire of people of color to be white. It also assumes, without bringing any evidence, that President Trump is a white supremacist.
“I do not mean to imply that white people are solely responsible for upholding and furthering racism; the gains that Trump made among voters of color, especially among Latinx and Black men, make it clear that there are also many people of color who want access to whiteness and its promises of painless and unlimited wealth accumulation, of reliable safety and care, of traditional visions of gender and sexuality, and, most importantly, of assured comfort, even at the height of chaos. White supremacy is not and never has been solely the province of white folks.”
Although left unmentioned in the article, it is worth noting that the Muslim vote for Trump jumped from 15 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2020. It is more likely that the Muslim vote for Trump was not motivated by access to “whiteness” but rather because the Republican Party is a natural home for many first generation and culturally conservative Muslims whose principles align with what conservatism has to offer.
That isn’t not to say that Muslims didn’t struggle during this election, as did many other demographics for their own respective reasons, but to assume that support for Trump was out of a desire for proximity to whiteness, is a failure to understand this and other minority groups.
Hyper-emotive language coils around emotion in this article to drive the underlying argument of white supremacy in America. Absent in this raw emotion is nuance, notably that the piece fails to express curiosity and explore the whirlwind politics of 2020 as anything other than a manifestation of white supremacy.
After expressing relief Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had won, the author writes:
Still, my heart has not stopped pounding since Election Day. I did not know that I could be this exhausted and worn out. I feel strange, hollow, and tense, like a strand of hair standing up, trying to beam out a warning. My pulse jumps under my skin. It occurs to me that this is what panic feels like; I just did not know you could experience it in slow motion. Then again, I’ve never felt like so much of my survival — and the survival of this planet and the people I love — is riding on white people and their commitment to ending white supremacy and its stranglehold on our political, economic, and social systems.
The article implies that the “millions of white voters who supported Trump” are white supremacists — or at least fall under the author’s expanded definition of this class of people.
When the problem is simply classed as “white people” without being curious about who white supremacists really are — and without mapping the striations that give them belonging within an ideology or a political party and then teasing out what drives them — one falls into the same simplistic traps of identity markers that all race supremacists rely on to exploit social issues to their advantage.
For example, one issue the Teen Vogue article doesn’t address (and that its author likely doesn’t see) is that the next generation of white supremacists are forming complex identity structures. Certain groups of white supremacists have become difficult to recognize because they wrap themselves in the language and symbology of patriotism.
This means it becomes easier for real white supremacists to hide in the open when people of a certain skin color or political affiliation are being marked as white supremacists simply for being patriotic.
For example, in October of 2020, Clarion Project profiled the Proud Boys in an in-depth piece. In some respects, the Proud Boys echo the rhetoric and behavior of race supremacists in that the group bills themselves as a club for “Western chauvinists.” The Proud Boys’ leader, Enrique Tarrio, is an Afro-Cuban and an example of a member of a minority supporting Trump as mentioned in the Teen Vogue article.
However, just because some of the rhetoric of a group echos that of white supremacists in certain respects, that nonetheless does not make them defacto white supremacists. Contrast the Proud Boys to the Patriot Front, an actual white supremacist group that believes “the United States is a nation that belongs only to white people” (see also Clarion’s profile of the Patriot Front).
There is work to be done in mapping who’s who and what’s what, and emotional outbursts and vague associations isn’t “doing the work.”
Meanwhile, attention needs to be drawn to the half-formed arguments that Teen Vogue repeatedly pushes to it’s 4.4 million readers, 1.7 percent of whom are 17 years of age or younger. Teen Vogue has a history of romanticizing oppression (past articles have pushed Marxism on its young readers).
Given that young Americans are at risk for radicalization in an increasingly hyper-polarized environment, the cocktail of raw emotion and unfounded theories are a dangerous combination.
The Teen Vogue article is laced with signals to whiteness, white people, and white supremacy, with almost obsessive reference. In that Teen Vogue isn’t alone. There are other cases were publications catering to a younger female demographic tackle white supremacy and it’s tangent issues with more talk of race.
Earlier this summer, conservative publication Evie magazine published an article by Ashely St. Clair that repeatedly emphasized her race identity as a “white girl” in simplistic language that will have done more to appeal to white supremacists than to address an audience feeling displaced by the ongoing entanglement of this issue.
Yet ultimately, this pattern of relying on the language of race and separation to address race and separation gives white supremacists far more power than they actually have. It also ignores other critical factors that need to be investigated in order to have a robust conversation on what is happening within America right now.