White backlash

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A white backlash is an actual or hypothetical negative response of some white people to racial progress. It is typically discussed in the United States in regard to advancement of African Americans in American society,[1] though it has been discussed in the context of other countries, including the United Kingdom.[2]

History in the United States[edit]

One early example of a white backlash occurred when Hiram Rhodes Revels was elected to the United States Senate in 1870, becoming the first African-American to be so elected. The resulting backlash derailed the then-ongoing post-Civil War Reconstruction, which had attempted to build an interracial democracy.[3]

Among the earliest high-profile examples of a white backlash in the United States was in 1964, after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Many Democrats in Congress, as well as President Lyndon B. Johnson himself, feared that such a backlash could develop in response to the legislation, and Martin Luther King, Jr. popularized the "white backlash" phrase and concept to warn of this possibility.[4] The backlash that they warned about did ensue, and was based on the argument that whites' immigrant descendants did not receive the benefits that were given to African Americans in the Civil Rights Act.[5] After signing the Civil Rights Act, Johnson grew concerned that the white backlash would cost him the 1964 general election later that year. Specifically, Johnson feared that his opponent, Barry Goldwater, would harness the backlash by highlighting the black riots engulfing the country at the time.[6]

A significant white backlash also resulted from the election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States in 2008.[7] As a result, the term is often used to refer specifically to the backlash triggered by Obama's election,[4] with many seeing the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 as an example of "whitelash".[4][8] The term is a portmanteau of "white" and "backlash", and was coined by CNN contributor Van Jones to describe one of the reasons he thought Trump won the election.[9]


  1. ^ Hughey, Matthew W. (2014-03-18). "White backlash in the 'post-racial' United States". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 37 (5): 721–730. doi:10.1080/01419870.2014.886710.
  2. ^ Rhodes, James (2010-02-09). "White Backlash, 'Unfairness' and Justifications of British National Party (BNP) Support". Ethnicities. 10 (1): 77–99. doi:10.1177/1468796809353392.
  3. ^ CNN, John Blake (2016-11-11). "This is what 'whitelash' looks like". CNN. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  4. ^ a b c II, Vann R. Newkirk (2018-01-15). "Five Decades of White Backlash". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  5. ^ Miller, William Lee (1964-08-23). "Analysis of the 'White Backlash'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  6. ^ "LBJ Fights the White Backlash". Prologue Magazine. Spring 2001. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  7. ^ Smith, Terry (2015). "White Backlash in a Brown Country". Valparaiso University Law Review. 50 (1).
  8. ^ CNN, Story by John Blake, CNN Video by Tawanda Scott Sambou (2018-01-08). "How Trump became 'the white affirmative action president'". CNN. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
  9. ^ CNN, John Blake, (2016-11-11). "This is what 'whitelash' looks like". CNN. Retrieved 2018-02-16.

Further reading[edit]