White backlash, also known as white rage, is the negative response of some white people to the racial progress of other ethnic groups in rights and opportunities, their growing cultural parity, political self-determination or dominance.
As explored by George Yancy, it can also refer to some white people's particularly visceral negative reaction to the examination of their own white privilege. Typically involving deliberate racism and threats of violence, this type of backlash is considered more extreme than Robin DiAngelo's concept of white fragility, defensiveness or denial.
It is typically discussed in the United States with regard to the advancement of African Americans in American society, though it has also been discussed in the context of other countries, including the United Kingdom and, in regard to apartheid, in South Africa.
White anxiety regarding immigration and demographic change are commonly reported as major causes of white backlash. Political scientist Ashley Jardina has explored these societal changes as a cause for white backlash, suggesting that "many whites in the United States are starting to feel like their place at the top of the pyramid is no longer guaranteed and that the United States no longer looks like a "white nation" which is dominated by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture."
In 2018, research at the University of California, Riverside showed a perception of the "growth of the Latino population" in the US, made white Americans "feel the extant racial hierarchy is under attack, which in turn unleashed a white backlash". Similarly, a study from the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that informing "white British participants" that immigrant populations were rapidly rising in the UK "increases the likelihood they will support anti-immigrant political candidates".
Kevin Drum has stated that with "the nonwhite share of the population" in the United States increasing "from 25 percent to 40 percent since 1990", that this demographic shift may have produced "short-term white backlash in recent years".
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. Similarly, the 1898 White Declaration of Independence and associated insurrection were a reaction to the electoral successes of Black politicians in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Among the highest-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. 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. 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.
A significant white backlash also resulted from the election of Barack Obama as the first black President of the United States in 2008. As a result, the term is often used to refer specifically to the backlash triggered by Obama's election, with many seeing the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 as an example of "whitelash". 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.
The Stop the Steal movement and the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, occurring in the wake of the 2020 US presidential election, has been interpreted as a reemergence of the Lost Cause idea and a manifestation of white backlash. Historian Joseph Ellis has stated that many of those who ignore the role of race in Trump's victory in the 2016 election are following the example of Lost Cause propagandists who said the Civil War was a clash over Constitutional issues.
In 1975, it was reported that the government was being slow to approve desegregating communities, due to fears of Afrikaner backlash. In 1981, The New York Times reported that Pieter Willem Botha's cabinet colleagues, "sensitive to the danger of a white backlash", was publicly listing statistics which proved it was spending far more money, per capita, on education for white children, compared to black children.
In 1990, as apartheid was being phased out, Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote that State President Frederik Willem de Klerk "knows full well that several opinion polls show a strong white backlash against his policies". By the late 1990s, there were fears of a white Afrikaner backlash unless Nelson Mandela's ANC government permitted Orania, Northern Cape to become an independent Volkstaat. By then a former State President, Pieter Willem Botha warned of an Afrikaner backlash to threats against the Afrikaans language.
In 2017, John Campbell proposed that "perhaps inevitably, there is a white, especially Afrikaner, backlash" at the removal of Afrikaner, or Dutch, place names, colonial statues and the Afrikaans language with English at "historically white universities".
- Anderson, Carol (2016-11-16). "Donald Trump Is the Result of White Rage, Not Economic Anxiety". TIME.
White rage got us here...Barack Obama’s election — and its powerful symbolism of black advancement — was the major trigger for the policy backlash that led to Donald Trump
- Trethewey, Natasha (November 8, 2018). "Natasha Trethewey: By the Book". The New York Times.
Carol Anderson’s “White Rage” takes what many of us have known, perhaps existentially or intuitively, and puts it in a new framework, adding a synthesis of thoroughly researched archival evidence that documents the deeply entrenched and ubiquitous nature of white rage — white backlash, across time and space — as response to black advancement.
- George Yancy (2018). Backlash: What Happens When We Talk Honestly about Racism in America. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 50. ISBN 978-1538104057.
The responses that I received, however, speak to something more extreme than just reactionary or unreceptive responses. Rather than "white fragility", these responses are ones that speak to deep forms of white world-making
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- Eric Levitz (July 2, 2018). "For Democrats, Immigration Is a Political Problem Without a Policy Solution". New York Magazine.
Given this history, it would be astonishing if the unintended, rapid diversification of the United States over the past 50 years didn’t produce a backlash rooted in white anxiety about racial demographics
- Wabuke, Hope (August 8, 2019). "'When I Was White' Centers On The Formation Of Race, Identity And Self". NPR.
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- Tom Jacobs (January 24, 2018). "How a Growing Latino Population Provided Fertile Ground for Exploitation by the Trump Campaign". Pacific Standard.
- Lee Shepherd; Fabio Fasoli; Andrea Pereira; Nyla R. Branscombe (2012), The role of threat, emotions, and prejudice in promoting collective action against immigrant groups, European Journal of Social Psychology
- Kevin Drum (April 10, 2019). "America Is Not On a Path to Become Israel 2.0". Mother Jones.
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- Miller, William Lee (1964-08-23). "Analysis of the 'White Backlash'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
- "LBJ Fights the White Backlash". Prologue Magazine. Spring 2001. Retrieved 2018-02-16.
- Smith, Terry (2015). "White Backlash in a Brown Country". Valparaiso University Law Review. 50 (1).
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- Anthony Lewis (June 9, 1975). "Light Breeze Of Change". The New York Times.
Perhaps because of the symbolism, or concern over right‐wing Afrikaner backlash, the Government has been slow to approve desegregation
- "Anxiety Over Apartheid". The New York Times. April 19, 1981.
Sensitive to the danger of a white back- lash, Mr. Botha's Cabinet colleagues have spent much of this raucous political season advertising statistics they normally gloss over
- Jeane Kirkpatrick (June 11, 1990). "Exit Apartheid". The Washington Post.
- Mary Braid (August 3, 1997). "Laager lovers tough it out". The Independent.
- Dean E. Murphy (January 24, 1998). "Hearing for Apartheid-Era Leader Put Off". The Los Angeles Times.
- John Campbell (January 24, 2017). "Identity Politics in South Africa". Council on Foreign Relations.
- Hewitt, Roger (2005-06-23). White Backlash and the Politics of Multiculturalism. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139443524.
- Abrajano, Marisa; Hajnal, Zoltan L. (2015). White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691176192. JSTOR j.ctt1h4mhqs.
- Anderson, Carol (2016). White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9781632864147.
- Ott, Brian; Dickinson, Greg (2019). The Twitter presidency: Donald J. Trump and the politics of White Rage. Routledge. ISBN 9780367149758.