Years ago, I read a book by historian John Cell called The Highest Stage of White Supremacy. In it, Cell looked at what he called Herrenvolk Democracy. These are societies that function democratically for a certain portion of the population but in which one large portion of the population was excluded from the right to democratic practices. He compared South Africa, the Jim Crow South, and he began to talk about how these societies tend to function. One of the things that he observed was that in societies like South Africa in which the excluded group vastly outnumbered the included group, they tended to be much more rigidly racist, much more rigidly adhering to the doctrines of white supremacy than in societies in which the excluded group was a minority.
I thought about John Cell and I thought about that book last summer when I was in South Carolina because we understood those dynamics in Harlem, we understood those dynamics in Detroit, we understood those dynamics in Watts, we understood those dynamics in Ferguson. But what we are looking at here and what we are grappling with are those same demographic dynamics on a national scale. It’s in this light that we can understand the vitriolic anger and the vitriolic response that has animated the Donald Trump campaign. It’s in this light that we understand the murderous rage of a young man [Dylann Roof] who felt that “black people were taking over.” It’s in this light that we have to confront the unpleasant implications of a society that is rapidly approaching a majority-minority status.