In 2013, we were honored to work with Tim Wise on a video adaptation of his highly acclaimed memoir White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son. In that documentary, we looked at the innumerable ways that white privilege and the legacy of institutional racism can distort the personal perceptions and political attitudes of white people in ways they’re often not even aware of. As we watched the 2016 presidential election play out, and saw the stunningly high percentages of white people of all class backgrounds who voted for Donald Trump despite his flagrantly race-baiting campaign, the insights Wise offered in that video seemed more relevant than ever. His insights only became more urgent when election post-mortems from pundits and politicians started rolling in and making the claim that economic anxieties, not racial anxieties, were the ultimate key to Trump’s victory.
While it seemed clear that economic stress and dislocation were major factors in driving working class voters to Trump, there was still the glaring fact that the most economically stressed voters in the country – people of color – voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. And there was also the fact that the median income of Trump supporters was well above $70,000 a year. Clearly, economic anxiety, while obviously important to any understanding of the rise of Trumpism, was not enough to explain what happened.
To dig deeper and tease out the intersections of class, race, and even gender that drove white support for Trump, we decided to reach out to Wise and collaborate with him on another video. The result of that collaboration is The Great White Hoax, Wise’s extended meditation on the rise of Trumpism, the resurgence of white nationalism, and the myriad ways that white (especially white male) anxiety and resentment have been re-shaping American political culture for decades.
In The Great White Hoax, Wise not only accounts for the economic stresses that emboldened Trump with white working-class voters; he also forces us to confront the undeniable and much more uncomfortable reality that race, racism, and white anxiety played a decisive role as well. In direct contrast to mainstream discussions about identity politics that tend to center on people of color, Wise shows us how Trump and his operatives deliberately exploited white people’s fears of a changing culture to score political points and consolidate power.
But at the same time, he’s careful to remind us that the divisive forces that animate Trumpism are anything but new. Digging deep into history, Wise reads the politics of racial scapegoating that Trump employed throughout the campaign as the culmination of a decades-long effort by conservative politicians – of both parties – to tap into racial anxiety to shore up the white vote and win over blue-collar white voters who had traditionally voted Democratic.
In the end, the analysis Tim Wise provides in The Great White Hoax not only illuminates the dark, often hidden, politics of racial scapegoating. It also offers a positive vision for how to build on past resistance movements and keep the ongoing struggle against white supremacy alive moving forward. At this pivotal moment in the history of American politics and U.S. race relations, we couldn’t be more thrilled to once again team up with the amazing Tim Wise.
Jeremy Earp, Director, Editor
Loretta Alper, Producer
Sut Jhally, Executive Producer