To the degree that Donald Trump represents a disorienting reversal of a supposed state-sponsored promise of neoliberal racial progress typified by the election of the first Black United States president, liberals have been equally committed to reorienting themselves through the explanatory framework of white backlash. This article approaches the white backlash narrative with a healthy skepticism in order to explore its cultural and political uses. Through an analysis of popular discursive representations—a Saturday Night Live sketch, Obama’s first significant political speech since leaving the White House, and two widely read Atlantic articles by Ta-Nehisi Coates—this article critiques the ways in which liberals have sought to rationalize the racially disorienting transition between the Obama and Trump eras through the use of the white backlash narrative. More specifically it argues that in the wake of Trump, the white backlash narrative delimits the Obama era as a period of unfulfilled “post-racial” progress, and the Trump era as a wholly separate, reactionary moment of white supremacy. In so doing, the narrative reaffirms the protection of minoritized populations from formally recognized white supremacist violence in the Trump era, while obscuring neoliberalism’s own regimes of racialized oppression in the Obama era. By revealing such shortcomings of the white backlash narrative, it asks that we envision alternative ways to remember, interpret, and historically index the entanglements between racial neoliberal and white supremacist modalities linking the Obama and Trump eras.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.