In a recent viral video, an unidentified white woman in line at a grocery store in Oregon, dressed in a floral romper and black knee-high boots, overheard a black woman’s phone conversation. She believed this black woman was trying to sell food stamps illegally. The exchange became heated, and the white woman was told, in no uncertain terms, to mind her business. “Oh, it is my business,” the white woman responded. “Because I pay my taxes.” She then said something that, quite frankly, stunned me: “We’re going to build this wall.”
This was not an oddly timed statement about her views on immigration; it was a declaration of her whiteness and, by extension, her view of who belonged in this country. She might as well have called the black woman a nigger. She didn’t. She called the police instead.
But no, this wasn’t a video of police violence or another example of some white person hurling racial epithets. In so many ways, the argument between these two women captured the soft bigotry that has, from beneath the surface, enabled American public policy and individual behavior for decades. This woman, years after the departure of what Newt Gingrich called in 2011 “the most successful food-stamp President in American history,” saw a member of Mitt Romney’s “47% … who are dependent upon government … who pay no income tax.” This white woman witnessed Ronald Reagan’s welfare queen. Now she had not just a new phrase — build this wall — but also the confidence that the President would support her in her indignation, and that the problem would soon be resolved. America would be great again….