White backlash, also known as white rage[1][2] or whitelash, is related to the politics of white grievance, and is the negative response of some white people to the racial progress of other ethnic groups in rights and economic opportunities, as well as their growing cultural parity, political self-determination, or dominance.[citation needed]

As explored by George Yancy,[3] it can also refer to some white Americans' particularly visceral negative reaction to the examination of their own white privilege.[4][5] 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.[3]

It is typically discussed in the United States with regard to the advancement of African Americans in American society,[6] but it has also been discussed in the context of other countries, including the United Kingdom and, in regard to apartheid, South Africa.[7]



White anxiety regarding immigration and demographic change are commonly reported as major causes of white backlash.[8][9] The political scientist Ashley Jardina has explored those societal changes as a cause for white backlash and suggested 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."[10]

In 2018, research at the University of California, Riverside, showed a perception of the "growth of the Latino population" made white Americans "feel the extant racial hierarchy is under attack, which in turn unleashed a white backlash."[11] Similarly, a study from the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that informing "white British participants"[12] that immigrant populations were rapidly rising "increases the likelihood they will support anti-immigrant political candidates."

Kevin Drum stated that with "the nonwhite share of the population" in the United States increasing from 25% in 1990 to 40% in 2019, the demographic shift may have produced a "short-term white backlash in recent years."[13]



United States


One early example of a white backlash occurred when Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African-American to be elected to the US Senate in 1870. The resulting backlash helped to derail Reconstruction, which had attempted to build an interracial democracy.[14] Similarly, the 1898 White Declaration of Independence and the associated insurrection were reactions to the electoral successes of black politicians in Wilmington, North Carolina.[citation needed]

Among the highest-profile examples of a white backlash in the United States was 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 that possibility.[15] The backlash that they had warned about occurred 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.[16] 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 that were engulfing the country.[17]

A significant white backlash also resulted from the election of Barack Obama as the first black US President in 2008.[18] As a result, the term is often used to refer specifically to the backlash triggered by Obama's election,[15] with many seeing the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 as an example of "whitelash".[15][19] The term is a portmanteau of "white" and "backlash" and was coined by the CNN contributor Van Jones to describe one of the reasons he thought Trump won the election.[20]

The Stop the Steal movement and the 2021 storming of the United States Capitol, occurring in the wake of the 2020 US presidential election, have been interpreted as a reemergence of the Lost Cause idea and a manifestation of white backlash. The historian Joseph Ellis has suggested that many who ignore the role that race played in Donald Trump's 2016 presidential victory are following an example set by Lost Cause propagandists, who attributed the American Civil War to a clash over constitutional issues while downplaying the role of slavery.[21][22][23]

South Africa


In 1975, it was reported that the government was being slow to approve desegregating communities out of fears of an Afrikaner backlash.[24] In 1981, The New York Times reported that P. W. Botha's cabinet colleagues, "sensitive to the danger of a white backlash," was publicly listing statistics that proved it was spending far more money per capita on education for white children than for black children.[25]

In 1990, as apartheid was being phased out, Jeane Kirkpatrick wrote that President F. W. de Klerk "knows full well that several opinion polls show a strong white backlash against his policies."[26] 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.[27] By then, a former State President, P. W. Botha warned of an Afrikaner backlash to threats against the Afrikaans language.[28]

In 2017, John Campbell proposed that "perhaps inevitably, there is a white, especially Afrikaner, backlash" at the removal of Afrikaner or Dutch placenames or colonial statues and the Afrikaans language with English at "historically white universities".[29]

See also





  1. ^ Anderson, Carol (16 November 2016). "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
  2. ^ Trethewey, Natasha (8 November 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.
  3. ^ a b 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
  4. ^ Blasdel, Alex (24 April 2018). "Is white America ready to confront its racism? Philosopher George Yancy says we need a 'crisis'". The Guardian.
  5. ^ Jaschik, Scott (24 April 2018). "Backlash". Inside Higher Ed.
  6. ^ Hughey, Matthew W. (2014). "White backlash in the 'post-racial' United States". Ethnic and Racial Studies. 37 (5): 721–730. doi:10.1080/01419870.2014.886710. S2CID 144964391.
  7. ^ Rhodes, James (9 February 2010). "White Backlash, 'Unfairness' and Justifications of British National Party (BNP) Support". Ethnicities. 10 (1): 77–99. doi:10.1177/1468796809353392. S2CID 144343983.
  8. ^ Eric Levitz (2 July 2018). "For Democrats, Immigration Is a Political Problem Without a Policy Solution". New York. 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
  9. ^ Wabuke, Hope (8 August 2019). "'When I Was White' Centers On The Formation Of Race, Identity And Self". NPR.
  10. ^ DeVega, Chauncey (17 July 2019). ""White Identity Politics" and white backlash: How we wound up with a racist in the White House". Salon.
  11. ^ Tom Jacobs (24 January 2018). "How a Growing Latino Population Provided Fertile Ground for Exploitation by the Trump Campaign". Pacific Standard.
  12. ^ 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
  13. ^ Kevin Drum (10 April 2019). "America Is Not On a Path to Become Israel 2.0". Mother Jones.
  14. ^ Blake, John (11 November 2016). "This is what 'whitelash' looks like". CNN. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  15. ^ a b c II, Vann R. Newkirk (15 January 2018). "Five Decades of White Backlash". The Atlantic. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  16. ^ Miller, William Lee (23 August 1964). "Analysis of the 'White Backlash'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  17. ^ "LBJ Fights the White Backlash". Prologue Magazine. Spring 2001. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  18. ^ Smith, Terry (2015). "White Backlash in a Brown Country". Valparaiso University Law Review. 50 (1).
  19. ^ Blake, John (8 January 2018). "How Trump became 'the white affirmative action president'". CNN. Video by Tawanda Scott Sambou. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  20. ^ Blake, John (11 November 2016). "This is what 'whitelash' looks like". CNN. Retrieved 16 February 2018.
  21. ^ John Blake (28 December 2016). "How Trump's win becomes another 'Lost Cause'". CNN.
  22. ^ "Donald Trump, Confederates and the GOP — brethren in the new Lost Cause". Roll Call. 3 December 2020.
  23. ^ "Why Donald Trump's 'Lost Cause' can never stop winning". Why Donald Trump’s ‘Lost Cause’ can never stop winning.
  24. ^ Anthony Lewis (9 June 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
  25. ^ "Anxiety Over Apartheid". The New York Times. 19 April 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.
  26. ^ Jeane Kirkpatrick (11 June 1990). "Exit Apartheid". The Washington Post.
  27. ^ Mary Braid (3 August 1997). "Laager lovers tough it out". The Independent.
  28. ^ Dean E. Murphy (24 January 1998). "Hearing for Apartheid-Era Leader Put Off". The Los Angeles Times.
  29. ^ John Campbell (24 January 2017). "Identity Politics in South Africa". Council on Foreign Relations.

Further reading