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The Reality Behind the Great Replacement Theory

What are White folks really afraid of?

I recently wrote an article about the Great Replacement Theory (GRT), including its French origins and how it’s been adopted by many in the United States. As you might imagine, I received much feedback, including one comment that made me pause.

“Why is it still called a theory when the white population is indeed becoming a minority," asked a reader. "The offspring of a non-white and white parent is rarely considered white by our own society and by the Census Bureau.”

Some realities fuel the GRT, including the fact the white population is shrinking by percentage and by number. Census projects that white people will become a minority in America by 2045, so in terms of actual numbers, white people are being replaced.

Depending on where they get their news, some white people are being bombarded with messages saying they are victims of reverse discrimination. Brown people are streaming across the U.S. Southern border and being handed voter registration cards, and affirmative action is depriving white and Asian students of opportunity (though the most significant beneficiaries have historically been white women).

What is lacking, in reality, is white certainty. It used to be the case that if you came from a well-off white family and got an education, you had a reasonable expectation of success. You could inherit the family business or depend on nepotism and relationships to advance your career. Your main competition was from your peer group because minorities were systemically provided fewer opportunities, to which they now have greater access.

There have been several triggering events that some white people welcomed while white supremacists were sent scurrying. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, some white folks heralded the event as the beginning of post-racial America. Others regrouped to elect his polar opposite with the rallying cry of Make America Great Again.

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When President Joe Biden appointed a Black woman to the Supreme Court, Ketanji Brown Jackson was criticized as an “affirmative action pick” despite her Harvard law degree, clerkship for Justice Stephen Breyer, and years as a federal judge. Kamala Harris is the current vice president of the United States, and we’re frequently reminded she is a “heartbeat away from the presidency.” Many of the concerns about Joe Biden’s age are related to the possibility he’ll die in office and subject America to another Black president—a woman, to boot.

The GRT was never meant to protect poor white people. From America’s beginnings, power was vested in the hands of land-owning white men. GRT has concerns about the preservation of power; its only concern for poor white people is that enough of them are convinced to take up the cause in the belief they will somehow benefit. There wasn’t such a thing as white people until white indentured servants joined forces with Black indentured servants and enslaved Black people during Bacon’s Rebellion. This raised the fear of a united lower class, so whiteness was invented to create a separation between Black people. At the same time, slavery became the bottom layer of the economic model for America, eliminating indentured servitude. Since then, a fear has been promoted that white power might be threatened. That fear has now been given a name.

Those now considered white came to America as a minority and will be a minority again in the future. Many groups like Jewish people, Italians, Germans, Greeks, and the Irish weren’t initially thought of as white but are now included when needed. The Great Replacement Theory is especially wary of Jewish people, but they are accepted as needed. As 2045 nears, there may be another expansion of white people to include darker-skinned Hispanics and Asians, though their acceptance will also be on an as-needed basis.

Control of the levers of power is being solidified while the pretense of democracy remains. Attaining elected office has become more and more about fundraising with the goals of political action committees, the Federalist Society, the NRA, and most billionaires firmly aligned. Justices on the Supreme Court are dependent on nomination by a president and confirmation by the Senate. Even when the president was Black, his choices had to remain within the mainstream. While the Supreme Court has minority representation, it has always supported whiteness. Even when Congress passed multiple voting and civil rights acts, the Supreme Court could be depended on to gut those laws ultimately. The whole concept of originalism is in deference to white supremacy, which is what the country's founders intended.

While GRT is mostly a conspiracy theory, there is reason for concern that whiteness alone isn’t enough to ensure success. Many white people I communicate with demonstrate great concern for advancement being “merit-based” without once realizing how little merit applied in the past and how minorities have had to be extra qualified. The middle class was created by programs like FHA and VA loans that excluded Blacks and others from middle-class neighborhoods. The government invented redlining, condemning many Black people to substandard living.

White people should have little fear of being replaced. The ones that should worry most are those promoting a theory that cannot stand. If your political prospects or income depend on convincing others that white people are at risk, you will be replaced. There’s a backlash to the whitelash you represent, which is the most hopeful news about race relations in recent times.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of William Spivey's work on Medium. And if you dig his words, buy the man a coffee.