Here’s How White Nationalism Moved from the Fringes to the Mainstream


Barack Obama became the nation’s first Black president in 2008. In the years that followed, minority representation around the country increased. In a stark backlash to this progress, white nationalism moved from the margins to the mainstream of American politics.

This is the claim Hunter College and Graduate Center Professor Sanford Schram and Richard Fording (of the University of Alabama) make in their new book, Hard White: The Mainstreaming of Racism in American Politics. Hard White traces the white nationalist movement from David Duke, the former KKK leader, to the emergence of the alt-right. 

“There was an opportunity for extremists to do what they had been thinking about for several decades, whether or not they should get more involved in conventional, mainstream electoral politics. And they started to,” Schram says.

“Extremists started to change their rhetoric a little bit, and their attitudes, and their behaviors, and started to participate more in mainstream politics. And that opened the door to white nationalists, white supremacists, racists, becoming more involved rather than sitting on the sidelines.”

Schram called this shift a “hard white” turn — hence the book’s title.

Schram and Fording also show that Donald Trump’s popularity did not stem from appealing to economically stressed voters. Instead, they say, he mobilized already racially hostile voters to demand a place in the White House.

Hard White cites Obama’s presidential tenure and the increases in minority representation as two major shifts that ignited the mainstreaming of white nationalism. According to Schram, the nation underestimated the immensity of this movement.

“The main takeaway of the book is that out-group hostility has become more of an issue,” he said, using the term “out-group” to describe a social group one does not belong to. “What we’re seeing now is the increasing polarization of out-group hostility where people are more extreme in their views of being anxious about out-groups. We show in our book that white in-group identity may be best understood as a platform for out-group hostility.”


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Hard White
Oxford University Press, 2020

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Sanford Schram (Professor, Political Science and Sociology) | Profile 1 | Profile 2