My grandfather died without being able to read.
I would like to tell you the story behind this fact which serves to illustrate an event that had a huge impact on, not only my family, but also, the perspective of a lot lower class white people in Virginia.
My dad’s father only had a 6th or 7th grade education because his school closed to avoid integrating black students. Being extremely poor, and having no relatives in other parts of the state, the only option my grandfather was left with was to go to work. By the time most of the schools reopened, my grandfather had been working for years, leaving him with no time, or incentive, to finish his education.
Put another way, he was one of the earliest victims of the so called “massive resistance” strategy of the Stanley Plan, which was pushed through the Virginia General Assembly in 1956 by a group of white separatists and the governor at the time, Governor Thomas B. Stanley, for whom the bill was named. This bill was a direct refusal by the Virginia government to adhere to the federal mandate to integrate public schools, and prompted many schools to shut their doors rather than allow any student to attend any school.
I did not know my grandfather very well because he died when I was six. Given this, I cannot personally speak to how this lack of education impacted his political or social views. But we can take this one experience as an example of the white elite in Virginia sacrificing all of their sentiments at the twin altars of class and race. They literally used the rule of law to punish all of the poorest people in their community in an effort to enforce the exclusion of Black people.
But what was their explanation for this? The legislators claimed they refused to fund public education in the state “in order to protect the health and welfare of the people”.
Community leaders saw themselves as more civilized and progressive than residents of the Deep South. As Jill Titus writes in Brown’s Battleground: Students, Segregationists, and the Struggle for Justice in Prince Edward County, Virginia, “Virginia’s interpretation of Jim Crow was stifling to black aspirations but nonetheless distinct from the racial code that governed life in the Deep South. The Old Dominion, after all, had been the aristocratic capital of the Old South. White elites wholeheartedly supported segregation and disfranchisement but shunned vigilante violence as a threat to social stability.” [emphasis mine]Katie June-Friesen, Massive Resistance In a small town
To me, the above quote illustrates the heart of the issue that many in the Virginian, Christian conservative elite have with both Black people and trans people. We “disrupt” the social order simply through our very existence in what they deem to be their spaces. Or what the rest of us call, existing out in public.
Believing the existence of trans people to be a threat to the social order, makes it easy to cast trans people as not real and simply “promoting a divisive ideology”. Which thereby supports the idea of rejecting us from public life because any good, white, Christian Virginian cannot be seen promoting a threat to the social order!
This is also where we see the enduring influence of the antebellum era social code. Every other type of oppression is predicated on maintaining the social class structure that keeps the white elite in place. The elite go so far as to convince poor white people that the system is also beneficial for them by using racist/ableist/transphobic rhetoric to appear “on the same side” as the poor white people they also exploit. Because if there’s a class of people beneath (or opposed to) them, the poor white person gets to feel superior to someone as well, and is therefore promised social mobility by virtue of their whiteness, and ability to provide profit for the white elite through their labor. Whether this social mobility actually materializes is of no consequence. This promise is offered only to appease the poor white worker into not questioning the structure at large or even noticing how the white elite are oppressing them, albeit not in the same manner or to the same degree as everyone who is not white, or unable to work.
The current generation of parents who belong to the white elite do not want their children mingling with people whose existence challenges the established structure in a number of ways. Chief among these challenges to the existing order is the fact that widespread societal acceptance of trans people would, by necessity, undermine the ability of powerful, white men to oppress people on the basis of sex assigned at birth. But that isn’t what these parents are thinking when they are pulling their children from public schools. They believe they are protecting their children, and in a way they are exactly correct. They are preserving the social order from which they have benefitted and from which they expect their children to continue to benefit. This is the exact same sentiment that motivated the school closures of the ’50s, and continues to drive the recent wave of anti-trans hate and racially motivated violence in this country as a whole.
This is not necessarily intended as an “eat the rich” style diatribe. What I hope you take from this is a deeper understanding of the ways in which the economically elite and politically powerful members of this country continue to use racist, ableist, and transphobic systems to empower themselves at the expense of everyone else. Transphobia is just the flavor of the month in Virginia.
Complement your greater understanding of intersectionality with a deeper understanding of people who call themselves “queer by choice”, and learning more about the history and the enduring effects of this “massive resistance” strategy.
Baker, Robert E. “Legislators Get Stanley School Plan.” The Washington Post. August 28, 1956.