February 28 2017 Dispatch #17
Day 114 Post-Ascendency of White Supremacy & Misogyny (PAWSM)
Day 39 Post-Installation of White-Supremacist-Misogynist-Pussy- Grabbing-Self-Aggrandizing-Demagogic-Bully-Illegitimate-PeeOTUS & his White-Nationalist-Fascistic-Christian-Supremacist-Quislings
I have just finished reading Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Searing. Devastating. Heart-piercing. Speaking to the virulently toxic legacy of structural White Supremacy which structure stands as the foundation for America. Revealing how these evils nourished ravenous and unrestrained capitalism that is the prized “right” above all other values. The Irish girl who turns in her white employers for hiding a runaway slave — knowing that the older couple will be stoned to death – instructs/explains to her sister immigrants: “A girl’s got to look after her interests if she’s going to get ahead in this country.” Michiko Kakutami’s review is incisive:
In his dynamic new novel, Colson Whitehead takes the Underground Railroad — the loosely interlocking network of black and white activists who helped slaves escape to freedom in the decades before the Civil War — and turns it from a metaphor into an actual train that ferries fugitives northward. The result is a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery.
One of the remarkable things about this novel is how Mr. Whitehead found an elastic voice that accommodates both brute realism and fable-like allegory, the plain-spoken and the poetic — a voice that enables him to convey the historical horrors of slavery with raw, shocking power. He conveys its emotional fallout: the fear, the humiliation, the loss of dignity and control. And he conveys the daily brutality of life on the plantation, where Cora is gang-raped, and where whippings (accompanied by scrubbings in pepper water to intensify the pain) are routine. Over the years, Mr. Whitehead writes, Cora “had seen men hung from trees and left for buzzards and crows. Women carved open to the bones with the cat-o’-nine-tails. Bodies alive and dead roasted on pyres. Feet cut off to prevent escape and hands cut off to stop theft.
In North Carolina, slave patrollers “required no reason to stop a person apart from color,” Mr. Whitehead writes. Defending the need for night riders, one senator tells an angry mob that their “Southern heritage lay defenseless and imperiled” from the “colored miscreants” who lurked in the dark, threatening “to violate the citizens’ wives and daughters.”
Such passages resonate today: the police killings of unarmed black men and boys, the stop-and-frisk policies that often target minorities, and the anti-immigrant language used by politicians to ramp up prejudice and fear. Mr. Whitehead does not italicize such parallels. He does not need to. The harrowing tale he tells here is the back story to the injustices African-Americans and immigrants continue to suffer, but a back story only in the sense, as Faulkner put it, that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
I have stood in front of my computer several times during the past 3 weeks, searching for some coherent train of thoughts upon which I might construct a dispatch. I don’t want to think I have grown weary just a few weeks after the flowering of unbridled fascism here. I do understand that RESISTANCE language, organizing, and actions will require years of work – the breadth of the ground lost recently recounted by the New York Times:
Republicans have top-to-bottom control in 25 states now (ID, WY, UT, AZ, TX, SD, ND, NB, IA, MO, AR, KS, OK, WI, MI, IN, OH, KY, TN, MS, AL, GA, FL, SC, NH) holding both the governorship and the entire legislature, and Republican lawmakers are acting with lightning speed to enact longstanding conservative priorities. In states from New England to the Midwest and across the South, conservative lawmakers have introduced or enacted legislation to erode union powers and abortion rights, loosen gun regulations, expand school-choice programs and slash taxes and spending. Republicans have gained power rapidly in the states since the 2008 presidential election, winning 33 governorships and in many instances entrenching themselves in power through legislative redistricting.
State legislators and legislatures, encouraged and enabled by the ascension of fascism are likely to create more immediate and deadly threats to human rights and civil rights than the White-Supremacist-Misogynist-Pussy-Grabbing-Self-Aggrandizing-Demagogic-Bully-Illegitimate-PeeOTUS & his White-Nationalist-Fascistic-Christian-Supremacist-Quislings.
Yeah, guns for everyone complete with silencers; a ramped up war on women; utter disdain for poor and vulnerable people; unrestrained and unrepentant destruction of immigrant families; a robust return to polluting our water and air. http://ktla.com/2017/02/23/ice-agents-move-hospitalized-salvadoran-woman-awaiting-emergency-surgery-to-detention-facility-in-texas/ this young mother of two transported in a wheelchair with hands and feet bound.
How can we make sense of these brutal behaviors carried out for centuries by American leaders?
Well, I deliberately chose Ascendancy and NOT Emergence of White Supremacy. Isn’t it OBVIOUS that Republican gains based on playing the race card accelerated during Obama’s Presidency?! (Perhaps this could be called ‘hiding in plain post-racist-sight.’) Are we white people that desperately determined to avoid facing our legacy of White Supremacy?! James Baldwin would say yes. Did the emergence of the Civil Rights and Women’s Movements mid-20th-century spark the strategically-planned growth of the ultra-conservative White Supremacist-wing of the Republican Party to take back their country from the others? Angela Davis would say yes.
Many progressive/social justice movements are engaged in critically important work essential to the possibility of America becoming a country that can be truer to its founding mythologies. White Supremacy remains a foundational poison, however, yet to be exorcized, reconciled, and atoned. Many Americans alive today either witnessed or heard first-hand accounts of unspeakable lynchings of black people (including WW2 veterans), lynchings where white people cheered, had picnics, and took pieces of human flesh as souvenirs. We have all witnessed the apartheid/genocide by drugs, guns and prisons of urban-dwelling blacks. Such events, framed by 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow, leave indelible marks on the country’s psyche and DNA. How else to explain the depth of viciousness, cruelty, and rejection of any semblance of common/public good cultivated by politicians, ramping up since the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, and brought to a firestorm since Obama’s election in 2008.
Liberal and progressive pundits are regularly sounding this call to arms – how we can reclaim American values and democracy by rejecting the Illegitimate-PeeOTUS. Really?! These assertions ring hollow and reflect a deep ignorance of America’s past and present. Like Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, we are ‘shocked, shocked’ to find our country wielding White Supremacy/Nationalism in response to the deep anxieties and anger provoked by this Era of Post-Industrial Global Capitalism. Uh-Huh…
Perhaps I sound too angry? Too dark and too outraged? Nah, although wearying, I like my anger and out-rage.
“Anger is not bad. Anger can be a very positive thing, the thing that moves us beyond the acceptance of evil.” Thank you Joan Chittister. http://www.joanchittister.org/ See also https://cpsglobal.org/content/anger-energy-can-be-asset
Sophia A. McClennen, in Salon article, notes the optimism of James Baldwin’s anger:
One clip in the film shows Baldwin when he appeared in a TV documentary called “The Negro and the American Promise.” Baldwin points out that the problem of race in America is the problem of America itself, of its inability to come to terms with a system that depends on marginalizing large classes of people.
“What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it,” Baldwin says. “If I’m not a nigger here and you invented him — you, the white people, invented him — then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it’s able to ask that question
At one point in the film Baldwin explains that even though he refuses to whitewash the brutality of U.S. race relations, he remains an optimist. He is an optimist, he tells the viewer, because he is alive and refuses to give up. In this way, decades after his death, Baldwin offers viewers a model of optimism for the Trump era. It’s an optimism that’s rooted in reality, in seeing things as they are, and in asking the hard questions no one wants to hear.
As Baldwin wrote. “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” It is hard to suppress the feeling that if we don’t heed his words, things could get a whole lot more terrible. www.alternet.org/culture/why-great-writer-james-baldwins-insights-about-america-are-more-relevant-ever
As we focus on immigrants, labor rights, environmental degradation, privatization of everything, criminalization of poverty, economic inequities, and militarization of everything, we must also face the structural oppression that continues to nurture a country unable to grow up. We are crippled and paralyzed by the discord between our American mythologies and our American history past and present. Is reconciliation and atonement possible in America? James Baldwin believed in this possibility.
For more practical instruction for how to act on your own belief in this possibility, Go To The Movement for Black Lives Platform. https://policy.m4bl.org/platform/
And Check out http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/
Racism [White Supremacy] is still present throughout all of our contemporary institutions and structures. Racism is devastating to people of color and is closely intertwined with all systems of oppression. It robs all of us- white people and people of color- of our humanity. We honor and learn from the long history of people of color and white people who have been unrelenting in their struggles for racial justice, and ending all systems of oppression. We are showing up to take our responsibility as white people to act collectively and publicly to challenge the manipulation of racist fear by the ruling class and corporate elite. We know that to transform this country we must be part of building a powerful multiracial majority to challenge racism [White Supremacy] in all its forms.
Will Racism Ever End? Will I Ever Stop Being A Nigger?
Kevin Powell’s long piece in Utne details the work necessary to approach this possibility and, as these excerpts suggest, we White Americans MUST know our history.
I can hear my White sisters and brothers say now, as many often declare to me when this uncomfortable dialogue occurs, “But I did not own slaves, I had nothing to do with that” or “My relatives did not do that.” It does not matter if you or your long-gone relatives were directly involved or not, or if you believe that “that is in the past.” The past, tragically, is the present, because we’ve been too terrified to confront our whole history and our whole selves as Americans. Furthermore what matters is that a system was put in place, rooted in slavery, based on White skin privilege and White skin color, that revolved around power, land, property, status, shared values born of oppression and discrimination and marginalization, and that has never changed in America. Never. That system and its values have been passed generation to generation as effortlessly as we pass plates at the family dinner table. So it does not matter if you never openly refer to a Black person as a nigger or not. It does not matter if your college fraternity puts on Blackface and mocks Black culture on Halloween or not. It does not matter if you are a practicing racist or not. It does not matter if you call yourself a Democrat or a Republican or an independent.
As soon as Dr. King’s blood was scrubbed and washed from that Memphis motel balcony, America, our America, under the guise of taking the country back, began an all-out assault on those very minimal triumphs that occurred during the Civil Rights era. We have witnessed Nixon, the Reagan Revolution, the crack epidemic, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex; we have seen record numbers of poor Black folks thrown off welfare and locked in jails during the era of President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton; we survived the administration of George W. Bush, his infamous wars and his failed “no child left behind,” and that hideous stain on America’s face called Hurricane Katrina.
And so, you see, that is why this is also so much bigger than a Donald Trump, although we know that Trump represents everything that is wrong with America, not just because he is an angry, foul-mouthed, disrespectful, opportunistic, racist, sexist, and classist heterosexual White male, but because he knows he has power and privilege, and uses it to injure others, without any remorse whatsoever. Trump’s racism is the same racism of Barry Goldwater, of Nixon, of Reagan, of George W., of Paul Ryan, of Rudy Giuliani, of Chris Christie, of certain kinds of straight White men of means and access, who couldn’t care less about middle class and working-class White Americans, but who have conveniently created and spread a lie, in thinly veiled racial tones, that the enemy of these White folks in middle America, in the American South, are the Black folks and other people of color who threaten their freedoms, their jobs, their security, and their rights. Whether Trump really means what he is saying or if he is simply being highly opportunistic is inconsequential. Fact is he is saying those things, people feel and believe him, and he continues a storyline that has brought great harm to America for centuries now. Because the greatest trick of a racist is getting folks to believe that racism doesn’t exist in the first place or that the people with no power and no privilege are the real racists, the real oppressors.
But we also must be conscious of how this racism cancer eats at us, how it destroys us from the inside out, how we must learn the difference between proactive anger and reactionary anger. Proactive anger builds bridges, possibilities, alliances, movements, and, ultimately, love. Reactive anger destroys bridges, breeds dysfunction, and spreads more madness and confusion. Yes, passion is necessary, and we should be angry because of what I have described in this essay, for it is a natural human emotion. But that anger must not become the very hate we say we are against.
For White Americans this means you’ve got to re-invent yourselves if you are serious about ridding our society of racism. You’ve got to ask yourself who and what was I before I became White? What does it mean to me to be human, to be a human being, and what, again, am I willing to do, willing to sacrifice, and willing to give up to be a part of this necessary healing process? You must learn to listen to the voices of Black people and other people of color, you must not feel the need, through arrogance or insecurity, to tell us who we are, what we should be thinking or feeling or doing, and you must, with love and respect, understand when we may be hyper-sensitive to race, to racism, given the history and present-day realities of our America. Shutting us down or ignoring us or un-friending us says you do not truly want a conversation, as equals, especially if that conversation makes you uncomfortable.