Can White Supremacy Be Cured?

The disease called white supremacy is as deadly to the soul and spirits of those afflicted as is a stage four cancer with metastasis.

Unlike cancer, however, white supremacy is contagious and affects everyone it touches. It is without rationality or compassion; it is willfully blind to the reality that those who claim intellectual superiority are simply wrong. It causes people to compromise the conception of God who presumably made everything and everyone intentionally, and it allows people to distance themselves from the putrid and toxic exudate which comes from the hearts and mouths of those who live by it.

James Baldwin

White supremacists do not see people of color as human beings with emotions, needs and the right to dignity; they instead view people as objects. Their dehumanization of human beings is not reserved for only black people, but for brown people, for Jews, for Catholics, for women, and for the poor (whatever race the poor might be.

That’s just for starters.

White supremacy is a mindset which is most notably practiced by wealthy white men, but which is also supported by white people in general. It is a receptacle for racist thought, but also for sexist and Xenophobic and anti-Semitic thinking as well.  It is a way of life based on power and fear of losing that power. It spawns and provokes violence as a means of maintaining its power because the white supremacist believes that violence is proof of being strong.

White supremacists have lied to themselves for so long that they believe the lies. They feel completely justified in oppressing people who do not fit the mold of what they expect. White supremacy is about power, just as is rape.

Author and essayist James Baldwin bemoaned the seemingly hopeless plight of white supremacists. In an interview with David Frost in 1970, Baldwin pondered out loud if this country was on the verge of a civil war. The Civil Rights Movement had been all but decimated, and the gains made by black, brown and poor people were slowing being reversed. It was an act of abject hatred, a quality which white supremacists inhale and digest, presumably because doing so is the only way they can continue their oppression of others.

The Civil Rights Movement, observed Baldwin, “always contained within itself something self-defeating.” Black people, led by Dr. King, believed “at the beginning” of the movement that “there was a way of reaching the conscience of the people of this country.”

“We did everything in our power to make the American people realize that the myths they were living with were not so much destroying black people as whites,” he said.

White people, he said, “are much more victimized” than was he or black people in general, he said, adding, “it is terrible to watch a nation lose itself.” The country was not on the edge of a racial war, he said, but on the edge of a civil war.

Nothing much has changed.

Spurred by fear of losing their power, white supremacists, led by the current president, are on the prowl, joyfully grateful that the president is “on their side.” If, as Rev. Dr. William Barber says that the opposite of hatred is fear, then what we are seeing is fear unleashed, not caring who might be mowed down in the process of making America “great” again.

This nation was conceived in white supremacy. The Native Americans on whose land the whites from England descended had to “destroy the indigenous people in order to become a nation,” said Baldwin. We are still trying to become a nation and if the truth be told, we are not so interested in being “one nation under God.” In fact, our very diversity and pluralism have been major factors in stoking the fear of the white supremacists.

White supremacists will not admit it, but their wealth and power depend on – and have always depended on – the condition of the people whom they regularly oppress. Mass incarceration, voter suppression, poverty, the attack on social programs – are all tools white supremacists use to maintain their power. They are deathly afraid that their power is in jeopardy; hence, the rise from the underground of their hateful rhetoric and violent behavior – even as they criticize violence which comes from people trying to defend themselves from the attacks of white supremacists.

Baldwin said in 1970 that “for the first time the people legally white and the people legally black are beginning to understand that if they do not come together, they’re going to end up in the same gas oven.” White supremacy has taken root in the soul of America and it cannot be cured; it has gone untreated for too long,

The gas ovens stand ready to receive us – oppressed, yes, but oppressors even more. This sickness is only getting worse, and the outcome of white supremacists being driven by their hatred and fear is not going to be good for them. What goes around certainly comes around, and be sure, their behavior is “coming around.”

A candid observation …

An Uneasy Peace in America

Ever since President Barack Obama became president of the United States, there has been an uneasy spirit, an uneasy peace that is brazenly obvious.

Although in 2008 there were tears of joy and the cry of America being “post-racial,” many people, both black and white, knew differently.  America has always refused to look her racism squarely in the eye; she has been content to live within comfortable walls of myth as opposed to agreeing to stand in the hot sun of reality.

America is a nation that was formed with a racial divide.

Author James Baldwin wrote, in Nobody Knows my Name,” that America “has spent a large part of its time and energy looking away from one of the principal facts of its life. This failure to look reality in the face diminishes a nation as it diminishes a person…” He says that we as a nation are obligated to look at ourselves as we are, not as we wish to be, and he said that “If we are not capable of this examination, we may yet become one of the most distinguished and monumental failures in the history of nations.” (p. 116)

The peace between blacks and whites is …uneasy and inauthentic.  We have not looked racism in the fact and challenged it. We have not done the work to become whole.

The most exasperating thing about our situation is that everybody knows it exists. Before this last presidential election, I was having a discussion with a white friend of mine about the political ads on television and radio that we both wished would go away, and, out of nowhere, she said, “…there is so much prejudice in white people. People are so prejudiced against Obama but nobody wants to say it out loud.”

It felt like she needed to say that, to do a “mea culpa” on behalf of people with whom she had close and frequent contact. What it made me feel was …uneasy, because the uneasy peace that exists between blacks and whites in this country feels very volatile and very threatening.

It is not as though the very most virulent racist feelings are confined to a particular region of the United States. Yes, the South has the history of being most blatantly racist, but there has been no love lost for black people in any part of this nation. John Hancock lived in Boston, and owned slaves. James Madison, a signer of the United States Constitution and a president of this nation, wrote that slaves were both property and human – but human only for the purpose of giving states more representation in elections. They were property in general, and did not, could not, receive the rights of being American citizens.

There has been resentment between the races, then, from the beginning of this nation’s life. Blacks have been under the heels of a race that has deigned itself as superior and blacks as inferior. Whites have enjoyed freedom by virtue of their race, and blacks, because of their race, have had to fight for every ounce of “freedom” they have gained. Blacks have resented whites for thwarting their efforts for freedom and whites have resented blacks for wanting more and more freedom, somehow nurturing the belief that blacks are “moochers” who feel like they are “entitled” to what whites freely enjoy.

There is no peace between the races. The issues have been pushed under the carpet and whites and blacks as well work very hard to keep the issues right there.

But truth always comes up and out. The resentment of blacks and whites periodically rises to the surface. There has been no real effort for reconciliation between the races because blacks and whites have been more interested in keeping the disease and its issues hidden. That’s why we have seen and heard so many unkind and racially tinged insults against President Obama. That’s why the Trayvon Martin case is so volatile. That’s why the incidence of hate crimes is on the rise. Though slavery as a formal entity does not exist, blacks are still disproportionately detained in prisons (read Michelle Alexander‘s The New Jim Crow and Douglas 

Official photographic portrait of US President...
Official photographic portrait of US President Barack Obama (born 4 August 1961; assumed office 20 January 2009) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘s Slavery by Another Name) as a way of keeping them in their place. Blacks and whites are as far away as we ever were, made worse by the fact that we will not “look reality in the face.” It is as though we have strep throat but will not acknowledge it or get an antibiotic to kill the bacteria, and as a result, our nation is suffering from a system rheumatic heart disease.

An uneasy peace is no peace at all. Peace comes only after the work of peace is done…and we in America have not done that. It is scary and troubling, but our nation, while it is off trying to help other nations in the world embrace democracy and freedom, has not attended her own broken democracy.  There is an uneasy peace, and it is truly scary.

A candid observation…