The Impotency of Silence, White Supremacy and Lessons from My Mother

One of the best and most powerful lessons my mother taught me was the lesson of “guilt by association.”

“If you’re with someone who’s doing something wrong and the police come, you’re going to get arrested too, even if you haven’t done anything.”

She told all five us that at a very early age, and it stuck to me, on me and in me like white on rice. So when, for example, I was in Berkeley, California one summer and was out shopping with someone I considered a friend – and she urged me to put a swimsuit I liked into my bag, I panicked. She had lifted several swimsuits and wanted me to “join the fun.”

My mother’s words stung me like a swarm of angry bees; I pretended to go along with her, saying I was going to go back in the fitting room and try on a couple more and would meet her in a few minutes outside.

I did nothing of the sort. I went into the dressing room and stayed long enough to see her going away from where we had been and I made a beeline to another door out of the store, got on a bus and headed back to my aunt’s home.

That was in the middle ages; there were no cell phones back then, nor the internet. She called my aunt’s home several times but I never talked with her again. I didn’t tell on her, but I just stayed away.

I thought about that lesson as I was thinking about the rabid racial hatred that is swirling around us in the present time, and I was thinking about the silence of so many white people in light of all that is going on, making them as guilty of racist behavior as the most vocal racist.

Audre Lord, an African American, Lesbian, feminist writer and poet, wrote, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” She also said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Silence is a tool appreciated and exploited by the system of white supremacy; the thought seems to be on the part of many “progressive” whites that if racism isn’t talked about, then it doesn’t exist. The use of silence also seems to be an insurance policy for some whites who appear to think that if they are silent they cannot be condemned for being a participant in an evil system which knows no boundaries to its quest to control, manipulate and destroy the lives of black people.

At the heart of white supremacist thought is the innate belief that black people are inferior. “The white race” as a construct cannot figure out why black people even exist; in the 19thcentury, some scientists and white theologians posited that there could not be one god, but there were, in fact, many gods, a slap in the face of the principle of monotheism.  Black people had been created by another god, and, that being the case, it was OK to subjugate, oppress and discriminate against them. Their white god didn’t see anything wrong with and would not condemn those who were full of racist hatred and who participated in and sometimes initiated acts of violence against blacks. They could easily lynch someone on a Saturday night and go to church the next morning to sing hymns, hear a stirring sermon and maybe even receive or pass out Holy Communion.

There have been a fair number of whites who say they hate racism, but they do not say much about it. They rest in the comfort of whiteness, protected by their silence; their whiteness is like a tree which provides shade on the hottest of days. They get offended if called a racist and are annoyed when the word “racism” is used in relation to some of the oppression which goes on, but internally, they know that the talk about racism and the harm it causes  is not superfluous, but is damaging many, many lives.

The fear of speaking out is understandable. In our history, those whites who spoke against racism were called “n”-lovers. They were ostracized and suffered in ways that ought not to have been the case. Silence was easier. But silence is complicity. Those who have shied away from actively helping to end racism are like friends of a person who is shoplifting. They are equally as guilty.

The current administration is bold with its belief in and practice of racism; the code words and phrases used have endeared the president to white supremacists, whose desire to “make America great again” is really a push to “make America white again.” Blacks, they believe, must know their place and stay there, and those whites who disagree dare not say too much for fear of the fallout.

People in this country have bowed to the petulant South, which has never gotten over its defeat in the Civil War, but the defeat did not mean the end of the war; it just meant that the war would be fought in a different way. The tools would be Jim Crow, lynching and other violent acts (which is none less than domestic terrorism), voter suppression, discrimination in housing, employment and finances. The war goes on; the troops of the South ever increase, while the metaphorical “Union,” i.e., progressive whites, have laid their weapons down and have basically let those who believe in racism have their way.

But the silence of progressive whites is toxic and, in the end,, will not save them. Even as the policies and practices of white people in power continue to compromise the lives of black people and other non-white, non-Christian people, the wounds caused by this metastatic condition will not heal. The poison which is the foundation of white supremacy will continue to seep out and infect everyone.  As long as white supremacy is alive and well, nobody is safe.

And no, your silence will not protect you.

That day in the store, once I realized my “friend” was shoplifting, I ran. I may have saved myself from being arrested but I often wonder if I should have “squealed” on my friend. I wonder sometimes if she kept doing that. But it didn’t matter; what I realized was that I had my own demons that I hadn’t corrected and being silent about them has not healed me or saved me. I, too, have found myself in situations where I chose to be silent rather than to speak up.

We cannot successfully run from evil; we have to face it and it is in the facing that we begin to weaken it. Too many of us are afraid to publicly come out against racism; the cost, we fear, is too great.

I would posit a different thought: that not confronting racism, calling it out, cutting it off at its knees, will result in chaos that will rage out of control. Our silence is not helping us; it is leading this country to a bad, bad place.

A candid observation …

America’s Underwear is Dirty

It is probably safe to say that all of us were told by our mothers when we were little that we should always make sure our underwear was clean. They said the reason was that we never know when or if we might be in an accident. “You don’t want anybody to see that you’ve got on dirty underwear,” my mother would say.

America, it seems, has never changed her underwear.

The entire debacle of ICE agents ripping children from the arms of their mothers, and of putting children in detention centers while concurrently sending their parents to jail is not a new thing. More accurately, America’s power elite have a history of separating children from their families.

When Africans were brought to this country, it was common for those purchasing Africans would buy a mother or father, leaving screaming and terrified children behind. In many cases, those parents never saw their children again.

It is America’s underwear.

What allows anyone to separate families, ignoring the screams of mothers and their children, is the presence of cognitive dissonance, defined as “holding onto contradictory ideas simultaneously,” according to Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”

            In America, she says, people hold onto the idea of freedom while doing something which is totally in opposition to that ideal. Thus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who would staunchly defend his belief in democracy and Christianity could and did defend the policy of separating families of people coming to America from Central America.

Mr. Sessions does not, cannot and will not allow himself to…consider that these people are human beings, parents who love their children and who would not even think of leaving a despotic political situation and leave their children behind.

He does not relate to the immigrants as human beings. He has disassociated himself from them and therefore cannot feel their pain and worse, cannot believe that they are capable of feeling the same pain as does he and others whose humanity he respects.

Heather Anderson Williams writes in “Compartmentalizing Slavery” that “most white slaveowners …would have only a limited sense of what enslaved people felt and they did not pause the morality of an institution that deprived humans of their liberty and wantonly destroyed their families.” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/how_white_people_justified_and_struggled_with_separating_slave_families.html)

Likewise, there was no sense of how Native Americans felt when the Europeans came to America, bringing with them diseases to which Native Americans had never been exposed which resulted in over 90 percent of the Native American population at that time dying off. Nor did they consider what Native Americans felt when their land was taken, or how they felt when Europeans ignored their humanity in the quest for power and control of this country.

Martin Luther King said that there is a phenomenon called “thingification.”  In an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he said, “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will thingify them – make them things. Therefore they will exploit them …”

That “thingification” has contributed to the oppression of blacks in this country for 300 years, for the decimation and genocide of Native Americans, for the oppression of women, members of the LGBTQ community,  for Muslims, and now, for the horrific treatment the current administration is meting out to immigrants coming to America seeking asylum.

Those ripping children from their parents have made these people “things” in the classic sense. Though they hear the children screaming for their parents, and the parents screaming back to their children, reaching for them, they have distanced themselves from the human tragedy in which they are engaged. Like the Europeans decimating the Native Americans, and like white people thinking only of ways to use black people to further their economic goals, these people today cannot conceive that the parents and children’s screams they are hearing are genuine.

They have dissociated. These people are not true human beings, capable of feeling as do the law enforcement officers and government working against them.

America’s underwear is dirty. She has never changed that part of her presence which was sullied and soiled from the moment the Europeans landed on these shores.

Sometimes, something is so dirty that it cannot be totally cleaned. There is a gray film over it and no amount of washing or bleaching fixes the problem.

This desire to protect whiteness, which is at the base of most of the oppression in this country, has sullied America’s underwear for hundreds of years. Attacking a group of people, ruining their families and causing a lifetime of hurt and pain, is part of what has stained the ideal of American democracy. It is a stain that was begun from the moment Europeans arrived here, and it continues to spread.

Were America taken to an emergency room, sick and in serious condition, it is a sure thing that those trying to treat her would see her dirty underwear, clearly never changed …and be appalled, judgmental and perhaps unconcerned. America’s poverty of humanity caused by her consistent “thingification” of people is leading her to a bad place, where her myth of being “the greatest nation in the world” will no longer stand up to scrutiny. Her dirty underwear will finally be completely exposed.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

America Has the Flu

If one of the main problems of influenza is that it attacks the body’s respiratory system, leading to pneumonia and other pulmonary issues which ultimately cause death, it would seem that America, under this president, is on life support, unable to breathe. This president and his administration  have shown us our disease and instead of leading us to ways to heal it, is ignoring everything that would “make America right again.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), pneumonia is one of the most common and serious complications of the flu. Pneumonia caused by the flu can be viral or bacterial, but both can be deadly and in fact, do cause many deaths. (https://www.cdc.gov/pneumonia/index.html)

America’s racism has been its chronic illness  – its flu, if you will – since its inception; English people came here to escape British oppression, but also to make this “New World” a land created by white people for white people. They immediately began to oppress Native Americans and soon, black people. They declared Native Americans as being savages and brutes and justified their treatment of them on those beliefs about them. Racist ideology was included in nearly everything that these very religious people did from the 1600s on and was built into the United States Constitution.

Black and other oppressed people have fought the racism and sexism, anti-Semitism and many other “isms” for generations. Gains have historically been made and are then lost because angry white people have risen up and worked to undo the gains made by the oppressed groups, almost always violently.

Under this administration, the white backlash is serious and toxic; the venom of white nationalism is filling the lungs of America’s capacity to breathe in “liberty and justice for all,” while simultaneously breathing out racism, sexism, Xenophobia and all other forms of oppression.

Whenever blacks have made gains and fought racism, whites have done everything they could to undo those gains, furious that the federal government has at times supported the quest for freedom, justice, and dignity of people who are just as American as are whites.

America’s influenza – its racism – has not only been toxic but contagious. We are seeing white nationalists boldly declaring and boasting about their racism; Steve Bannon the other day said that whites should wear the badge of “racist” proudly. (https://www.thedailybeast.com/steve-bannon-racist-label-is-a-badge-of-honor) while the GOP-controlled Congress and Senate sit idly by and let the president do and say what he wants, as well as his followers. There is no outrage about the violence being perpetrated by White Nationalists; there are no efforts to stem the tide.

America’s capacity to be a just nation – a place where there is true “liberty and justice for all” – is being hindered by her lungs filling up with the deadly bacteria which causes cultural pneumonia. The safeguards of liberty and justice, morality, and goodness do not apply in the minds of those who believe that this nation should be a nation of white people. Our very plurality – something which other nations have celebrated – is what the White Nationalists abhor, and neither the US Constitution nor the Holy Bible or the religion called Christianity protect those who are attacked and discriminated against simply because of who they are.

Historian Forrest G. Wood in his book The Arrogance of Faith notes that Christianity has been “fundamentally racist in its ideology, organization, and practice.”  Christian idealism apparently means that the dominant ethnicity or race of this country must be homogeneous and puritanical, Wood says.

To hear and to watch this country backslide into a blatantly racist and sexist “norm” is disheartening, but worse, it is ominous because pneumonia damages the lungs and makes it impossible for a person – or in this case, a nation – to breathe. Empires fall. America, the Empire, is in the intensive care unit and its lungs, filled with the bacteria of hatred, are getting more and more weak.

A nation which despises, ignores, and casts aside “the least of these” is destined for death.

A candid observation …

 

The God of the Religious Right a Divine Fraud?

Whenever there has been a tragedy or natural disaster which affects people of color especially, but others as well, I have held my breath, waiting for the Religious Right to give its pronouncement on why said disaster or tragedy happened. When Hurricane Katrina hit, some religious fundamentalists said the storm was the wrath of God, who was displeased with the lifestyle of people in New Orleans and in this country in general; some said the God’s wrath had come because of abortion and homosexuality.

When the earthquake hit Haiti, killing more than 100,000 people, Pat Robertson said it had come from God as retribution, because the Haitian people had “made a pact with the devil” when they fought the French for their freedom in 1804, and won. When the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook happened, the religious right said it was a judgement from God who was angry that “America had turned its back on God.” Alabama Judge Roy Moore and Focus on the Family’s James Dobson said the shooter had killed little children because of abortion and the tolerance of gay marriage.

The recent shooting in Las Vegas happened, said the religious right, because America is a wicked nation. (http://www.rightwingwatch.org/post/dave-daubenmire-vegas-shooting-was-the-wrath-of-god-being-revealed-on-a-wicked-nation/ )

Strangely, the religious right sees evil and wickedness in homosexuality and in the fact that abortion is legal, but their God sees nothing wrong with sexism and racism. Their God has been silent through the years as white supremacy has wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people because of their race, their ethnicity, their religion and their sex and sexual preference.

Wealthy white people, including men who have molested children, never get “the pronouncement.” I have never heard anyone from the Right say that God has been displeased with what members of the white elite have done over time.

While before this president, accusations of acts of sexual impropriety would have been the end for any political run, the religious Right is actually urging support of him, lifting up the Christian principles of love and forgiveness, as reasons to give him a pass. Conservatives are saying that what the president said about Haiti, El Salvador and many African nations was true and that he should be defended. (https://www.advocate.com/media/2018/1/12/right-wing-pundits-defend-trumps-shithole-countries-remark )

They have been virtually silent about the wildfires, excessive rain and mudslides in an affluent part of California; I have heard no statement about the suffering of those people happening because of America being a wicked nation.

The god of the religious Right is an elite deity. Their god causes people to suffer for only the things the Right have deemed to be wrong; their god is a god of culture, not needing for people to be “righteous,” i.e.. “in right relationship with God.” Their god has allowed injustice to be meted out to black people for literally generations; their god has sanctioned lynching and the lack of “due process” for people of color. Their god allows horrific poverty in this, the most wealthy nation in the world. Their god has allowed domestic terrorism in this country, while allowing them to denounce foreign terrorism. Their god thinks nothing of the effort now to deport illegal immigrants, destroying their families like phenomenon of slavery allowed and in fact pushed during that period of time. Their god apparently does not think that poverty caused by unjust economic policies is a bad thing; their god thinks that the sexual harassment of women is acceptable.

Their god has celebrated the “rightness” of white supremacy. It is said that when the very racist film The Birth of  Nation  came out that President Woodrow Wilson said watching it was a “religious experience.” Their god apparently turns his head (and I am sure their god is only masculine) on racial violence; their god allowed police officers to pick up the known white assassin of innocent people shot in a church in South Carolina without incident, though they knew he was armed and had been the lone shooter in that massacred, and take him to get something to eat at a Burger King before taking him in to be processed for his crime. This is the same god that apparently thinks it’s ok for police officers to gun down innocent and unarmed black youth like Tamir Rice and Ty’re King.

It is only abortion, homosexuality and same-sex marriage that their god is concerned about. Their god is fully all right with racism and sexism and any violence that comes with those “isms.”

Who is this god?  It is a god of an elite few. It is a god who I, for one, cannot and do not respect. This god seems to be a fraud, a cultural but not biblical deity which exists to support bias, bigotry, hatred and racial violence. This god is not my god, nor is it the god of the masses. It cannot be, not according to the God we have learned about in the Bible.

A candid observation …

White Men Behaving Badly

It feels like we are all watching a reality show about wealthy white boys in college getting into mischief and pushing the envelope on all levels, without really worrying about the consequences.

The appearance of Attorney General Jeff Sessions in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee was troubling on many levels, but the biggest issue for me is that Sessions and others in the administration appear to be twisting the truth – if it can be called even that – boldly and arrogantly without any fear, it seems of being called on it.

The outrage that the current administration voiced during the campaign about Hillary Clinton being investigated by the FBI is strangely absent now, save the president’s complaints that he is being treated unfairly. The Congress is silent and pliant and is letting this administration get away with lying and with attacking the basic tenets and rights of American citizens.

They are being silent as the administration moves toward an authoritarian regime, in violation of all that the United States Constitution calls for. Sen. Mitch McConnell is immersed, it seems, in his desire to undo any and everything that was done by the previous administration, which accounts for him continually saying that, as concerns health care, the Republicans are keeping a promise made “to the American people.”

I guess he is not aware that “the American people” have changed their minds for the most part in terms of opposing the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” and that “the American people” are rebelling against proposed changes to health care legislation. I guess he cannot hear “the American people” crying out, saying, “leave our health care alone.”

These white men – old, for the most part, ensconced in America’s history of racism, sexism and yes, capitalism and materialism – are tone deaf to the people whom they are supposed to be representing. They seem not to care that their drive to protect the wealthy means that their own constituents will suffer greatly. It feels like the GOP leaders are pushing their weight around, throwing into the faces of many that they are, in fact, privileged, and can do pretty much what they want.

The most troubling aspect of all of this is that none, or few, of the GOP have the courage to stand up against the oligarchs who are systematically seizing control of our democracy and thrashing it around like a puppy playing with a stuffed animal. They are silent and obsequious, more interested in honoring “the Donald” than they are in protecting the United States.

Not even the fact that the United States has been cyber-attacked by Russia is or has been enough to shake them from their desire to “fit in” with the jocks. They seem not to care that the administration is making friends with dictators and fellow oligarchs and insulting our allies. They are selling their souls and, by extension,  betraying “the American people.”

It is puzzling and frightening, what is going on, and talking about it is not productive. Cable news programs are as impotent as is the Congress. The administration is leading everyone around by the nose, teasing here and taunting there, daring someone to truly challenge them.

I never thought I’d see the day when I could not depend on the government of America to protect its citizens. Contrary to the administration’s claims, it is not making America safer. No, instead it is releasing all of the venom which has been at the core of America since its inception – the racism, xenophobia, sexism and religious snobbery and prejudice which too many Americans have. This administration seems to be in exact opposition to everything the Founding Fathers stood for, at least on a theoretical basis. They didn’t want blacks to be equal to whites, and they didn’t think women had a place on the equality spectrum, either, but they sure did not want an oligarchy or monarchy, or so they claimed.

Anti-Obama people “wanted their country back. Well, they’re getting it …and then some. The white men at the top are having a party at the expense of “the American people.” They are behaving badly, and nobody has yet figured out how to stop them.

A candid observation.