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 …

Even Urban Kids …

In an interview of Vincent Harding done by Krista Tippet, Harding talked about his commitment to young people, speaking to their hope and their desire to effect change. He recounted a story of youth from Philadelphia who visited him in Colorado. They were greeted with love and respect and one young man asked Harding, “Uncle Vincent,” (they had begun calling him that), “how can you love us so much?”

The question was a powerful one for Harding because it spoke to these young people who still had hope untapped within them. They were clearly “urban” youth in appearance, Harding said; they dressed, spoke and behaved as the stereotypical urban young person is wont to do. But the question from the young man belied a part of urban youth that is typically ignored or even thought to exist: souls that yearn to be loved, appreciated, respected…and serve.

Harding’s story reminded me of an encounter I had some years ago. I was speaking to an unruly crowd in a high school in Columbus, Ohio. To say they were unruly is an understatement, actually. They were rude and loud …and were not the least bit interested in hearing my little presentation on Black History. It was important to me…but I am afraid I failed in communicating my love for black history to them.

After the presentation, I had the audacity to ask them if there were any questions. I was quite ready and prepared to just exit the stage and the auditorium… to my surprise, a young woman, very pretty, raised her hand. I asked her if she would stand, and she ignored me. I asked her again…standing would help me and others hear her question, but, egged on by her peers, she refused and made a rude comment. I had to hold myself back; I am “old school,” and was taught that youth are to respect their “elders.”  I wanted to remind her who the elder was in this moment.

But I was silent. I listened to her question and answered as best I could. Not a moment too soon, my time with this assembly was done. I was on the front row, gathering my things, when to my surprise, standing in front of me was the young woman who had asked the question.

I looked up …and was surprised. In her eyes were giant crocodile tears. She said, “I am sorry I was rude. I thought you were good…I just want to know, how do I know God loves me?”

I had to choke back my own tears.  This girl, who could not have been much more than 16, was pleading for help. I supposed that among her peers, it would have seemed “uncool” to appear interested or to come off “polite.” Yet, there she stood, the tears in her eyes telling the story of the pain in her spirit. She wanted love. She had something to give but without love, it was never going to come out.

I hugged her and answered her as best I could. I gave her some books she could read. And I told her she could contact me at the church whenever she wanted. I never heard from her again. I hope she graduated and went to college and is in the process of loving this society of which she is a part.

The story of the young man who questioned Dr. Harding, and the young woman who questioned me, tells me that instead of complaining that urban kids are unruly, bad and impossible to deal with, there ought to be more of us looking for ways to reach their spirits and souls. They are human beings, not urban objects. They have songs to sing, the songs of talent and gifts they were meant to share with the world. I am almost sure there would be fewer gangs if more of us could find a way to reach these kids, too many of whom feel unloved and unneeded.

Just this weekend, Hadiya Pendleton was buried, an innocent victim of yet another shooting in Chicago. She made a plea for there to be fewer gangs, but that will never happen if kids keep growing up feeling worthless. It seems that the gang activity, the behavior that causes so many shootings in urban areas, is more a function of kids failing to thrive because of lack of positive attention and pouring into their young minds and spirits. It would not be surprising if the person who shot young Hadiya was performing some sort of initiation ritual for a group of young boys who have banded and bonded together in order to feel respected, loved and needed. Left with far too much time on their own, they devise ways to find that which every human being needs.

I read a story shared by Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, who participated in the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t until she left the safe confines of her all-black community and went out into the world that she felt the alienation that so many urban kids feel within their own communities. She was looking for a job to earn money for college, but she had cut job postings out of the white section of the newspaper, and was rebuffed again and again by incredulous white employers who told her over and over that they “didn’t hire colored.”

She was getting used to that, but came to watershed moment when, one day in her native Memphis, a thunderstorm began while she was out looking for a job. Her grandmother, “old school,” had taught her that one remains inside, quiet and if at all possible, hidden while the storm was on. The storm was to be respected, her grandmother would say, because “God was doing his work.” Being in the midst of such a storm, outside in it, for goodness’ sake, went against everything she had been taught. Yet, when she looked at building to which she might have run for cover, she saw white faces looking at her, with the unspoken sentence, “not in here you won’t come.”

She didn’t try. She walked to the “black side” of town to try to find shelter, but ended up getting on the bus. She was angry. She felt the lack of love and concern and respect for her being just because she was black. She defiantly sat in the “white” section of the bus, on the front side seat. Nobody bothered her.

The difference between Gwendolyn and our kids is that Gwendolyn had a movement into which to pour her anger, creativity and dreams. She was enveloped by people, black and white, who loved her and showed her respect. Any possibility of failure to thrive was cut short by the people who stood in the breach.

There seem to be too few people standing in the breach, and so young innocent children, like Hadiya, are cut down before they get to give to the world their unique gifts. The children who are rude and defiant now were not born that way. They were created and shaped by all sorts of factors.

There are a lot of young urban girls and boys with “crocodile tears” in their eyes and spirits. We just have to take the time to look for them.

A candid observation…

Gun Control an Issue Only if You’re the Right Color?

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan.
Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been fascinated by the arguments and wrangling over gun control – specifically, not understanding why some think that banning assault weapons and magazines which have more than seven rounds of ammunition does NOT mean anyone is proposing that nobody own a gun.

But I am even more fascinated that the idol of modern-day Conservatives, Ronald Reagan, actually signed into a law a bill that repealed a law that had permitted citizens to carry loaded weapons in public places. The so-called Mulford Act was signed into law in 1967, when Reagan was governor of California. The measure was introduced by Dan Mulford, an East Bay legislator.

Apparently, some Americans were a bit nervous about the work of the Black Panthers, who back then, had formed “police patrols.” Members of these groups would listen on scanners for police calls and when something was happening in the black community, would rush to the scene, “law books in hand and inform the person being arrested of their  constitutional rights.” (http://www.pbs.org/hueypnewton/actions/action_capitolmarch.html) These individuals would also carry loaded weapons, which they apparently displayed….but “they were careful to stand no closer than ten feet from the arrest so as to not interfere with the arrest.”

When the Mulford Bill was passed, members of the Black Panther Party protested, and went to Sacramento, carrying their loaded weapons (including rifles and shotguns).

According to a piece that appeared on the site “Keep and Bear Arms” (http://keepandbeararms.com/newsarchives?XcNewsPlus.asp) Reagan “imposed gun control on America.”  According to the article, “Reagan declared his support for  a bill requiring a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases.” The site confirms the fact that “Governor Ronald Reagan …signed the Mulford Act of 1967, “prohibiting the carrying of firearms on one’s person or in a vehicle, in any public place, or on any public street.”  The law, says the article, “was aimed at stopping Black Panthers, but affected all gun owners.”

The saddest thing about this entire gun control debate is that it really shows that the country really is not able or willing to deal with the proliferation of guns that exist in urban areas, where young men are shooting young men, most often poor and black. There are babies, black and brown babies, being slaughtered every day on city streets, but nobody really seems to care. There has been no cry for gun control on a level that would impinge upon ownership of handguns. If that were the case, there would be some legitimacy to the hue and cry that the call for the control of the sale and ownership of guns would be threatening the general right of people to own guns.

The fact that the Conservative’s darling, Ronald Reagan, signed the Mulford Act because he wanted to get assault weapons out of the hands of the Black Panthers says volumes about his feelings on race. If whites had shown up at arrest sites with loaded weapons, presumably to protect other whites from possible mistreatment by and from law enforcement, would the Mulford Act have been introduced?

What people are protesting today is valid; there is no need for anyone in an American city to have a military-style assault weapon.  Most of the massacres we have seen, with young men using these types of weapons, have involved young white men. If the majority of these attacks had been carried out by African-American men, would the protest against banning their sale and use be as vehement?  Would a law, similar to the 1967 Mulford Act, have already been passed?

Someone is going to groan, and say I am playing the race card, but the card has been played already by some, including Anne Coulter. The biggest problem with guns, she says, is in the inner cities of America. Perhaps, she again said, it is a problem of demographics…Her statements are telling, though, because even with the high number of homicides in urban areas, there is no cry for gun control. The cry from those protesting gun control is that “we need to protect ourselves” from government tyranny and thugs.

The thugs they’re talking about are not the troubled young men who have committed mass murders. The young men who carried the assault weapons and carried out such heinous crimes seemed to have come from nice …suburban, white homes.

A candid observation …