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 …

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.

American Democracy has not been Democratic

Is there anything that will make the masses of white people own up to the fact that there is such a thing as white supremacy in these United States, that it has existed for years, and that it has produced “side effects” which continue to affect African-Americans today?

I listened to Bill O’Reilly go toe to toe with Dr. Cornel West, and in their discussion, O’Reilly said he did not believe there is such a thing as white privilege. (http://newsone.com/3168784/cornel-west-schools-bill-oreilly-on-white-supremacy-trickle-down-economics/) O’Reilly is an historian of sorts. He knows what the history of this nation has been as concerns black people. So when he said that, I just sat back, frustrated.

Nowhere do we hear from this nation’s white “leaders” except, maybe, from former President Jimmy Carter, that America has a sordid past as concerns its treatment of black people for which there needs to be atonement. While America blasts ISIS for brutal behavior, her leaders keep her brutality under wraps. The lynching of black people, a huge reality, is something we just don’t talk about. We, Americans, burned black people for being accused, not necessarily convicted of, crimes. We denied people “fair” trials by juries “of their peers.” White people, claiming to be Christian, led by their pastors, treated black people like rabid animals, not human beings with needs, feelings and emotions. White slave traders broke up black families as they looked for the best “deals” to wield the greatest profits for America’s growing economy, and now they complain about the broken black family which too often has no father figure present. White politicians ignored the right of all children to get a good education, denying funds to schools in black rural and urban areas for those schools to provide solid educations for black children. White systems made it impossible for black people who fought in America’s wars to get loans for homes and for education, once they returned home from serving their country. White law enforcement officers often participated in violence against black people; white presidents turned deaf ears and blind eyes to the needs of black people.

I read about the lynching of Sam Hose (http://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/502), accused of killing his boss, and I wept. The going reason for lynching black people was that black men were raping white women. Facts show, however, that it was white men who were raping black women – without ever having to pay for it. Black women were pieces of meat, owned by white men. They were desecrated and humiliated, and were impregnated at the same time. I am sure some black men raped white women, but in many cases, the sex between black men and white women was consensual. White women would lie and say they were raped in order not to be killed by their husbands. Why won’t white people talk about how they are not so “holy,” not so “blameless?”

White people have no idea about how their racism has impacted black people, making masses of black people live in fear. The Great Migration, brilliantly written about in The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, happened in large part because white people terrorized black people in the South, behavior sanctioned by and participated in by politicians and law enforcement officers.

Surely, Mr. O’Reilly knows this and more, and surely, he recognizes that emotional trauma like this – which has not stopped – yields side-effects. Surely too he knows that mass incarceration, on top of black people having limited access to employment, has resulted in disintegration of the African-American community. Surely …

White people seem oblivious to their history. They seem, for the most part, to want to keep their heads in the sand; many refuse to admit that the Civil War was about slavery (states’ rights meant states wanted the right to own slaves). They refuse to admit that Jim Crow worked to dehumanize black people, even as it worked to undo the freedoms black people enjoyed for a short time. They will not own that their participation in job and housing discrimination was something they could do because they were and are white – that their whiteness gave them the privilege of participating in a system which was bullying black people further and further into second class status.

All this happened as white Christians abdicated the dictates of Christianity to live in and with agape love for all people.

America’s democracy has not been democratic, not for black people, and white people will not own it.

A candid observation