White Supremacy Robs Country of Moral Agency

This week I was listening again to an interview of author Adam Cohen by Terri Gross of NPR’s “Here and Now” and was reminded again of how white supremacy has robbed the world of the capacity it had to honor God’s command that we “love our neighbors as ourselves.” (https://www.npr.org/2017/03/24/521360544/the-supreme-court-ruling-that-led-to-70-000-forced-sterilizations)

Cohen is the author of Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck. The book is a fascinating account of how this nation is white supremacist at its core – having a mindset that upholds that white people – more specifically white men – are superior to all people who do not meet their standards of excellence. The affected targets of white supremacist policies and practices are black and brown people, for sure, but also women, Muslims, and Jews, members of the LGBTQIA community, the disabled …the list is actually quite extensive.

We already know that wealthy, Protestant, white male superiority was written into the Constitution; we know that Thomas Jefferson never intended for people to believe that all people were created equal. Our founding document was meant to clear a way for wealthy, white, male landowners to make America white and to keep it white.

That statement is not hyperbole but is supported by America’s own documents and statements of and from American folk heroes. United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, a key character in Cohen’s book, was a supporter of eugenics – the discipline which worked to create and maintain a “master race,” which, it decided, included only “Nordic” people.  Holmes, says Cohen, “had suggested years earlier that the best route to societal reform lay in “taking in hand life and trying to build a race.’” (p. 9) In ruling for the constitutionality of the government’s practice of sterilizing people whose existence they thought threatened the goal of creating a master race, words of Holmes showed how the poison of white supremacy permeates even the institution charged with meting out justice when all else fails  when he said, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

Belief in the supremacy of white people (who were white enough, not “swarthy, as Ben Franklin once complained about the German people)  led people and continues to lead people to believe that some people, because they are “better” than others, are worthy of better treatment, better opportunity and better lives in general. In the 1920s, the eugenics movement was hugely popular. Eugenicists believed that “the unfit,” whom they defined, “threatened to bring down not only the nation but the whole human race.” (p. 2) John D. Rockefeller Jr. and  Alexander Graham Bell were supporters of white supremacist thinking. Members of Congress relied on and celebrated their whiteness; Sen. Ellison DuRant Smith writes Cohen, said: “Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock.” (p. 5)

Books were written describing the peril of the existence of white people, including The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy, and The Passing of the Great Race. Those books are probably on the bookshelves of many of our politicians who still find it difficult to treat people of color with dignity and respect.

Seen in this light, it is not or should not be surprising that the president of this country is fixated on trying to “fix” America’s “browning” problem by building a wall on our southern border, spouting off all kinds of unkind descriptions of who these people are in his opinion – rapists, drug addicts and criminals in general. Those words gaslight the racist beliefs held by so many people who ascribe to white supremacist doctrine. This country has been fighting against allowing people in this nation who are not white almost since its existence. The Immigration Act of 1924 encouraged people from northern Europe to enter this country while closing or widely limiting the numbers of people allowed to enter who hailed from southern and eastern Europe (they were not “Nordic” enough.) States in this country made laws which allowed the sterilization of people judged to be inferior which resulted in untold numbers of women who they believed fit into the “inferior” category to be segregated – i.e., kept away from men for as long as they were of child-bearing age, or to be forcibly sterilized if they remained integrated into the general society.

The work involved in the American eugenics movement was so renown in establishing white supremacy as the will for the world that the Germans borrowed many of America’s findings, based on faulty science, for the establishment of Nazi policy which resulted in the extermination of at least 6 million Jews. In the language of eugenics, Jewish people were inferior. Their presence was not necessary for the good of the world.

The rampant and rancid expression of racism we see today, spawned and nurtured by the principles of white supremacy, is not new; they are part of the very legacy of America. This president and his cabinet apparently have deep roots in white supremacy. More and more we see brazen expressions of their arrogance based on their race, and we see other white people remaining silent.

This is America.

People keep saying that what we are seeing and hearing is “not who we are” as a country. Megan McCain, the daughter of the late Senator John McCain, said being called “racist” is the worst name anyone can be called. The fact is, however, is that the proponents of white supremacy are standing on the shoulders of people before them who pushed white supremacy as the will of God for this country. White supremacists have long overridden even the concept of the sovereignty of God by deciding that not all of whom God created were worthy of being created.

A friend of mine said recently, “My work is to wipe racism out of this world.” It’s a noble dream, but it appears that white supremacy is a tree with roots far too deep to ever be completely unrooted. White supremacy has robbed our country and this world of being moral when it comes to racism, sexism, and discrimination against others in general. We are bound to know its history and to create strategies which will expose it for what it is while establishing and creating justice for those who white supremacists believe are inferior.

This president and his friends in office are merely following the script put in place by those who came before them.

A candid observation …

 

On the Real “Bad Hombres”

             As the president of this nation pushes the narrative that this country needs a wall on its southern border because people from Mexico and Central America are “bad hombres” who “bring their rapists, their drugs” and other “bad things,” the fact that once again, people of color are being made out to be the “bad” ones does not ring true. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/06/16/theyre-rapists-presidents-trump-campaign-launch-speech-two-years-later-annotated/?utm_term=.8ad954839e89)

While there are likely to be some people who seek to live in this country who have questionable motives, it is clear that the majority of them are seeking a better and safer life. They are not criminals, any more than were people who have historically entered this country from other countries throughout history. (https://www.loc.gov/teachers/classroommaterials/presentationsandactivities/presentations/immigration/italian3.html) People have flocked here looking for work; the opportunities here that they heard about drew them here in mass numbers.

This president has made it an art form to label the people coming across the southern border as “bad” people, and he keeps lifting up his belief (or maybe his political talking point) that these people are bringing drugs, causing the opioid epidemic that is killing people here every day. There is no mention of the role that big pharmaceutical companies has played in marketing, selling and promoting the use of fentanyl, which is reportedly 100 times more potent than is heroin. “Big pharma,” driven by greed, has been intent on making as much money as possible by pushing this dangerous drug. (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/05/insys-subsys-whistleblower-lawsuits/)

At the same time, as so many people of color are languishing in prisons because they possessed a small amount of marijuana, the former Speaker of the House is encouraging people to come to seminars to learn how to become wealthy by selling marijuana. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/irisdorbian/2018/10/19/looking-to-make-millions-from-cannabis-ex-house-speaker-boehner-will-tell-you-how/#15a8e26d7c52)

Who are the “bad hombres,” really, if the definition of the same is those who bring drugs?

Then there is the question of rapists coming over our southern border as if we do not have a real problem with men keeping their genitals inside of their pants. White supremacy, I am finally understanding, is as much sexual as it is racial; men believe they are superior to women and they have been given power by our patriarchal society. The slew of men who have been accused of and/or convicted of sexual impropriety is only growing. In this country, rapists are in the White House, heading major television networks, making films, starring in movies, sitting in Congress, pastoring churches and giving communion to children.

Americans, in other words, have no platform for touting moral superiority. Bad hombres in our country, permeating every aspect of life, are everywhere, even here.

What is particularly distasteful is that our media really does bring out the fact that a false equivalency is being raised by the White House to push its racist agenda. America has always struggled with immigration and has a history of wanting to keep people of color out.  Even though Chinese immigrants were responsible for building much of America’s railroads, the Chinese Exclusion Acts were passed by Congress to keep them out. (https://history.state.gov/milestones/1866-1898/chinese-immigration) Benjamin Franklin didn’t think Germans looked white enough and wanted to keep them and others who had “swarthy complexions” out of the fledgling country. (https://qz.com/904933/a-history-of-american-anti-immigrant-bias-starting-with-benjamin-franklins-hatred-of-the-germans/)

The point is that the White House’s claim that “bad hombres” are who are coming over the southern border is a dog whistle for its racist desire to keep people of color out of the United States. There are bad hombres in this administration who, though they wear three-piece suits are engaged in shady financial situations, who are rapists, who use drugs and who are now lining up to sell them legally.

The “bad hombres” label is as disingenuous as it is wrong. America needs to see herself for what she is, bad hombres and all.

A candid observation …

The Continuing Saga of the Angry White Man

The debacle this nation and the world saw last week in the special-called session of confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh was troubling on many levels, not least of which was the once-again uncovering of the deep anger of white men.

 

Those we saw last week were privileged – meaning, men of some financial worth – but the ever-reappearance of white male anger is puzzling to me. White men rule the world. What, then, are they so angry about?

They are members of the White Supremacy Club – a moniker I’ve given them – which includes not only racism but deeply virulent sexism as well. The Founding Fathers of this nation were all privileged white men who intended this country to be created by white people – or more specifically, by white men – for white people, with white men in control. They have taught their brand of sexism to men of all races in this country, but their racism is uniquely their own.

When these men do not get their way, they lose perspective and the ability to contain their anger. I imagine that they grow up being taught that they are better than anyone else and that they are entitled to more than anyone else. I would assume that they are taught that others do not have what they have because others are inferior to them. That being said, I am assuming that they are taught to not be concerned or to feel bad about how they may be perceived. This world is theirs and they are charged to keep it that way.

I make those stark assumptions because all parents teach their children that they have worth. African American parents teach their children that in spite of what the world – defined by white supremacist ideology – that they are just as worthy and intelligent and beautiful and capable as anyone else – meaning the white society which will tell them differently. It’s not surprising that privileged white parents would teach their children to live into that privilege and to realize their unique value as white people – and specifically as white men.

Whenever we think we are “somebody,” and someone else does not treat us in the manner to which we have grown accustomed, we tend to become a bit surly. We are insulted that the person in front of us “does not know who we are.” People who are “somebody,” and/or who believe they are “somebody” become used to being treated differently than the commoners, for lack of a better term. They expect others to know who they are and to treat them accordingly.

So…privileged white men have been having their way for a long time and they are worried, say some, that with all of the undesirables coming into the country, effectively “browning” America, their status as “privileged” is threatened. They are fighting back with everything they’ve got – from passing laws that make life miserable for black, brown and poor people, to working the suppress the vote for black, brown and poor people, to gerrymandering voting districts so that they can remain in power, to separating immigrant parents from their children and throwing those children in what only be called detention camps.

The administration is working to get federal judges on benches all over the country who will preserve the “white way of life,” which is what “Make America Great Again” is really all about. As laws and policies have passed which have made the lives of black, brown and poor people easier, the privileged have become petulant and pissed off.

The white supremacist way of thinking has cooked their brains and foiled their capacity to feel compassion for anyone other than themselves and their interests. They are acting like spoiled children, pouting and having temper tantrums when the world dares to challenge them on things they want to do and which they think they are entitled to do.

When Judge Brett Kavanaugh lost his cool during the hearing on Thursday where he had to answer to charges of sexual impropriety brought by Dr. Christine Ford, I was disappointed but not surprised. It seemed that he had been well-coached by the pouter-in-chief, but his outburst to me seemed to be one of indignation, not that he was being asked certain questions, but that certain people felt they had the right to challenge and question him. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) seemed to fit that description as well. These were grown men, spoiled by a society which supports and practices white supremacy – and they were insulted that anyone had the gall to challenge them on how they chose to live their lives.

The South has been the bane of everything “socially just” concerning race since it lost the Civil War.; its position on the place of the woman hasn’t been much better. Someone said that after the war ended, it would go on without a weapon being fired and we have seen that reality played out for years. The South has resented black people making gains – at, they believe, their expense. They have worked and are still working to make things “right” again. Their “good ol’ boy” mentality has never been so challenged and they are fit to be tied. But they are determined to hold onto their power and their privilege. They will continue to pout …but also to plot how they can keep what they believe is their divine right to have – superior treatment and opportunity based on their race and their gender. They are determined to correct what they believe was a travesty of justice when the South lost the war. They are determined to retrieve the “Lost Cause” and put this country on what they believe is its intended course again.

A candid observation …

To Those Offended by the Taking of a Knee

American-flag-America 

I listen with interest and anger to the people who say, athletes – African American and those in solidarity with them – “taking a knee” are disrespecting the flag and, therefore, this country, even as those same people say little to nothing about the administration hob-knobbing with dictators and enemies of this country.

Do they not know the history of oppression and discrimination against black people in this country in general, and about discrimination practiced against them by the military in particular?

African Americans have fought in every war of this country, eager to support the country which did not support them, but in spite of that, this country treated them like second class citizens, while they fought in the wars and when they got back home.

While this country waged war against fascism abroad, making it possible for citizens of other countries to have equal rights under the rubric of democracy, blacks did not have and could not expect that they would be given those same rights in this country.

The Smithsonian Art Museum published a report in which they noted, “The discriminatory practices in the military regarding black involvement” made it clear that blacks were not values. The report said that “prior to 1940, thirty thousand blacks had tried to enlist in the army but were turned away. In the U.S. Navy, blacks were restricted to roles as messmen; …they were excluded entirely from the Air Corps and the Marines.”

In Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Executive Order 8802, also known as the Fair Employment Act, racial discrimination was banned. The order said, “It is the policy of the United States to encourage full participation in the national defense program by all citizens of the United States, regardless of race, creed, color or national origin,” but in spite of that, racial discrimination was practiced.

With the contradiction of people fighting for the freedom of others while they themselves were denied the same, FDR realized that the world would look upon the US as hypocrites, thus leading him to sign Executive Order 8802. This he did in spite of the protests of the Secretary of War, Harry Woodring, who said that “the enlistment of Negroes …would demoralize the weaken the effectiveness of units by mixing colored and white soldiers in closely related units…”

It is well documented that African Americans returning from war were treated horribly once they returned home; many whites apparently resented blacks in uniform and worked hard to remind them that in America, they were to remember their “place.” There is the well-known story of how African American soldiers were made to stand on a train while German prisoners of war were allowed to sit at tables in the train’s restaurant. Violence against returning soldiers was common. Who can forget the tragic story of Isaac Woodard, who dared ask a bus to stop so he could go to the bathroom and was later attacked by thugs and law enforcement officers who pounded his eyes with their nightsticks until he passed out; his beating left him blind.  And yes, he was wearing his uniform when this atrocity occurred.

Those who balk at the athletes taking a knee, respecting the flag but protesting how, in spite of the freedom that flag represents, forget – or perhaps they never knew – that prior to World War II, 2.5 million African Americans were enrolled in some branch of the military, and 1 million of them served. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/what-was-black-americas-double-war/)

For the Vietnam War, at a time when blacks made up about 11 percent of the total American population, they were 12.5 percent of the soldiers on the field. (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/s_z/stevens/africanamer.htm)

Regardless of how hard African Americans fought for this American democracy, full human and civil rights were denied them once they returned. They could not get the loans for housing and education that white soldiers got, nor many of the other benefits. The discrimination that is being protested now is police brutality meted against so many African American males. It is not right in general; it is even more troubling as it becomes clear that the forebears of these young people were soldiers in the military, fighting for a country which has not ever respected them.

One has to wonder what white people would do and say had this been their narrative? Would they continue fighting for a country which treated them so poorly? The miracle of African American citizenship is that blacks have always fought for this country, in spite of the racial discrimination. To hear white people say that kneeling before a flag to protest police brutality is maddening, even more so when those same white people say that black people should be “grateful” for the treatment they/we have received in this country.

In the present political atmosphere, it is even more troubling to hear the criticism against those who kneel when the national anthem is played even as the president is acting against the interests of this country as he works to become “friends” with our enemies, completely ignoring the now well-established truth that Russia interfered in our election.

Who is the greater or lesser patriot, the African Americans who kneel respectfully as the national anthem is played, exercising their First Amendment rights, something their forebears fought to protect, or the president, who would shut them down even as his policies put America and its democracy in jeopardy?

When will the masses of white Americans wake up and own America’s sordid history when it comes to race? African Americans are not obliged to respect their oppressors or take their discrimination lying down. I am sure not many white people, who really do understand the need for human beings to receive justice, would have been much more vocal in expressing their anger over the violation of their rights. It is what we do in America. It is what humans should do when justice is denied them.

A candid observation …

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 …