Tag Archives: white supremacy

The Super-Virus of White Nationalism

White Nationalism and White Supremacy are not identical beasts. I am not sure if I could explain why, but I could feel it in my bones facing him. It felt as if we have been treating White Supremacy with too many antibiotics and had created a drug-resistant super-virus. It felt as if our desire to sooth the discomfort of the prejudices in our country had led us to ignore the root cause and the growth had festered. My soul aches.

For the past 24 hours, I’ve been highly aware of a spot on my right side, at the bottom of my ribcage. Judging from our respective heights and the position of our bodies, it’s where I imagine the knife that the crowd said they saw in the self-described White Nationalist Nazi’s hand would have gone if a mother holding a baby had not pushed him away from me before people started the outcry that they saw a knife. Like a ghost limb, I feel a wound that is not there. I suppose the wound is in my heart.

At the entrance to the airport, where we held signs with verses of love, and cheered when detained students were released, I turned from the police officer guiding the Nazi away from the crowd and rested my weary head on a friend’s shoulder.

For weeks I’ve been seeing people joke about wanting to punch a Nazi, but after being close enough that I could have done so, I do not feel like its funny. I only feel really, very sad. I’m sad for him, and I’m sad for me. I wish the officer that stepped in had searched his coat pocket where he stowed whatever was in his hand, rather than just patting down his pants pocket and directing him away. Maybe it would have created a much needed intervention.

I had started to talk to him, hoping there was some way to connect, some way to reach him. I could not find a foothold. I felt helpless to do anything other than place my body between him and the many children that were around the airport entrance with signs. When he asked me whether I understood evolution, and whether I grasped that I was inferior to him because I was a woman, I turned around. I told him I was not going to engage him any further, but I would place my back between him and the crowd.

He could have done anything to that back; I understand that now. It was the most peaceful thing I felt like I could do. I was not alone, I had plenty of people looking out for me, and another man began to engage him. He assumed at first that the man was there to support him because of his appearance and went in for a handshake; but the large, white man actually had a “Not One Inch” shirt on and was there to push back against fascism. “Nah bro, I’m not with you,” he had said to him. I do not know what I should have done. The White Nationalist felt dangerous. He told me he had been on the same websites that I knew had radicalized Dylann Roof. He told me that he believed in fighting for there to be all white nations in the United States and Australia.

Like my siblings in the back seat of my mother’s car growing up, he started saying “why are you pushing me” while pushing me. It gave the illusion that I was the one moving him. I stayed in front of him. I was not sure what to do, but I figured that if he was at a point where he was shoving me, I didn’t want him shoving the women and children around me that were cheerfully chanting that “Love not hate, makes America great.”

It was only afterwards that I would understand that he was trying to get us to attack him, when his friend told a spectator that they (what I would call a cell of white men radicalized on the internet) were trying to get footage of themselves being attacked to send to Fox News.

He kept pushing at me as I stayed between him and the crowd until he was shoving me and my body was whipping back and forth like a rag doll.

Just then one of the mothers with children that I was trying to keep him away from pushed him off of me, his sign with the Nazi SS symbol tearing from his hands as she did so.

Then there was an outcry about a knife, an officer appeared, I tried to explain to the officer that the men who had stepped between the White Nationalist and the women and children and I were being protective not aggressive, and the officer guided the young man away.

The children were crying. It was so upsetting. I did not feel tough, or strong, or brave, I just felt really, very sad.

Making enough assumptions to bury himself, he had thought he would catch me off guard with his embrace of evolution. Yet, I knew where his comment about evolution and my inferiority came from. It was an old staple of racist theory in the United States ever since Ralph Waldo Emerson studied Scottish scientist Robert Chambers racist theory that “The stars and all the heavens had developed from spontaneous electrical generation, giving rise to every form of life through means of elaboration from the lowest, simplest organism to man’s apex in Europe.”*

He did not know that people in airports keep asking me where I go to school because they see me desperately studying to try to understand the roots of dangerously flawed logic like that which had infected this young man. Still, I did not know how to reach him. I’ll study harder. I’ll love harder.

Samuel George Morton, the most revered of the white supremacist school of anthropology developing in the 1800’s in the United States, argued that the superiority of the Europeans was due to their Egyptian origins. In his Crania Egyptiaca, he claimed that the Egyptians only looked like they had curly dark hair because they were wearing wigs over their straight, blonde hair.** People really believed this… !?!?

*Side. Eye.*

Josiah Nott of South Carolina argued that the Torah applied only to white Westerners and that non-white people had other scriptures that told their stories… yes, he claimed the Pentateuch told the origin story of his ‘real America’ while excluding the Jewish community that actually wrote and preserved the Torah.***

As intellectually cartoonish as these thoughts seem, they were respected in their day, leading Emerson to write that the lives of the poor were “not worth preserving,” and leading Theodore Roosevelt to a preoccupation with “race suicide.”

Perhaps the truly alarming thing is not that White Nationalism is rising, but rather that it has always been here. Seeing it upon the desk of history, we have shifted the papers to hide it from view; but it has remained, residing in the minds and writings of some of those scholars for whom our history books reserve the most praise. Their unquestioned legacies lending unquestioned legitimacy to current teachers of radical racism that follow their defunct and disproved ‘science’ based in head measurements of stolen skulls.

I sincerely believe that we will not defeat White Nationalism without facing that aspect of ourselves, of our past, of our history.

I have seen that whether it be Ida B. Wells use of investigative journalism, or Zora Neale Hurston’s use of anthropology, solid facts do have an impact upon culture. Information – truth – does matter. Facing the truth does help. The work of those women and many other men and women did help us.

Yet, we need so much truth right now. How will we make our cousins see it?

We have to face the truth about ourselves. We have no entitlement to goodness, and neither do our heroes. We’ve got to face who we are and who we have been as white people in this nation if we are going to find out who we could be.

I do not have all the answers, but I’m not going to stop trying to find them. No matter how much it hurts. Six months from today, I fully expect to look back and say, “you knew nothing six months ago”: just like I said six months ago, and six months before that.

 

*Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People, New York: W.W. Norton & Co, p. 178

**(Ibid) p. 193

***(Ibid) p. 195

My Feet Are Planted

“Don’t you think there is another side of the story,” was his opening line, as I pondered the stranger in front of me with puzzlement. My mind scrambled. What story? What other side?

“What do you mean?” I queried, studying the white collar, Caucasian man, a couple decades my elder.

“Well don’t you think there’s other people who have responsibility?”

“What people? And what responsibility?” I asked, trying my best to remain polite and engaged. Whatever code language it was that we were speaking was one that I either never learned or, more likely, had forgotten how to speak from years of disuse and disarming bluntness.

“Well, Michael Brown. Don’t you think he had a responsibility not to charge at a police officer?”

Oh. Michael. Michael, we are still talking about you. I promise we have not forgotten.

Despite the fact that not a day goes by in my life without a mention of the small community outside of St. Louis that brought national attention to the #BlackLivesMatter Movement, I found myself surprised that his line of questioning bent my gaze towards Ferguson.

I was surprised to be questioned about Michael as Baltimore erupted over the killing of Freddie Gray; Chicago demanded answers for the silence surrounding Rekia Boyd‘s homicide; and South Carolina’s old wounds had been laid bare by the murder of Walter Scott.

Part of me wanted to say exactly that. Part of me wanted to simply say “Walter Scott” and walk away, but I knew I could not do that. To direct his attention away from Michael would somehow feel like walking away and leaving Michael lying in the street. But I had taken my shoes off, out of respect, and laid my bare feet against the pavement where Michael’s blood still remains, and I cannot walk away from him now. I will not walk away from him. My feet are planted.

Quickly self correcting, I said instead, “Let’s not get lost in the weeds. You and I could stand here all day and debate whether Michael charged a police officer, but we really have no way of knowing for certain what happened that day in a way that will satisfy both of us. But that is not even the point; the point is that I know that if I charged a police officer, I would not be shot. I could even hit a police officer and I would not be shot.”

He had to agree with me. Seeking to remove my diminutive size from the equation, I pushed the point further.

“And the same is true for you. You know that you could charge a police officer and not be shot.”

My conversation partner could not disagree. The fact that we did not disagree on this point is important. The reason why it is important is not whether or not it is true that I can do what I want to a police officer without being shot; the important detail is that we, as a white man and white woman, believe that it is true that the police will not shoot us. That is what people have called white privilege.

White supremacy, consequently, is the belief that that reality is acceptable. In other words, believing that the police will not shoot me is a part of my reality, regardless of how I feel about that fact. I can cry out to high heaven that it is wrong that I do not have to be cautious around law enforcement while other people do have to be cautious around law enforcement, but it will still be my reality. When, we accept this reality and do not fight against it, however; when we see it as justifiable and acceptable that a black man is more likely to be shot than a white woman, it is then that we have bought into white supremacy. We have accepted the current reality as just. We have become accomplices to a system of white supremacy.

White supremacy does not look like a cryptic figure in a hood. It looks like you and I when we are silent in the face of injustice.

Silence is simply not an option. Our only ethical option is to speak out and act out against a white supremacy system built upon an acceptance, whether active or passive, of white privilege. Our only option is to undermine the very system that seeks, through the offer of benefits and privileges, to purchase our integrity and occupy our souls.

“The point is that we have a real problem in this nation,” I said to him, “that problem lies in the fact that regardless of what Michael did or did not do, the reason he was killed is because he was black.”

Once again, he could not disagree. So we ventured deeper into the footnotes of our minds.

We discussed all the painful history of our nation’s crimes against humanity. The painful reality that it was Christian theologians who, along with European philosophers, created the foundation for our system of slavery, rape and murder. That it was our own beloved Scriptures that were twisted and tortured until the god they squeezed out of its pages could no longer be called love. That it was the words of our own prophets that were wrestled to the ground, bound, whipped, and gagged until they fought their way free and came roaring out like a loosed lion from Sojourner Truth’s throat. That it was the blood of Christ himself that we spilled with every single life we took. That five hundred years of unspeakable cruelty and outright heresy were not going to be undone in the flash of an eye.

That there were theologians who taught that the Indigenous peoples of Africa, the Americas and Australia, were not quite made in the image of God in the same way that the people of Europe were, and thus, it was not murder to kill them. The fact that this encouraged our nation to put in place the 3/5ths compromise, that defined people in bondage as 2/5ths less than a whole person. That this lie, built upon theological heresy, philosophical errancy, and scientific fraud led to a devaluing of life whose repercussions are still felt to this day.

That the fact that the shootings of Rekia Boyd, Walter Scott, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice – are related to this history and not independent of it. That the heresy that many churches taught, that black lives do not matter, is the heresy that we now have a profound responsibility to speak against as clergy.

Once again, he could not disagree. And I loved him for it. It meant there was a chance.

He could admit that his feet belonged planted firmly beside Michael, Eric, Rekia, Walter, Freddie, but would he stand there?

First he tried the ‘use your family as an excuse’ maneuver. “Are you married? Do you have children? Then you wouldn’t understand, it is so much harder when you have others to think about.”

“The question is not whether it’s hard,” I responded, “The question is whether it’s right.”

Yet, there was still one “Hail-Mary” left, the ‘your generation will change things’ maneuver. “I really believe that it is going to be your generation, the Millennials, that will fix this,” he said, making the full turn from active resister to passive ally.

But to be passive and an ally is not a possibility.

“I know you’ve heard people say,” I replied, “that ‘we’ll have to wait until so-and-so dies before we can change the carpet or the organ or the parking.’ Well, my generation does not want to spend our whole life waiting for your generation to die. I don’t want to spend my whole life waiting for you to die. It would be so much better if we could do this work together. Join us; let’s do this together.”

In that moment, he had no maneuvers left, for who wants the world to place their best hope in our own fleeting mortality.

I do not know where his feet will be planted; but I know where my feet are planted.

And they shall not be moved.

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