“How does it feel to be a problem? To have your very body and the bodies of your children [assumed] to be criminal, violent, malignant.” –Melissa Harris-Perry
The Modern Racist Paradigm
I see his corpse up on the television screen, limp and cold and dead just dead. He wore clothing that matched much of my wardrobe and he had been holding a can of the fruit juice that I liked to drink. These strange little coincidences underscored my horror at viewing the image of Trayvon Martin’s corpse. I remembered another innocent corpse, this one scorched onto my conscience by a photograph in a book, Emmett Till and his mangled face and bruised and bloodied body. Trayvon died because his killer did not think he belonged in the neighborhood we was walking through, Emmett died because his killers did not think he should be flirting with the white woman who caught his eye at the general store. It was hate that killed these two young men, a sort of American hate that is as persistent as it is corrosive and poisonous. This is hate so deep that it strips the humanity from people with dark and brown skin and condemns them for the poverty that was imposed upon them by those condemning them for it! This hate has consumed the lives of millions emotionally, psychologically, and physically and continues to consume still more. Slavery, Jim Crow, Separate But Equal, The War On Drugs, Stand Your Ground. These are the names hate takes when hate wishes to justify itself and ingratiate itself with the powers and cultures that be. The roots of hate, the true, deep, primeval core of hate that must exist deep within the dark bowels of our collective history, the meaning of why we hate…These are concepts I do not have the capacity to truly understand or really even contemplate. Perhaps that is because I do not want to look with such a fixed and searching gaze directly into the hideous core of the American experiment. I, like far too many of my fellow citizens, do not want to grasp at that the peculiar institution is instead the essential institution for America.
The assassinations of Evers, Malcolm X, King, the lynching of thousands upon thousands, the sexual assault and rape of thousands of women, men and children, the slaughter of thousands by “law and order” forces, the 400 year dark edifice known as slavery. The suppression of the black vote, the mass imprisonment of black men and boys, the economic and psychological warfare that was and continues to be Jim Crow. I have no point to make after this list. The point is the list. American history is not a progression from slavery to freedom as much it is a self-perpetuating cycle of fear and lust manifesting itself in volcanic bouts of racial violence and class warfare. White, conservative, capitalist, Christian men have ruled America through the various governments that have been imposed and have imposed themselves upon the continent. The structures of power have always been in white hands, and this continues to be the case. Racism has not abated, but in this day and age it behooves the smart power broker or businessman to pretend at tolerance and fairness. They know what to say and where to keep the fickle liberals and willfully ignorant conservatives happy and content with their own passive racism. Reverse racism is the shame of the oppressor displacing itself as hostility. Fear, which begets hatred which in turn begets shame, is the consistent zeitgeist of the community of bigots
Reverse Racism. Post-Racial Society. White Pride. We are berated with such sentiments today from white Americans desperate to escape the fear that consumes them because of their knowledge of how much they have to lose if the rest of America is allowed, finally, an equal chance at making their peace with the American system. White America feels it must scramble to use the levers of power to protect and empower themselves as much as they can before they inevitably lose power to a rising collective of empowered blacks, latinos, women, asians, enlightened whites, and LGBT people ready to compromise, reform and revolutionize the American system and its culture, economy and laws. The future is not white, the future is multi-colored. White Americans fail or refuse to realize that they will have a place, an equal place, in an American future that is based on true democracy, love, and shared responsibility. Instead they see the empowerment of all as a violation of the “right” of one segment of humanity to dominate and exploit the others.
The powerless are said to be the ones with the real power. George Zimmerman’s attorney introduced us to a seemingly new, but ultimately familiar, paradigm in the ongoing attempt to refuse any dignity to black and brown people. Now, we are told, there is no such thing as an unarmed black man or child. No no, we forget that the danger inherent to black people is so profound that the concrete sidewalk itself is weapon enough to justify his being killed by a person who “feels threatened” by his very being. This is as profoundly hateful a sentiment as any in the history of white self-justification and obfuscation on matters of race and justice. Black men kill, white men defend themselves and white women. A white man cannot kill a black man because, by the logic of hate, if a black man dies at the hand of a white man, or a man working from point from within the spectrum of white privilege like Zimmerman, the black man must have been to blame. Even by being blameless he is condemned and castigated and condemned by his color. In the eyes of white power dark skin is the ultimate weapon, because it is a constant reminder that the wall separating those in power from those without is an imaginary and will fall when human beings stand up together as one people. In every case involving a black man or youth it is he who is on trial, even if he is the victim.
The great and criminally under-appreciated journalist and human rights activist Ida B. Wells said
No nation, savage or civilized, save only the United States of America, has confessed its inability to protect its women save by hanging, shooting, and burning alleged offenders
In the place of woman substitute privilege and we have in one sentence the problem of white America.
The political classes who seek to exploit white anxieties and inbreed racism understand that language matters and that whomever controls the vocabulary of an issues often controls the issue itself. Today there are a proliferation of terms used to both demean black Americans, belittle their struggle, and undermine their progress towards gaining full equality as citizens and human beings. Paul Gorski, an education reformer and civil rights activist, makes the point that racism and the necessary and inevitable denial of racism by the racist exist on a continuum and do not always conform to popular notions of the issue and, in fact, racists are
quick to distance [themselves] from that prejudice, as if [they were] somehow shielded from its permeation
The prejudice in question is of course against Black Americans in particular. Terms and apologies such as “reverse racism”, “I have a black friend so I can say what I want about race” and “they always see racism when it doesn’t exist” are just a few of the myriad ways white Americans seek to express their racism without having to deal with the now extant social stigma that comes with open expression of prejudiced views and behaviors. Outright racial slurs and insults have been replaced, at least in polite company or in public, with talk of “low information voters”, insinuations about the utilization of welfare and social programs, and outrage over the supposed collapse of “morality” and “culture”. The “Post-Racial” society that the white establishment and their apologists said had come about after the election of Barack Obama is an example of this narrative taking the form of a meme that pervades society and becomes a justification for the very prejudice that was declared obsolete. Since the election of Obama there has been a resurgence of prejudiced statements, legislation and attitudes within the American culture and political systems. New voting restrictions, racially motivated redistricting, attacks on reproductive rights and healthcare access for the poor (a group with a disproportional number of black and other minority peoples) and rhetoric shaming those who use welfare, public assistance or food stamps. Indeed the “black President” who supposedly ushered in this post-racial utopia is termed by his white conservative detractors as the “Food Stamp” President and his parentage and upbringing are constantly called into question. One idiot lynching a dummy figure of the first black president is one thing but racist memes introduced into the body politic that deal with the very legitimacy of the presidency of Obama is clearly a sign that racism is still festering in many areas of American society and its institutions. The modern racist paradigm is based upon the historical and systemic dehumanization of black and brown peoples over centuries. Chattel slavery led to feudal exploitation which led to political and social marginalization which continues to this day. Those condemned to struggle are blamed for their own debasement. The racists then claim that the social ills and psychological conditions that inevitably arise from this debasement are a result of the inherent inferiority of black and brown peoples. White crime and immorality is often systemic and entrenched within corrupt systems. Black crime or other moral failings, driven by the social conditions imposed by unjust individuals and systems, are seen by whites as more personal, innate, and violent and this idea is re-enforced by a media controlled by those with a vested interest in maintaining the racial and class status quo. The cycle of abuse, reaction, and inevitable debasement is allowed to continue even though the conditions and systems that led to the problem may be long gone or at least proscribed by laws and social mobility.