A white relative of mine always seems to respond to the latest news about hate crimes and/or racially motivated oppression with the same statement: we [white people] need to get it together b/c in the next 50 years we won’t be the majority anymore and if we don’t start acting right, it’s gonna be on.
I usually respond by rolling my eyes, questioning his assumption that we [people of color] are interested in violent revolution, and pointing to Apartheid. I remind him that Apartheid existed unchecked for 46 years; majorities had very little impact on power cemented by racial ideologies, access to sophisticated weapons and acts of state sanctioned terror, and ultimately coupled with criminalizing and control of “difference” through a series of passcodes, ghettos, failed schools and health care, undesirable-stigmatized jobs and prisons.
He always responds that Apartheid ended and it ended through violence.
But I point out to him, that while violence was part of the equation, that violence was often carried out by the state not the people. Moreover, while the ongoing fight against Apartheid by black people made up the core of the struggle it took a shift amongst both whites and so-called “coloreds” to bring the system down.
Many Black South Africans had been fighting Apartheid since it was implemented, and their efforts cannot be minimized; without their own self-determination and self-advocacy no one would have cared about what was going on in South Africa. The British, who have often crafted themselves as the “kinder, gentler” colonizers in a similar way to the French and Spanish in the Americas and Africa, thought of themselves as “good people” b/c they managed to restructure a few oppressive laws, prevent some from passing, and otherwise make minor gains against a system that remained intact under their efforts. Like the Boers, they benefited from the system of Apartheid both passively (thru unearned privileges and economic gains) and actively (through the exploitation of domestic and public labor by stigmatized black people). Foreign diplomats, the wealthy, and the famous all vacationed and/or performed in South Africa while multinational companies based in the U.S., Canada, and around the world not only did business there but also occasionally dumped tainted product on black people. Many mainstream feminists both within and outside of South Africa were also silent on its atrocities more often than not, seeing feminism as divorced from racial inequality that left black women open to both sexual and economic exploitation, disease, and death. It was only when corporate interests, social capital, and concerted grassroots efforts from black people themselves and their allies coalesced that Apartheid began to fail. Majority or minority had very little to do with it.
I’ve always thought these conversations, which should tell you what holiday dinners at Susurro’s house are like, were specific to our multi-cultural-over-educated family. Afterall, we will argue over the finer points of Foucault and Trosky in a heartbeat to make a point connecting S-21 to Abu Ghraib. My father once disowned me for saying that I liked Doris Day and Gidget (Sally and Sandra), only to forgive me when I could deconstruct the ways in which their characters and films subtly challenged gender norms while seemingly reinforcing them. The jury is still out about bourgeois acutrement and race relations . . .
However, two things made me think perhaps the conversation about numbers, power, and “race wars” is going on in a larger, scary context outside of our little fireside chats:
Last night the boys and I fell asleep with the tv on after a QAF marathon to celebrate the fact that conferences will always bring us back together in la casa. When I woke up, there was a televangelist on the television reading headlines from the day’s news. Her voice shook with panic as graphics of each headline popped up on the screen. They referenced the economy, famine, war, disease, etc. Then she turned to her male co-star and asked him to explain what the Bible tells us about “Obama’s one world government.” (I kid you not.) The two then began weaving a talk of biblical apocalypse, racial tension, and Obama as anti-christ. They blamed him for everything from swine flu to terrorism and implied he was invested in judging and condemning those who disagreed with him (ie race war).
One of the boys woke up beside me, as I muttered under my breath, and said “Oh yeah, those two come on all the time. They’re in national syndication.”
That factoid made me immediately think about the number of people whose news comes solely from their church or Christian programming (as in television programming) and how that connects to ongoing views of “reverse discrimination” and fear of “end times” that have less to do with the typical liberal image of the “backward backwater bumpkin” and more to do with a concerted effort to mis-educate people. By using televangelists, conservative pundits, and pharma funded pseudo-grassroots “organizers” from “the neighborhood”, a certain hegemonic narrative about race and racial conflict is being reinscribed into the white imaginary as white nationalism. White nationalism being defined as the equating of a commitment to a prosperous and just nation with homogenous racial identity and a return to supremacy imagined as “simpler times.”
That thought transported me back to the elections when just days after the state I was in, had voted, I went to buy a niece a Bible at one of the largest Christian bookstore chains in the nation. It caters to mainstream and evangelic Christians, stocks items in English and Spanish as well as from a wide array of racial and ethnic musicians and writers, and has storefronts in most major malls; often it is the first stop of new youth groups for gifts for the Pastor or his wife, or church members experiencing rights of passage or in need.
I remember buying the Bible and a book mark with a quote about love and watching the woman at the register look at me sideways before putting the free monthly newspaper the store produces into the bag with my items. At the time, I only wondered if she had “smelled the Catholic on me” b/c you know, some Protestants still think we belong to a cult . . . but when I got home and opened the newspaper, I realized the look was about Obama. There was a 2 page spread on how Obama was the anti-christ and we should all be worried about his “ascendancy to power.” In other words, “don’t vote for that black man, he wants to get us.” It was illustrated with images of a race war in which black people and Latinos were oppressing “god fearing” Christians who were all white. The “fair and balanced” paper had a single column on the adjoining page praising the multicultural advancement that Obama represented and encouraging people to pray before voting. Clearly this paper had been designed to influence the vote toward white supremacy. When the cashier put it in my bag after the vote was over, one can only imagine that she wanted to make a racial point that she believed to be fundamental to our shared faith despite the cognitive dissonance necessary to believe so.
I remember wrapping the Bible and the bookmark in the two page spread, putting it in an envelope and mailing it back to the headquarters of the company with a note: Do you believe that Heaven will be segregated, with occasional concerts and guest speakers from the poc side like some kind of Jesus’ led Jim Crow, or simply that none of us, including those who produce the items sold in your stores, will actually enter the Kingdom at all? I received a convoluted reply about racial reconciliation being different than the biblically predicted anti-Christ and the coming race war. (Needless to say, my niece got a lovely rosary for her confirmation and a stern reminder to always engage her Protestant friends in discussions about equality.)
The second instance was a little more rational:
I’ve just finished reading this fascinating piece at Imagine 2050 that connects Y2K, the Northwest Imperative (for those who don’t know that was an attempt to make the pacific NW into the new Aryan Nation), and white nationalism as espoused by Pat Buchanan and Senator Graham. The connections author Eric Ward makes are perhaps most interesting b/c they move away from the “ignorant fears don’t matter” thesis that currently seems to dominate a lot of liberal analysis of various conservative movements in N. America. Instead, he points out how easy it was to frighten people and have them stock piling food and water over a computer glitch and how much easier it was for supremacists to put the word out to move North and West without much sustained criticism or intervention from the region itself. (While there were racism taskforces and a large Sharp presence in pacific NW, the long term impact of supremacist groups was not a priority. The resulting “no wo/man’s land” in various parts of states in the region and the increasing hate crimes and anti-immigrant graffitti in both rural and urban centers in the area speak to how little was done to address underlining issues while pouring tons into ending overt ones.) Finally, his analysis also steers clear of the “good people” theory that has also continued to be a major stumbling block in addressing loyalty to whiteness (as a system of unearned privilege) and concludes that the problem is not only the willingness of some to commit totally and fully to white supremacy but also those who excuse it away as “fringe” or “opinion” or otherwise fail to commit to a concerted effort to addressing underlining systems of privilege instead of the latest overt ones.
Here’s a quote from his conclusions:
Regardless of their strategic decisions, by far the best weapon of the white nationalist movement has been the unwillingness of liberals, conservatives, progressives and their respective institutions to reject the advances of white nationalism. Unlike Y2K the shift from white supremacy to white nationalism was successful. White nationalism is now mainstream, not because of its success as a movement, but due to our willingness to remain silent.
Ultimately, the post and the blog take the fears of white racial minority status and its potential meanings to race relations seriously. In so doing, it hopes to avoid the “it’s on” moment I doubt is actually coming, by fostering conversation about the connections between seemingly small but significant acts and the mundane realities of racial hegemony. These conversations are clearly things we on the “left” need to be having not only amongst ourselves but in the larger societies in which we interact.
We have already lost the opportunity to discuss the prison-industrial-complex presented to us only weeks ago to claims of equal responsibility and irresponsibility. Yet every day is a new opportunity to have rational conversations about supremacy and fear with one another. And we have to start by making similar connections between what some want to see as the “crazy fringe” and the mainstream, dailiness, of the Pat Buchanans, the bookstore, or even your neighbors. It is particularly important to outreach to those whose own marginalization in other arenas might make them particularly blind to the ways in which they can still oppress others, without becoming oppressive ourselves.
Returning to Apartheid for a moment, I often tell my relative awaiting the “revolution”, that long after the system of Apartheid ended, the unequal and unearned wealth and control of resources continued to create racialized inequality and encourage despair driven violence against ones own. As the regime came to an end, the exporting of techniques we all claimed to be so horrified by to Western countries like Israel and Northern Ireland and militias paid by governments like the U.S. and with training facilities on U.S. soil were planned and implemented. Some of the most powerful nations in the world employ both police and military trained by former members of the Apartheid regime. And the people who crafted it predicted that they would make millions on speaking tours, and they did.
Much like the export of Nazi military techniques and scientific research after the end of WWII, whiteness as a global system of oppression (not a race of people) continued unchecked precisely because those techniques and innovations developed in the petree dish of rampant nationalized racism has always been adaptable to “peace time.” The narrative of exceptionalism, that says these regimes are not part of a larger ideology that permeates our world, continues to be one of our biggest stumbling blocks to ending atrocity and global inequality based not only on race but all other oppressions that go unchallenged to avoid disloyalty to whiteness.
The fear of the “coming race war” is little more than the fears that have mobilized violence against people of color, immigrants, LGBTQI people, and women, in any given location, in any given nation. Only by admitting that can we began to dismantle a system whose fruits come from both “good” and “bad” trees.
Please go read the whole article from Imagine 2050 blog there and then let both the author and I know what you think of the piece.