Copyright © 2019 Respond to Racism in LO

This Week’s 5: White America, Is This the Attention You Wanted?

August 9, 2019

Author's Note: This Week's 5 is a weekly collection of stories designed to provide insight into how racism works and serve as an easily accessible resource for people trying to have nuanced discussions about these issues. For more explanation on how This Week's 5 works and descriptions of each of the categories, click here.

 

 

Overt

As I reflect on the latest wave of white supremacist terrorism, I can’t help but think of two recent episodes that played out in American mass media. The first was the response by conservative media in 2009 to the Obama Administration highlighting a 2006 FBI report warning about white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement. Conservative pundits cried that it was reverse racism and shamed the Obama Administration into rescinding the report. The second episode that comes to mind is the period following the 2016 election when countless reporters were tripping over themselves to humanize racist voters, nauseatingly repeating euphemisms like “forgotten Americans” and “economic anxiety.” Both of these media campaigns have contributed to the normalization of white supremacist terrorism. In the case of the pushback to the FBI report, it contributed both to the slashing of law enforcement resources for fighting white supremacist terrorism and the empowerment of white supremacist elements within police departments throughout the country. The post-2016 white supremacist PR campaign, in many ways, finished the job by giving bigots a platform and thus, legitimizing their views. Fast forward to 2019 and even following mass shootings, complete with white supremacist manifestos, there are still no shortage of pundits trying to run damage control for the terrorists. One Fox News host even called white supremacy a “hoax” this week. Read more from Democracy Now.

 

 

Institutional

In an America full of grey areas, there are few institutions that participate in as much clear-cut villainy as ICE. That they executed one of the largest immigration raids in history this week in Mississippi, arresting 680 people and separating scores of children from their families with no plan, would be bad enough on its own. However, they did this coming off a weekend where 22 people were murdered and dozens more injured after a white supremacist shot up an El Paso Walmart to explicitly terrorize immigrants and Latinx people. For an institution that has built its reputation, especially in recent years, on systemically and gleefully terrorizing immigrants, this latest raid marked a new low. Nonetheless, it happened and now the families and community members of the workers who were targeted are scrambling to take care of their children, not to mention are also trying to get their loved ones out of cages and stop them from being deported. The combination of the Mississippi raid and the El Paso white supremacist terror attack are the modern embodiment of the infamous Reconstruction era picture “The Union as it Was.” This image depicted a White League member in a suit shaking hands with a Klansman over a cowering Black family. Fast forward to 2019 and the symbiotic relationship between white domestic terrorists and the state-sponsored, supposedly respectable racists is just as strong. Read more from the Huffington Post.

 

 

Critical Race Theory

There are a lot of people who fashion themselves as allies, yet view discussions about privilege the same way little children view the prospect of eating vegetables. Furthermore, they scoff at the notion that they could possibly be part of the problem. This is usually where the discussion ends. The thing is, by derailing discussions about privilege, these people give cover to white supremacist organizing. While this started long before the 2016 election, the dynamic has been especially obvious since that point, with countless news stories seeking to rationalize “forgotten Americans” and their bigoted views by pointing to the fact that they account for a significant amount of the population, as if that’s an excuse for racism. Instead of framing it as a racism epidemic and threat to public health and safety, the journalists covering these stories often flip the burden onto politicians and activists by asking, “So how will you appeal to these people?” As a result, white supremacy becomes further normalized and even after acts of horrific white supremacist terrorism, influential media platforms and politicians are scared to address the issue with the urgency it deserves for fear of alienating too many consumers, even though they represent the worst of our society. Pay attention and you’ll notice that the same powerful entities don’t even consider bending over backwards for bigoted Black and Brown personalities (nor should they). That’s privilege in action. The logical conclusion is the string of tragedies we are witnessing. Read more from Slate.

 

 

History

As an agnostic, I’m very hesitant to deify anyone, even jokingly. That said, we lost a god this week with the passing of legendary writer Toni Morrison at the age of 88. The Nobel Laureate was an inspiration to countless writers, myself included. There are too many aspects of her life and work to deem any one in particular the most significant, but what resonated with me the most was her rejection of pandering to the white gaze. Coming up, not only was she keenly aware of the lack of opportunities for Black writers in general and Black women writers in particular, she was also very cognizant of the fact that the few who were able to get into the door were expected to write about the Black experience for a white audience. This affected everything from the language writers used to the types of stories they told and ultimately reinforced the idea that writers of color in general didn’t truly belong in the literary space, that is, if they wanted to be their whole selves. Morrison revolted against this notion by writing stories from a Black feminine perspective for a Black audience, and more specifically, for herself. In doing so, she opened up countless readers’ eyes to the rich, expansive world that existed outside of the white gaze (and all the assumptions that go along with it). We are all the better for it. Long live the God Toni Morrison. Read more from the Root.

 

 

The Fragility Breaker

Seriously tackling white supremacy requires all of us to interrogate how we contribute to the problem. If there’s anything that serves as a consistent stumbling block for people who do anti-racism work, it’s getting white audiences to accept this. Everyone wants to be the hero in their own story. That’s understandable. However, when working with white people, it’s hard not to notice a persistent pattern of shutting down whenever confronted with their own racist behaviors. By pointing these things out, they apparently think we are permanently condemning them as bad people, which they then use as an excuse for inaction or even supporting things that directly hurt people of color. It’s easy for these people to call out a white supremacist mass murderer or someone who spews racial slurs in a viral video, but they don’t want to examine why they personally struggle with holding conversations with Black people or how their refusal to put actual resources towards anti-racism only makes the problem worse. If you can choose when and when not to care, that’s a privilege. More often than not, that privilege fosters the kind of atmosphere where white supremacy becomes normalized. It makes the idea of not acting until you’ve found something “human” to connect with seem reasonable, as opposed to grotesque. This uptick in white supremacist terrorism is just the logical conclusion of our unwillingness to truly grapple with America’s oppressive foundations. Read more from Splinter News.

 

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