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“It just feels like they’re coming for us. It’s not paranoia. It’s objectively just looking at what is happening…It used to be people felt shame for being a racist or saying the word ‘nigger’. Not now.”
– Eva Patterson, founder of Oakland’s Equal Justice Society, on the murder of 18-year-old Nia Wilsonby a white supremacist parolee.
The frequency and intensity of attacks against black people by both state and non-state actors is now a daily Internet spectacle. From online insults and threats, and in-your-face-challenges and hassels by store clerks and managers, and harassment by smart-phone-wielding protectors of public (read: white) spaces, to violent assults and cold-blooded murder by an emboldened white citizenry and its paramilitary killer cop enforcers— all of these “events,” we once believed, were not happening any more than the usual public and private degradations blacks have always endured.
Indeed,people like actor Will Smith argue that there really is nothing new about these 21stcentury iterations of black debasement. The only difference now, he said, is that almost everyone sports a hand-held video camera which captures these “incidents.” These real time videos render these now quotidian outrages undeniable, or at least harder to rationalize as the exceptional acts of a handful of demented, abnormal, and above all, individual white souls.
Smith is right, of course, in that covert white supremacy/white racism and its attendant violence have become more visible because, and only because, of the new technologies. These devices have yanked the covers off heretofore simmering-just-below-the-surface, white resentment, white angst, white fragility, white anger, and white fear — all of which radiate from a visceral core of white-hot hatred of black people. These instruments have exposed a deep-seated white chauvinism which has always harbored an apparently inherent, pervasive, violent proclivity against us. These cameras show that this hatred runs much, much deeper through the white American psyche than most of us dared to believe.
The End of Hope
Next year will mark the 400thyear of our forced arrival upon these dreaded shores. Throughout this entire period, each and every night and day of it, most black people have thought, believed, prayed, hopedthat “things” would eventually get “better.” Always we thought, believed, prayed and hoped that white folks would someday finally, at last, honestly address and redress their astounding history and continuing legacy of colonialism, imperialism, genocide, slavery, suffering and death. For 400 hundreds years now we have desperately wanted to believe – hoped— that enough of them would finally come to their senses and once and for all time rein in their die-hard racist terrorists and supremacist kith and kin. And, throughout all those years, sporadically, in agonizing, frustrating fits and starts, some measure of “progress” had been made.
But…Then Came Obama
Barack Hussein Obama’s mere existence drove countless millions of otherwise “good” white people crazy— right back into their traditional, historical, hysterical – but most comfortable — default position: anti-blackness. Black folk carefully watched white folks’ never-ending, off-the-rails racial and racist response to Obama’s every utterance, his gait, his diet, his leisure time, his dress, and, of course, his suspect “heritage.” They were desperate to find something, anything that might taint, question, challenge, discredit, delegitimize, and then, finally, unseat this brown interloper, this half-white usurper, this black pretender to the very throne of whiteness. Yes, yes…all presidents have endured at least some level of similar scrutiny – but none simply and solely because they were the “wrong” color.
And now? As James Baldwin described their antecedents fifty years ago, today’s people who “think that they are white,” never cease braying that only theyelected Obama. For them, Obama’s election signaled the “end of racism” because, they insist, he never would have been elected without them. This is true as far as it goes. However, they purposely gloss over or ignore altogether that in neither of his two elections did Obama receive a majorityof white votes; that, indeed, he got fewer white votes the second time around.
And that has always been the problem, the white problem: There has neverbeen a majority of white folks who supported black anything. On every “issue” affecting black people, white people gather themselves into one of three groups: Those whose affinity for black people runs from curious to patronizing to favorable, even self-effacing; those who adopt a willed indifference to, or place themselves above or beyond the entire “race” question; and, of course, those white folks who harbor (and occasionally act out) a deep and abiding hatred of all things black. The reality is that throughout this nation-state’s history, the indifferents and haters have consistently outnumbered and overwhelmed those who, as Spike Lee put it, might be inclined to “do the right thing;” that is, those who see, and more importantly, treat black people as….well….people. Obama and his black family’s presence in the heretofore lily white White House once again crystallized this formulation.
Making America White Again
Donald Trump’s election was nothing more and nothing less than a knee-jerk and mean-spirited white response to this nation-state’s first black presidency in particular and black people more broadly. Yes, as declared by cable TV’s most visible go-to black male, Van Jones, on election night in 2016, Trump’s ascension to power was a “whitelash,” a retrenchment, a retaking and a return of all that power to the rightful and white hands of white men. How could it be otherwise? Historically, like clockwork, vintage, virulent “white backlash” has dogged every single step forward black people have taken since Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. This Trump-inspired whitelash is every bit as terrifying as when ex-Confederate soldiers organized themselves into the Ku Klux Klan in order to prevent ex-slaves (“Freedmen”) from exercising their dearly earned, blood-soaked freedom.
Because of Trump, actual neo-Nazis, actual Klansmen, avowedwhite nationalists (including self-described “alt-rightists”) – all have flocked into the ranks of America’s upgraded paramilitary police forces. These are overwhelmingly white men, but not a few white women, who have commissioned themselves as thefront-line protectors and preservers of a once all-powerful but inexorably diminishing “identity”– the so-called “white race.” These modernized white police departments employ updated versions of the same shock and awe tactics used against black people 300 years ago: a generalized harassment, occupation and isolation of black communities, false arrest, false imprisonment and forced labor, verbal and physical brutality, torture, and, of course, state-sanctioned lynching.
“Keep A Top Eye Open”
In 1851, the black and white, anti-slavery Boston Vigilance Committee published a posterwarning black people to steer clear of the “Watchmen and Police Officers of Boston.” The warning was a response to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. I have previously written about Frederick Douglass’ response to this damnable law thusly:
[Douglass] called it a piece of “tyrannical legislation.” It allowed – required– all white people to actively aid in the capture and return to slavery of any runaway slave — from any and every corner of the country. It removed all due process considerations, civil and human rights from any and all black people. “For black men, there is neither law nor justice, humanity nor religion,” said Douglass. This meant that even bona fide and legally free blacks could be accused of being fugitive slaves, spirited into the South, and enslaved for the remainder of their (and all of their progeny’s) lives.
And so, think about the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and its parallels with the presidency of Donald Trump. And then ask yourself have “things” really changed that much since Frederick Douglass rendered his searing indictment of this nation-state?