White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

Tensions are high as Minneapolis police murdered a black man named George Floyd, not by gunshot, but by an agonizingly long kneel on his neck; which was not released for seven minutes, several of which the man was not breathing. Protest is a place to emerge into the collective and become unoriginal, to humble yourself in silence as others more aware with said experience lead the charge. However, writing should be the place for originality. A place where we solve the problems of theory that informs action.

It is here where I would like to address a kind of Othering. This is not the Othering of making the minority docile and holy and martyred, but more so the Othering of whiteness and its discontents. I am of the opinion that all people, but especially white people, must begin to live a life that fully embraces shame.

The more racist shit happens the more white guilt rears its ugly head. I will maintain that the primary division within society is between the ruling class and the working class. Working people don’t manage crises; working people are the crisis that must be solved by the pharmaceutical industry, the military-industrial complex, the police, and even the social worker, doctor and teacher, sorry to say. Do these groups intersect? Of course. And are cops generally the most racist people in society? Of course.

But it isn’t this simple. The police are protecting something here. We may not like when it goes viral, when the true nature of the ruling class is broadcast on screen. And yet I maintain two controversial assertions that aren’t so much pro-police as they are anti-racism, as strange as that sentence may sound.

It is very tempting to engage in groupthink. And one of the challenges I have faced is disengaging with the groupthink of even the left and seeing where it takes me. I hear this statement all the time: “you think there are good cops? All cops are bad.”

This may be true, I don’t really care if it is. The reality is that I’m in serious trouble I’m calling 911, but if I see a cop I’m generally assuming the worst, I don’t really think it matters if cops are good or bad. It makes us feel good to call them bad, and maybe it’s true. But I worry about the finality of any ideology.

If the cops are the problem, we are absolved. This horrifies me. Perhaps yes it is a privileged horror but a horror nonetheless. I very much fear the death of white guilt. As toxic as it is, it’s the best we got.

Forgive me but just as I see the prisoner as fully human, I also see the policeman in the same light. Who would I trust more? Like you, dear leftist, it’s the prisoner. Who is more likely to be guilty, like you, dear leftist, I know it’s the police.

However, aren’t we all just playing the roles? Yes we can and should judge each other on the roles we choose to play. How we benefit from the evil we do onto others, and what not. And yet I see the police officer doing his job when he kills the black man. To me this is far more horrifying than him being evil, which he may well be.

This is the same thing as the Trump phenomenon or the COVID phenomenon. We feel better when we externalize evil. But we are the system, are we not? The question is how do we change the incentives? We all know that Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, known for good reason as Gentri-Fry, would not have fired the four police officers without years of the Black Lives Matter movement effectively rearranging desires.

This is the type of progress we must hope for. Not to extradite the problem by washing our hands but to admit that maybe if I was raised in the same way this cop was raised, or if I had the same job he had or if I had the same mental illness he had or what have you, well that could have been me. This is the type of horror White America must embrace. Just as black folks may shake in their boots when they go to the supermarket we must shake in our boots with the possibility that we may be in this situation where we have to make this choice between opportunism and love.

Climate change is no joke. Who can clean their hands of the millions dying already because of it. Xenophobia and the prison-industrial complex solves these natural problems for us. The cops may operate without hypocrisy. We may not.

I do see the police as working class. They operate on the front lines for the capitalists and the white supremacists while we attempt to socially distance ourselves from the days they accidentally fulfill our own ideology and hatred. I say this not as a conspiracy but as a believer in the subconscious racism. I know that most ruling class white people would shoot a black person quite quickly if they went through the police academy.

I speak to as a communist, as someone who hates austerity and as someone who believes that while it’s easy to blame the state for its sins it is far harder to recognize the power we have collectively when we give up the individual freedom and instead embrace accountable government. I know a lot of white Minnesotans will have a lot of government to whine about after this murder but amidst the coronavirus pandemic who saved the most vulnerable, the minorities and poor people most likely to die in the pandemic? The government did. The government that is one of the few state and local governments without a lot of corruption. People are just hypocrites. This do it yourself mentality of not needing to be protected is the most privileged position.

Who needs a strong government, including a strong community-controlled police force more than people of color? Who is more ravaged by crime than these communities? And the crime I mean isn’t just street crime, such as the McMichael dad and son duo, but also crimes such as Flint water. We can’t have it both ways here and say all government is bad when it is the most white and privileged who can survive without it.

This is why more than ever we need to hold the police accountable, this is the point. To say we don’t need police, they’re all bad, well that’s easy for some people to say. Without the police who is to say that MAGA killers wouldn’t be lynching people in the streets? There is the obvious intersection we have to address that the people most likely to be lynching are the corporate mob and the cops themselves. But this is the power of capital and the individual and profit. Seriously powerful. We can’t fight that with this coronavirus paradise where we’re all vigilantes and fighting for ourselves. We need community power.

The police are piling up bodies. They are the vectors. To beat the virus of white supremacy we must control the vectors. We must hold them accountable. But the virus is white supremacy. We can’t solve this plague by socially distancing ourselves from the problem. We are the virus. So instead of just blaming the most sick, let’s be responsible for the future of society. No feeling is more empowering. We shouldn’t just be scared of the cops. We should be scared of becoming them.

Slavoj’s insight that Trump is hated because he is the last thing left-liberals see before they see the class struggle also applies here. The cold-blooded murder of this person, much like the coronavirus, invites outrage but never a conclusion, exactly. Trump comes and we hear “Democrats have failed us”, coronavirus comes and we hear “capitalism has failed us” and then yet another murder of a black man comes and we hear “white privilege has failed us”. None of these are solutions. All of them are catered to be popular and cool and hip but none will solve the problem.

The threat to the social order was displayed by thousands taking to the streets. I think we have to stop externalizing everything. Let’s take control over our own fates here. No one is here to say that any of the standard evils of the day whether that be fake Democrats, angry whites, profiteering capitalists or killer cops should be redeemed in their current form. But just as a strong government can regulate laws, and must be embraced, a strong citizenship can regulate the government, and must be embraced.

Change will come. It will not be because anyone is a good person or a bad person. This I think is the genius ideology of Black Lives Matter. It does not aim at any of the altruisms or platitudes of the liberal left about how capitalism is so heartless or how we all care so much or whatever. It simply says: our lives matter.

The genius is this: this is already is what is being said. United States has greatest human rights, we hate racism, etc., etc. It really is actually taking a step back from all the rosy sayings and asserting something further back in the process that hasn’t been met therefore exposing the whole series of lies rather than just our present failure.

Criticism is for chumps. The time is now to change the world. But here I am a bit more of a pessimist. If we did change the world what would left-liberals be able to stand on their soapbox about? The good thing though is that even the most power-hungry people can get bored. A new project will be found for the ruling class and new resistance to their colonization will have to be met. One by one, we can eliminate the necessity for these projects.

It is important to resist the most explicit forms of domination such as Trump, the police or the virus. If we don’t do that, we risk this form of crisis becoming the only form of engagement we know. It is an equal danger to only oppose a crisis without addressing its cause because then we resist continual return to the site of crisis.

We must ask the crucial question about why authoritarianism emerges. It expresses itself when the traditional order can no longer be legitimized in subtle terms. This may be in part because of pressure put on the ruling class by the poor but sadly it is even more so a part of the poor being unable to cope with the pressures from the ruling class.

While it is tempting to say things keep getting worse or things keep getting better I think it is most accurate to say it’s just the same shit on a different day with different tools and resources and desires for all sides that remain in a struggle. We must fully embrace our side in this historical battle and accept its lifelong challenge. Imagining history to be fixed in a state of hopeless fascism, capitalism or any other ideological prism limits our chance to surprise the world. While murders of blacks and whines of whites may be as predictable as the sun and the moon coming to pass, we can look to that nasty bug by the name of COVID-19 to say that nothing is really set in stone. A new day is here, for those of us still standing. Let’s not waste another moment of it.

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Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at pemberton.nick@gmail.com 

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