Monday, January 21, 2008

Stakes Be High, pt. 5

My man DeAngelo Starnes points out that MLK Day is the perfect time to resume our Stakes Be High dialogues. I couldn’t agree more.

We both intend to keep these debates going until one or the other of us throws in the towel. As always, readers are invited to goad us in the comments section.

DeAngelo says: “I had an experience that was a ‘Crash’ moment. Got rear-ended by this Hispanic cat who did a hit-and-run. As liberal and/or progressive as I’ve tried to be on immigration, I found myself confronted with some real internal prejudices. I mean raw bigotry. So the next question is...”
QUESTION #5: Isn’t there a dark place within all of us that harbors deep-rooted bigotry? If so, isn’t that emblematic of a white supremacy system in that non-white people have taken on similar characteristics of white racists?

27 comments:

Undercover Black Man said...

Sorry to hear about the car crash, DeAngelo. Take care of yourself.

Now let me get this right: A Latino immigrant rear-ends you. You curse his Mexican ass. And white supremacy is involved here how?

I think the first part of your question is on target: There's a dark place within all of us that's prone to bigotry against the "other"... be it against the Jew, the Muslim, the homosexual.

Yet, instead of viewing this as a design flaw of human nature, why do black nationalists tend to talk like white folks invented and/or mastered race hatred?

Don't white folks deserve some credit for moving American society beyond the era of straight-up white supremacy? It was white people who filled lecture halls to hear Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth and Charles Lenox Remond and other black orators.

Just as it was progressive whites who co-founded the NAACP and the Urban League for the uplift of the colored race.

Isn't it a little unfair for the white man to remain the universal poster child for bigotry?

odocoileus said...

Being "progressive" about immigration is a function of having the privilege of not worrying about illegals wrecking your hospitals, highways, or public schools. It's a function of not having to worry about illegals undercutting you in the job market, or shooting you down in the street for the crime of walking while black.

The drunk driving stats and corresponding death rates are astronomically high. It's not a figment of any racist's imagination.

Many Latinos harbor deeply racist attitudes towards black Americans. It's not even particularly hidden.

The inaction of the black leadership class on the illegal immigration issue is prima facie evidence that most of them are incompetent fools. Not that it matters much. They will be the last black elected officials from those districts.

SJ said...

Frankly I find it quite absurd to suggest that two non-white groups hating each other is also due to "white supremacy". Non-white civilizations have been hating each other for a long time before white supremacy took it's hold. And a lot of Mexicans hold negative views of blacks...how is that the fault of white people?

Go to any country in the world and you'll find numerous instances of bigotry towards multiple groups. Arabs don't take much stock in Africans, and don't treat South Asians well. The South Asians also don't like to associate with many groups. The Japanese hate the Chinese and the Koreans, etc. etc. It's absurd to suggest that all hate has something to do with white people.

Lola Gets said...

See, when I look at this problem, I dont see race, I simply see the basic human failings that are present in all of us. Basically, I think that all humans are born with the desire or the ability to hate/be jealous of/need to feel better than others, and through education and personal development, are able to grow out of that. That all depends on if we grow.

But sometimes, when we're under severe stress, we have a tendance to fall back on that which we grew up as, and will think those evil thoughts and perhaps say those evil statements.

For example, I dont like to be, and I work hard at not being classist. But if Im under an extreme amount of stress and/or am confronted with a person whom I dont like and wish to hurt, Ill whip out some nasty, bourgeois *ish (come to my blog and read my posts about monica mingo).

So I dont see this "deep-rooted bigotry" as based on race at all, its a human trait thats in all of us, and we all need to work at it in order to overcome it.

L

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Some real thoughtful responses so far.

The thematic responses have been that human nature fortified my response to the situation. It had nothing to do racism/white supremacy.

I think there is some truth to that. But why did I think "this green-card-less muthafucka who doesn't have insurance and now I'm fucked with my insurance company?"

Did I unfairly attribute this guy's nationality as a reason for his behavior because of societal conditioning?

Lately, the Mexicans have become, and are treated like, the new "niggas" in America. And the same kind of stereotypes that attach to niggerism apply to them now.

And so rather than me thinking about this guy as a straight-up asshole, I thought of him as a bean-eating, non-green card having muthafucka who shouldn't be over here. No job, no insurance, no Social Security number, no real name. Just a fucking ghost on the books.

Now, would I have thought that way but for the white media-controlled Mexican stereotype?

I'm not so certain that would have been the case.

And no, Dave, I'm making the white man a boogieman in this equation. I am examining the cause of my thought process.

Because for better or worse, white thought dominates everything nonwhite people do in America. If that weren't true you and I wouldn't speak English and have European-based names.

Tribalism may have dictated a similar response. But I reached deep into hatred. And I wonder if that's not what we all do when pushed to the wall? Isn't that symptomatic of the threat white supremacists feel about nonwhite people?

Ding! to Dave, o, sj, and lola.

Undercover Black Man said...

I get what you're saying, DeAng. The white right is definitely driving the national rhetoric about the mestizo threat to our way of life. (You should hear what they be saying on L.A. talk radio on a daily basis.)

But here's where we have to dig deeper. And it's hard. But just because Mexican and Central American immigrants are non-white doesn't mean they're the natural allies of black Americans. (Especially if they don't buy into that paradigm.)

And just because whites are freaked out about the fast-growing Hispanic population doesn't mean that everything white folks say about the issue is wrong and bigoted.

Matter fact, the Hispanic question is probably gonna reshape racial politics like nothing else has.

Set aside the feelings stirred up by that hit-and-run artist. Might it be in black Americans' best interest to support a crackdown on illegal immigration, and to oppose open borders?

Shouldn't black folks be having a frank discussion about that... without lapsing into the old-fashioned politics of white vs. non-white?

jd said...

One nerdy policy question here:
Would you have been better off if the undocumented NASCAR driver trading paint with you had a driver's license, a la Eliot Spitzer's DOA plan?
I'm serious. Would this have helped your accident/insurance/state of mind in any way?

Jeff said...

I've been following the "Stakes Be High" series since you began, and while I haven't always agreed with everything that either of you said, I've hesitated to comment because I kept thinking to myself, "who the hell am I, white guy, to think that I've got anything to contribute to this conversation?" And even though under California's legal definition I could call myself Latino (for example, I could have qualified for state financial aid on that score but never pursued it, because I figured that others needed it more than me), the percentage is so small that for all intents and purposes, I think most would call me a white guy.

This time I had to comment. My immediate reaction to DeAngelo's question, before reading any of the comments, was "man, that is some seriously f*cked up sh*t. Up to a point, I can accept some responsibility for the racist attitudes - whether they be prevalent in an individual, or just a fleeting response to a specific situation - but now it's the fault of "white supremacy" when non-white people demonstrate those same tendencies? That just sounds like an ultimate cop-out to me.

But there's a line of thought in your reply to Dave's comment, DeAngelo, that I want to explore further, because I'm not sure I'm getting it. You say:

"Because for better or worse, white thought dominates everything nonwhite people do in America."

OK, I can buy that. White thought has created the stucture from which all people, white and non-white, have to work within to succeed in life.

But then you say,

"Tribalism may have dictated a similar response. But I reached deep into hatred. And I wonder if that's not what we all do when pushed to the wall? Isn't that symptomatic of the threat white supremacists feel about nonwhite people?"

How are you defining "white supremacist" here? Do you mean your basic David Duke type, or are you talking about all white people under the notion (as I understand it) of "white supremacy?"

And either way you define it, what exactly are you saying? As a white person, I'm confronted with the same sort of stuff you are with respect to how Latinos and "illegals" are defined in California. But I reject that stuff, and try to do what I can in my daily life to overcome that vein of thought.

In what you have written here and elsewhere, I feel that you reject it as well. But if in the stress of your accident you succumb to a base emotional response, how is that the fault of "white supremacy?"

Anonymous said...

For me, the answer depends on what one might mean by "a dark place within all of us." If the question is whether we are at the corebigoted, then I would insist "No!" (along with Dr. King). I.e. in your moment of anger, I don't think you showed your "true colors." You had some negative thoughts, which connected to some racist crap ideology that's circulating in the culture, but you didn't act on it. You didn't lash out. You reflected on it, and brought it here. That's admirable. You should be judged by your actions, not some associations triggered in your mind.

It's admirable, I think, because I do think "within all of us" is all the racist bullshit we're taking in all the time from the culture. It's not the core of who we are, but all those negative messages out there are threads in the fabric of our selves. If we don't understand that and deal with it, then when those messages connect to our anger or insecurity or some other emotion, it gets translated into speech or action -- and someone gets hurt.

Here's a metaphor I read in a book once: when you live in this culture, even as a good-hearted well-intentioned person with the right kind of politics, racism is kind of like snot. It's gonna come out sometimes; you produce it. Everyone does. And if you realize it's coming out, or someone calls you on it, just apologize and wipe it off. "Oh, sorry." Don't stand there like a dick and pretend you don't have snot coming out of your nose.

Last point: racism isn't really about (or isn't only about) blackness, right? The notions that white racists have about black people (or the racist notions about black people that circulate unconsciously in a racist culture) aren't rationally formulated ideas. They're irrational fantasies based in the fear and dread about what it means to be white. If the unconscious mind of the racist talked, it would say this:

I am better than you because I am white and you are black. I define myself by my difference from you. All my sense of self-worth and value comes from denegrating you. I don't need you. I am complete and perfect by myself.

But: I therefore need you to feel worthy, which makes me dependent on you, which makes all my ideas about whiteness untrue! Without you I am nothing! I must work to supress this truth again and again! -- I must oppress you again and again to feed the fantasy i have of my white self!


Were he alive, Dr. King would tell us that "at our core," our selves are connected to an omnipotent and selfless Love that will guide us to victory in the struggle for justice. That's our heart.

Jon

http://www.prosolarmechanics.com/PDB/

(Sorry I'm going over old ground on your blog. Just got here.)

Schottzie03 said...

I'm afraid those places in our minds are already there, and always have been. Luckily, there are people of all races who can recognize these feelings as irrational and not turn them into beliefs...especially when they are obviously born from anger.

As a side note...I wonder what percentage of people's bigoted moments tend to come up while driving?

cnulan said...

Emotional contagion is the tendency to express and feel emotions that are similar to and influenced by those of others. One view of the underlying mechanism is that it represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally. A broader definition of the phenomenon was suggested by Sigal G. Barsade- "a process in which a person or group influences the emotions or behavior of another person or group through the conscious or unconscious induction of emotion states and behavioral attitudes"

Social contagion is imitative behavior based on the power of suggestion and imitative influence.

Social contagion operates on four levels - emotional, behavioral, ideational, and hysterical - and depending on which level appears to be predominant, psychologists categorize social contagion accordingly:

* emotional contagion - infectious moods and sentiment (aggression, depression)

* behavioral contagion - infectious behavior (ranging from yawning and laughing to crime)

* ideational contagion - infectious ideas spread by suggestion (rumor, urban legends, irrational belief)

* hysterical contagion - somatic illness spread by the power of suggestion (depression/anorexia)

But is that really all there is to it? Do we err fundamentally by ascribing "psychological" rather than "physiological" causes to these modalities of contagious mass behaviour? Where exactly does agency reside within our composite organism? What again, is the optimal unit of selection driving individual and "species" behaviour?

Matt Norwood said...

This kind of "racist" sentiment -- a set of pejorative words and images that come to mind in a moment of anger and take as their theme the perceived race of the object of that anger -- is really interesting to me as a tool for exploring what "racism" means.

In the past few years, I've read about a number of high-profile incidents in which two people got into some kind of argument, racist slurs ended up getting thrown around, and at the end of the day somebody was lobbying the DA to bring hate crime charges. I'm not convinced that the people launching these racial slurs necessarily harbor any feelings of racial superiority, and I'm therefore very nervous about the idea of pursuing extraordinary punitive measures against them. But I have begun to think that this anxiety may stem from some confusion about what constitutes "racism", and what the purpose of hate crimes legislation is supposed to be.

As some of the other commenters have noted, it might be interesting for DeAngelo to ask himself whether his reaction would have been so much different had the driver presented as a member of some group other than "Latino". Had it been an overweight white lady with an Indigo Girls bumper sticker, might he not have thought angry things about fat dykes? Had it been a black dude blasting hip-hop from his black SUV, might he not have thought angry things about gangsta thugs? And so on.

UBM points out that we all harbor anger and fear toward the Other, but I think even that statement simplifies what's going on here. When we are angry with someone for any reason, however petty or reasonable, we reach for weapons with which we can 1) make the person feel bad, and 2) distance ourselves psychologically from the person. Dehumanizing the object of our anger, and defining the person as Other -- as someone outside your tribe -- fulfills a number of psychological aims. It makes it easier to fight the person without hesitation if that becomes neessary. It helps to rally support for you and against your opponent from those defined as members of your tribe. And so on.

My point, I guess, is this:

1. In-group/out-group psychology is universal. It's a primate thing, and it was really useful when we were first coming out of the trees. It can be a little more problematic these days.

2. We don't just carry around an idea of the Other that we're scared of a priori; rather, we actively /create/ the Other on the fly for varius reasons, some of which serve a useful, if selfish, purpose, and some of which are just vestigial stupidity.

3. Our culture provides templates for us to create this Other; it gives us the tools we need to build our own racist caricatures at those moments we decide we want one. Living in America is like living in a cramped little shed full of axes, knives, and guns: we've got a lot of these tools lying around, and they're vicious. If I want to lash out at a black person, or a Jew, or a woman, or an Arab, the tools for doing so are very effective. If I want to lash out at, like, some Canadian guy, or some middle-class white male accountant... less so. This is one of the areas where "racism" exists as a cultural reality: it isin part a measure of how sharp the tools are with respect to a particular group.

4. Accordingly, I agree with the commenter who said that DeAngelo should be judged, not on his sentiments, but on his actions. We would all do well to recognize these tools for what they are when we find our hands drifting toward them, and recognize the unfairness of using them even in the pursuit of a legitimate grievance. To make use of these tools is socially destructive, and can be called "racism" inasmuch as it makes those tools even more effective for others to use in the future; thus, even someone who harbors no racial animus can act in a "racist" manner in rational pursuit of his own self-interest.

Danielle said...

Bigotry is as old as mankind. I wouldn't blame The Man for your attitude towards the Mexican dude.

The idea that The Man and his sytem was responsible for your reaction presupposes that black folk just learned this bigotry game upon arrival on these shores.

Mankind has always hated on one another, whether it's religious intolerance or racial intolerance. I belive it is in our DNA to fear/hate/dislike and despise that which is different.

There are ethnic disputes in Africa and have been for centuries. The case can certainly be made that colonialism is the reason, but it just exacerbated the hate that was already there.

Some of us sold off our own for profit. Greed/hate isn't just a White Man's disease.

Excellent topics on this board. Thanks for leeting me chime in.

cnulan said...

Statement's 2. and 3. are highly incompatible with one another;

2. We don't just carry around an idea of the Other that we're scared of a priori; rather, we actively /create/ the Other on the fly for varius reasons, some of which serve a useful, if selfish, purpose, and some of which are just vestigial stupidity.

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

3. Our culture provides templates for us to create this Other; it gives us the tools we need to build our own racist caricatures at those moments we decide we want one. Living in America is like living in a cramped little shed full of axes, knives, and guns: we've got a lot of these tools lying around, and they're vicious. If I want to lash out at a black person, or a Jew, or a woman, or an Arab, the tools for doing so are very effective. If I want to lash out at, like, some Canadian guy, or some middle-class white male accountant... less so. This is one of the areas where "racism" exists as a cultural reality: it isin part a measure of how sharp the tools are with respect to a particular group.

Those "tools" comprise the abyssal dark place systematically constructed in the collective unconscious of most every American - which some Black exemplars and martyrs have mounted a Beowulfian campaign to dismantle - while others have internalized the worst aspects of it and reconciled their world views to it accordingly.

4. Accordingly, I agree with the commenter who said that DeAngelo should be judged, not on his sentiments, but on his actions. We would all do well to recognize these tools for what they are when we find our hands drifting toward them, and recognize the unfairness of using them even in the pursuit of a legitimate grievance. To make use of these tools is socially destructive, and can be called "racism" inasmuch as it makes those tools even more effective for others to use in the future; thus, even someone who harbors no racial animus can act in a "racist" manner in rational pursuit of his own self-interest.

A latent septic tank full of unconscious bias is utterly incompatible with rational pursuit of anything. It is convenient, however, for post hoc rationalizations of structurally embedded racist proclivities ...,

Michael Fisher said...

deangelo...

"The thematic responses have been that human nature fortified my response to the situation. It had nothing to do racism/white supremacy.

I think there is some truth to that. But why did I think "this green-card-less muthafucka who doesn't have insurance and now I'm fucked with my insurance company?"


We are the product of our social environments. If the social construct we live in is Racism/White Supremacy, then the values we are inculcated with will emanate from that system - both as a result of indoctrination by the System and resistance to the System.

Why would any of us be immune?

Your reaction was prejudicial, but was it racist?

Can a non-white practice racism in the context of the System of Racism/White Supremacy?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Hey don't want y'all to think I've abandoned the discussion. Seen some really good comments and some insightful questions I'd like to get to.

But whiplash's a bitch.

I'm gonna take some Motrin, a muscle relaxer with a glass of wine and fade into blissful darkness.

Seeing the chiropractor tomorrow. Hopefully a massage therapist the day after.

But I shall return.

Michael Fisher said...

Hope you get better real soon.

Undercover Black Man said...

And DeAng... don't be thinking in your blissed-out state that a border fence is just about racist anger. America has every right (a duty, matter of fact) to control who comes in.

Matt Norwood said...

cnulan:

I don't disagree with you. I didn't mean to sound reductionist in my post: I was just trying to model /one/ of the phenomena we label "racist". Certainly there are others, and the psych literature on implicit bias points to a big one.

What I was saying is that, in a racist society, the signifiers of racism get mixed up in all kinds of other stuff that's not /primarily/ about race at all. Marginalized groups get used as scapegoats by the cops and by politicians in ways that don't necessarily have anything to do with those people's beliefs about racial superiority or inferiority; racism in that context is simply a convenient tool used toward self-serving ends. Similarly, I think, racist signifiers are used as psychological and rhetorical tools by people engaged in personal conflicts where the employment of those tools doesn't necessarily say anything about the user's preexisting beliefs about race. One of my normative points was that, in /these/ kinds of contexts, the perpetrator's lack of racist /beliefs/ is irrelevant to his moral blameworthiness; he should be judged by the way his /actions/ make the problems of racism worse in our society.

jpbelmondo said...

This is an aside, but there seems to be a deep-seated need for a human society to have a group or groups of other people to look down upon, just so they will feel better about themselves (and if a member of that outsider group actually does something wrong, it only reinforces the feeling of members of the insider group that those outsiders are, in fact, bad people, and deserve the abuse they get.) I am in the middle of The Discovery of France, by Graham Robb, which, among many fascinating anecdotes, describes the Cagots, who were identified as a minority group in Western France since 1100 AD and into the 19th century, and were slandered, abused, and forced to use separate facilities (including, no joke, water fountains) even though they were physically identical to everyone else who was not considered a Cagot. They were identified only by their families (and to a lesser extent by the trades they were only allowed to have), so that when the Revolution came, many Cagots tried to destroy the public records identifying them as such, only to have their neighbors memorialize their caste status by putting their names into rhyming songs.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I wouldn't wish whiplash on George Bush or Dick Cheney.

Let me start off with this. I don't think DeAngelo is unique in going where he went in his mind. For instance, I'm sure some of the white readers out there have been in the room when nigga jokes were told and even may have laughed at them. May have been in the room when code words were used when making a decision that affected someone's livelihood. And I know a lotta white readers out there question the merits of an affirmative action program wondering "Why do those people (fill in your favorite nonwhite group) get a break to get in school or a job?" I experienced that shit first hand in law school. Numerous comments about how I wouldn't have gotten into school but for affirmative action or listened to laments about how someone's buddy or relative didn't get into school because some affirmative action baby took his/her place.

So I know we all go there, whether we want to confess it or not.

And how often do we go there without the extreme stress I was under at the time I went there?

I don't think then fact the hit-n-run artist was Hispanic automatically meant he was here without the proper documentation. It was his running away from the accident that caused me to make the jump.

To Jeff: The white supremacy I refer to in all of my comments is more commonly known as "racism." The two terms are interchangeable for me. To me "racism" goes beyond bigoted attitudes and prejudices. It speaks to having the power to act on those feelings. More deeply, it speaks to to a relationship between white people's collective power over nonwhite powerlessness. And so with that understanding, I don't use the term "racism" because then folks like to confuse the issue by interjecting describers in front of racism, e.g. Black racism. To me, there ain't no such thing as Black racism because Black folks don't have the power to act on their feelings and, here's the kicker, get away with it or take a slap on the wrist. And so I call racism by its more accurate name, white supremacy.

Now I know that last comment will raise howls from the audience but that is the premise underlying this debate, the merits of that notion. And if accepted, what can we do about it.

So far, the debate has been hot and heavy against its existence - except for me, Fisher, and cnulan -that we can't get to what to do about it.

That's cool. In order to cure the problem, you gotta admit one exists. Which is the reason for the debate.

That's a long to say "white supremacy" goes beyond simpletons like David Duke. If I had to name a poster child of white supremacy, I'd suggest Karl Rove with his voter caging schemes as Exhibit A.

I believe, the stress of the accident caused a psychological response that may be a result of racist attitudes projected into my subconscious.

And, for the record, nonwhite tribal prejudices do not equate to racism/white supremacy.

And I'm not blaming the Man. But I do think it constructive to examine why I went deep into prejudices to cope with my frustration at the situation.

I think, not surprisingly, Fisher and cnulan called it. To extend their points, when flooded with messages that certain groups of people are "irresponsible" such as the Latino illegal immigrant and Black thug stereotypes, you may not have time to allow rational thought to rule your thinking. Because if your perception assigns an individual to that group, you go where the controllers of the stereotype go.

So would I have acted differently if a white middle-aged woman did the same as the Latino driver? I might've thought "When you rule the world, you believe you can drive away from the scene of the accident when a Black man is the person you hit."

Now is that prejudicial? Bigoted?

As pissed as I might've been had the driver been a middle-aged white woman, it wouldn't have surprised me to see her escape with impunity.

Now is that paranoia?

Maybe for many of you it is. To me, it's what a nonwhite person has to deal with daily.

Cuz as many cop shootings and lynchings as I've heard about, it fucks me up that white people are still obsessed with OJ.

But in my mind, at the time, that asshole who hit me was beyond an asshole. He was something else and that was less than a human being.

Now, that doesn't mean I have to say he acted that way because of white supremacy because I don't believe that. But that also doesn't mean he deserved to be dehumanized and stereotyped as I had done in mind.

Last thing on the actual incident. The police found this muthafucka, and thank the Creator, he had insurance. But would the police have made the same effort to find him if he was a middle-aged white woman?

Dig deep before you respond.

Ding!

Matt Norwood said...

deangelo:

I don't use the term "racism" because then folks like to confuse the issue by interjecting describers in front of racism, e.g. Black racism. To me, there ain't no such thing as Black racism because Black folks don't have the power to act on their feelings and, here's the kicker, get away with it or take a slap on the wrist. And so I call racism by its more accurate name, white supremacy.

...

And, for the record, nonwhite tribal prejudices do not equate to racism/white supremacy.


Maybe we could agree on some terminology here. "Racism" has a pretty deeply established set of meanings in English. You prefer to talk about "white supremacy", which you describe as a set of racist attitudes tied to a particular power structure. Fine. But let's not confuse things by then revisiting the term "racism" and robbing it of its commonly understood meaning(s) by collapsing it, along with the term "white supremacy", into a description of a single, quite narrow and historically situated phenomenon. That's Newspeak.

I'm trying to characterize what I find so troubling about the worldview you seem to espouse, and I think it is this: for you -- and forgive me if I get this wrong -- every aggressive act or thought displayed by an American is an echo of some primal, deeply-embedded First Act of violence, a kind of Platonic ideal of oppression that is taught to us by our culture. And given the history of race and violence in our country, you've decided you know what this First Act looks like: it is a white man's boot stomping on a black man's face.

Well, fair enough. Obviously, the white boot on the black face is only the latest in a line of intertribal genocides and mass enslavements that have been my people's practice, along with every other group that found itself in power, anywhere, at any time, going back to the native Americans, to the Jews, to the tribes of Britain, to the Slavs, to Rwanda, to Armenia, to Rome and Egypt and Babylon, and about as far back and far afield as you wish to go. Humans are real assholes to each other, and there's plenty of misery to go around in our history. The enslavement of Africans by Europeans in America is as good an emblem as any of this continent's original racial sin, but every time and place has had its terrible history of intertribal aggression. From the tone of your story, it almost sounds as if you think white people are magical, that they are somehow above simple tribal prejudices, that their racism (in contrast to everyone else's racism) has some shrewd, calculated dimension to it that only white people, out of all the tribes in history, have been able to figure out. Pardon me for saying so, but /that/ belief sounds like the product of white supremacy.

More importantly, though: what does it matter? If it exerts equal force on all of us, regardless of our skin color, and if it can manifest as aggressive acts initiated by anyone (e.g. a black man) against anyone else (e.g. a Latino man), then how does the content of that image have any relevance or consequence? If I claim that the reason I used to put my little brother in headlocks was because I had internalized US foreign policy, so what? What's the take-home? "White supremacy is bad"?

DeAngelo Starnes said...

matt, thanks for the commentary.

I guarantee you we don't jump to conclusions out of thin-skinnedness.

Now I did the Richard Pryor thing and laid my shit out there for open examination.

I thought I made clear I avoid the term "racism" to avoid confusion. Now if you wanna debate whether "racism" equals "white supremacy," I'm game.

I think you misunderstand my motive. It is my purpose to collapse racism into white supremacy because they are one and the same.

And forgive me if I mischaracterize your response, but I don't stop at violence when it comes to recognizing the existence of white supremacy.

Deception, deflection, and codespeak are infinitely more important to its existence and maintenance to me.

Violence is actually a first move and then a last resort. Kick a muthafucka's ass with impunity to show them you can get away with it and then deceive them until you have 'em trained to do what you want to do - like speak the English language and worship white gods. If that doesn't work, invade their land and wipe them out.

I think well-meaning white people reject the notion of white supremacy because they believe that everyone has the freedom to feel and act as they feel and act.

When you're white, you can do that. You're in power.

Being white is a whole different mentality than being nonwhite. I compare it to some conversations I have with my son. He talks to me about fairness and equal distribution of tasks within the household. Honestly, I don't take his grievances seriously unless I was actually unfair to him. Because he doesn't pay any bills. I make the rules. And if he doesn't like the rules, good luck finding another household that'll take him and let him live comfortable. He ain't strong enough to kick my ass. And even when he becomes taller and stronger than me, he still won't kick my ass because I won't let him.

Now, we can carry out the example ad nauseum, but my relationship to my son is the same relationship white people have to nonwhite people. Because it doesn't matter what he says or does or how mad he gets, things won't change until he changes them. And he ain't got the goods to change them right now. All he can do is continue to nourish his brain and body until he leaves this muthafucka or he kicks my ass. Until then, he's gotta live up under my system.

My point is we are talking different mentalities. So it's easy to come from where you're coming from, matt, and others thinking and writing like you. Walk in my shoes.

I think the most valid point made thus far is converting thoughts to actions. And extending that point, having the power to act on a prejudical thought is significant. And the only people who have the power to act with impunity on prejudices are white people.

Ding!

Matt Norwood said...

deangelo:

I don't disagree with you about the nature of white supremacy in this country. The analogy to your relationship with your son is a good one. I brought up the fact of violence to underline one of the big barriers that I think exists to the possibility for change: nonwhites are kept in line partly by the awareness that, should they ever try to change the balance of power, the establishment is always ready to bring terrible violence to bear on them. So it is that memory and idea of violence, along with occasional reminders in the form of e.g. white cops shooting black kids, that keeps people from stepping out of line. And those same reminders keep white people in the mindset that the establishment exists to protect them from the nonwhites, and they ought to be grateful for it. Of course, I agree with you that violence per se isn't the main tool used to maintain white supremacy, but it is the most /fundamental/ tool, as it were, underlying and backing up the others.

The part where I disagree with you is where you say that white people, individually, have some kind of power or freedom /of thought/ that black people don't have. Sure, there lots of things I know I can get away with that I know I couldn't if I were black. I'm not pretending that being black in America is anywhere near as nice and easy as being white; to the contrary, I'm well aware how limited black men are in their freedom to do basic, everyday shit I take for granted. But freedom to make up your own mind about the world? Freedom to figure out what's going on?

You said:

I think well-meaning white people reject the notion of white supremacy because they believe that everyone has the freedom to feel and act as they feel and act.

When you're white, you can do that. You're in power.


This is where we disagree. If anything, I think black people have /more/ freedom to free themselves, mentally , from the constraints of white supremacy than white people do. For whites, there's no incentive, not really. They may benefit materially from white supremacy, but they're at least as much enslaved to it, mentally, as blacks. Maybe this is the Hegelian in me speaking, but I actually think that the master-slave dialectic is something we can see at work in the US every day. Black people, per capita, are just more socially conscious than white people are, despite not having nearly the same levels of access to educational resources. James Baldwin is probably the best writer I've read on this issue. "Down at the Cross" and "The Fire Next Time" lay it out pretty well, although there are other essays that treat it. I won't be able to do justice to his arguments here, but I think he makes a point similar to your own: your son, as you say, can't rely on you to begin to treat him fairly; he must make it happen on his own. It's a mistake to think the master is more in control of himself than the slave is.

But Baldwin also explicitly addresses the inadequacies of the Nation of Islam in these essays, confessing to a real sympathy toward the movement but ultimately finding it unrealistic and a bit infantile. Black nationalism seems to me (and to Baldwin as well, I think) to have the same relationship to white society that your son has to you: even if he manages to throw off your control and become independent, he will never escape your influence until he reconciles himself to you as his father. American blacks will never be able to exorcise the part of them that was implanted by white society. White American culture is a part of every black American, no matter how much they would like this not to be the case. And here's the important thing for whites: the reverse is also true. This is a fact that drives so much white hysteria, because they are in the same kind of denial as the black nationalists. They recognize the parts of themselves that have been shaped by black culture, and they feel contaminated, impure. This often manifests as a hysterical overreaction to new language, new music, new fashions. They yearn for a time before the purity of their culture was compromised by the foreign element. But of course, there never was such a time. "White" American culture is an invention, built out of elements from the cultures of Europe, Africa, America, and wherever else. There's no such thing as pure "whiteness": only Anglo-Saxon tribal shit, Celtic tribal shit, Viking tribal shit, Enlightenment writings from atheist heretics raised in heavily animistically-flavored Catholic households in Italy and Germany and England, writings heavily seasoned with the cultures of the Turks and Moors and pagan Greeks... not exactly a "pure" lot. Black nationalists would do well to recognize this fact as well. There never was a pure African utopia: the kingdoms of Africa have been slaughtering and enslaving and screwing each other for millennia, just like the Europeans. And the Europeans, and Asians, and Africans have been slaughtering, and enslaving, and screwing /each other/ for millennia. Hell, the problems America has seen are nothing compared to what Eurasia experienced at the hands of Genghis Khan. But I don't think that "Mongol Supremacy" is really that useful a tool for analyzing what's going on socially and politically in Asia these days, even if it does speak to something true and real.

Racial and cultural purity is a delusion. There is no escape from white supremacy as long as you adopt its frame of purity and contamination. The /idea/ of "race" is a construct of white supremacy. That doesn't mean we should try to pull a Stephen Colbert and pretend that we "don't see race"; it's important to recognize that the idea of "race" has been deeply embedded in our American brains, and that it shapes our reactions to the world and the people around us. But to think about it as anything but an internalized system of mythology doesn't seem to me to be all that great an idea.

To tell you the truth, I'm not really sure where you and I disagree. You make the claim that "racism" and "white supremacy" are synonymous; I guess I can accept that claim, but I don't see how it's useful. Okay, let's say "white people" are the cause of all racism. Cool. Does that mean that if you get rid of all the white people, racism goes away? Of course not. It remains, if only -- to adopt your frame, as I understand it -- because nonwhites have so internalized "white supremacy" that it continues to make them racist. If this is true, then it raises the question: what does "white supremacy" have to do with white people at all? If you can eliminate all white people from the planet and still be plagued by "white supremacy", then maybe there should be another word for it. Like, say, "racism".

I think that this problem is at the heart of what plagues black nationalism. They actually fetishize "whiteness" just as much as the white supremacists themselves. To them, Whites have a power that no other group has: the power to actually control people's minds and make them racist. Black nationalism seems to be premised on the idea that eliminating Whiteness from, say, a country will free that country from the effects of racism. But you know and I know that's not true; there's nothing magical about white people. Racism isn't some magical spell they've cast over their world. Any group is capable of creating a hierarchical system of oppression, and countless groups have, thoughout history.

Maybe you and I are making fundamentally different arguments. I'm trying to argue for utility; perhaps you are arguing for justice. If so, don't worry; you've convinced me. White people have benefited tremendously from the oppression of nonwhites. Nonwhites have been done a great wrong. So... now what? I actually havea great deal of sympathy for the NoI, because I recognize that half of their message is just a call for /recognition/ of the horrific facts of white supremacy and its history in America. As far as /recognizing/ the injustice, I'm with them 100%. The part where they lose me is when they start talking solutions. They would like to be the people who speak for Black America, but they don't. Nobody does. That's UBM's point , I think, with his Exceptional Four stuff: despite what some white people seem to think, there's no League of American Negroes who decide what black people think, how they feel, what they want, etc. And the same goes for white people. If white people and black people all belonged to secret clubs that could achieve some kind of racial consensus, the NoI's approach might make sense. But that's not the world we live in. If the NoI were to get all its wishes fulfilled, they would face the inevitable disappointment of all nationalist movements: after you've eliminated the last Outsider -- the last White Devil, the last Jew, the last Nigger, the last Commie, the last Homo -- and find that you still aren't living in a utopia, your entire worldview comes crashing down and your movement falls apart.

Anyway, this is way too long and I don't know what my point is anymore. By way of a sign-off, I'm going to recommend Dave Neiwert's ten-part series on "Eliminationism in America" as the best stuff I've ever read on the history of this impulse that you characterize as "white supremacy", but which I think might best be called by a slightly more inclusive term.

- Matt

cnulan said...

Matt,

Thank you for introducing me to the treatment given in the Eliminationist series. Good stuff!

Michael Fisher said...

deangelo...

"Now, we can carry out the example ad nauseum, but my relationship to my son is the same relationship white people have to nonwhite people."

matt norwood...

"I don't disagree with you about the nature of white supremacy in this country. The analogy to your relationship with your son is a good one."

Would any of you have sexual relations with your children? What would the psychological ramifications for your children be if they had sexual relationships with you, even if they did so "voluntarily"?

This is exactly why non-hite people and white people should not have sexual relations until the System of Racism/White Supremacy has been abolished and replaced with a system of justice. Under the SR/WS any such sexual relations are akin to child molestation with all of the damaging psychological ramifications inherent in such an illicit relationship.

This, by the way, answers another one of David's questions to me in the "let's play Negro" thread.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Matt, like your thoughfulness.

Fisher, you went waaaaayyyy left on me, bruh. It was just an illustration to drive the point home. Sex as an issue in the ongoing Stakes Be High debate will get dealt with, but your latest comment was a hit-n-run with no insurance. I'm usually with you, but you left me on that one.

For the rest of you cowboys, check my latest review of The Wire on ebonyjet.com. We're bringing the heat!