Sunday, July 14, 2013

White Man Triumphant

I sit here, a white man, in white suburbia, ensconced in the bosom of white Middle Class prosperity, and I owe it all to my hard work and perseverance...

And white supremacy.

As someone pointed out to me on Twitter, what I have called for years "White privilege" is, in fact, simply a watered-down version of the truth of the matter: the domination of the White portion of American society is due to White supremacy, the idea that somehow, the melanin level of one's skin grants powers to those that others are not due, simply by virtue of having it or not. White supremacy is the idea that a person of any other color, even mixed with Whiteness, is automatically inferior. White supremacy is the idea that power must be concentrated in the hands of White people and must never be willingly given to anyone else.

White supremacy even has its own gradations, for it is clear that a White man is considered lord-and-master over anything and everything and everyone, even a White woman. Look to what happened this week in Texas, and you see it in action -- no woman of any color would be given the right to her own bodily autonomy with the say-so of the White men in power.

Of course, you will be alarmist, and sputter on about groups such as the Klu Klux Klan, and if White, will swear upon a convenient stack of Bibles that you are not like them. The point is, you don't have to be. White supremacy is not simply burning crosses on lawns and lynching Black men for whistling at White women.

White supremacy is the ultimate wink-and-a-nod, the unseen get-out-of-jail-free card, the worst kept secret handshake in history. You walk in the door and you get the loan, you get the slot at your favorite college, you get the job at a higher rate of pay, because the color of your skin walks into the room first, laying the groundwork for everything to come. It's not always so transparent, not always so overt, nor is it as subtle as some would love to claim. Electing a Black President did not magically cause it to evaporate. No number of successful Black actors, Black athletes, or Black politicians have served to eradicate it. At the end of the day, it is as pernicious as it was when irons, chains, and the lash held sway, but has now been covered over with a veneer of self-congratulation by many a White person who is sure that the whole sordid mess was cleaned up after the 60's.

We should note, that nobility in the name of righting the wrongs of race is not cut-and-dried, ever. With the 150th anniversary of the pivotal Civil War action at Gettysburg, the battle that spelled the turning of the tide against The Confederacy, we also have the anniversary of the draft riots in New York City, where many an immigrant community, angered at being conscripted to fight in the war, took to lynching Blacks and burning Black businesses and schools to show their displeasure, forcing weary Gettysburg soldiers to march to the city to quell the uprising.

The Civil War did not end racial inequities or injustice, anymore than the 60's Civil Rights movement that came after it would. Every momentous event in the history of White and Black relations merely serves to paper over the truth: that we cling to stereotypes, that we maintain our prejudices, that racial tension does not simply go away because Blacks and Whites go to the same universities and riots do not break out. Even now, a person such as myself, who prides himself on equanimity and a lack of racial prejudice in his heritage, is still betrayed occasionally by thoughts from dark recesses that paint those of other racial types in a bad fashion. To maintain personal racial tolerance is not the simple flipping of a switch in my conscious mind, but a constant struggle to overcome baser instincts buried in my subconscious by the stimuli I have been exposed to over time. Even where I strive to give equality to all people at all times, there is an accumulated detritus festering below the surface of my mind, roiling in its darker recesses to plague me, unbidden.

In the end, if I am honest with myself, I can claim to have built the successes I have made over the decades solely by dint of my hard work and pluck, but must acknowledge that my Whiteness was carried with me and certainly influenced some to give me opportunities or deference out of all proportion to my due. If that is so, then it is equally true that many around me, who worked as hard, if not harder, were barred from reaping the benefits of the fruits of that labor, by being unable to carry the calling card of Whiteness with them.

Now, after all this, we have the incomprehensible result of a trial in which an armed White man killed an unarmed Black boy in cold blood and will not be held accountable, save by his God. While we can claim that the jury made the only verdict it could given the evidence presented, justice is not about the cold, hard facts of law, but about the warm, soft edges of human nature and behavior. A law may say that if you fear for your life, you might kill another in self-defense, but does it seem reasonable that this applies to a man who chose to pursue the black Boy, because he was a black Boy? A man with no authority, save that which he forged for himself through his machinations, who was given the instruction to allow people with authority (the police) to handle the situation? A man, who had a concealed weapon, that turned his cowardice into "courage?"

No, it is not mere privilege that explains this, for privilege is bestowed by those with the power. Supremacy is enforced, by the use of all the tools available to press others down, to tear power from their hands, to marginalize and demonize them, denigrating them and making them somehow less than those who hold supremacy. It is always the case that conflict starts when one group turns another group into something other than their group is; in this instance, the White person maintains the Black person is lower, inferior, less intelligent, less educated, and then enforces those views with the tools at hand, by stripping away educational opportunities, forcing them into poverty, abandoning them to crime, and using that as "evidence" that the supremacy is correct.

The George Zimmerman verdict is only the most visible sign that White supremacy is alive and well in our nation, and still holds sway over a society that continues to trill its belief in "all men are created equal." That equality is, sadly, merely a good idea; it has gained no true traction in the nation that has enshrined it in a "sacred" document of its creation. The council of White, landowning men that wrote and signed off on those words perhaps believed their intention was enough, but by not broadening it to "all people" being equal, and by enshrining Black slavery directly in the Constitution, they laced a noble idea of self-governance with a perpetuation of their White supremacy. Over two hundred years later, and despite our best efforts, we have not honestly expunged the ghosts of it from every corner of our land.

So Mr. Zimmerman walks free, which is more than can be said for his victim, Trayvon Martin, and we are outraged, but then, we built this system, with our inattention to the workings of our government and our nation. That inattention allowed the perpetuation of White supremacy in the guise of governance, and allowed the purveyors of such supremacy to ensconce themselves in positions of power by dissuading everyone else from becoming engaged. But no one should turn us from our right and proper duty: the maintenance, and occasional readjustment, of our Local, State, and Federal governments. This moment is the clarion call that should stir the beating heart of any American to action, to right the wrong this verdict represents by ensuring it never happens again. The restoration of true and consistent order in our nation is our responsibility, and we can no longer shirk it.

It is time to fold the tent of racial supremacy. The White portion of America, slowly merging into the national milieu, can no longer count itself as superior, the only just arbiter of what is proper. We were never anointed masters of the world -- we stole that from every other race we could, and now our transgressions fold in upon us. As much as I, a White man, want to grasp the reins of power, to restore order, to make amends, I know I cannot. I must cede control and convince others of my race to do likewise, to attempt to create balance in a nation that has never known it. It is not enough to bring up other races, genders, creeds, or sexual orientations; I must tear down that apparatus that has kept those groups in the shadows, without hesitation or fear. It is time my country lived up to the fair and just principles long ago espoused, without qualification, and without malice. Let there be the new birth of freedom President Lincoln called for, but this time let it be real, and let it ring throughout the centuries from this day forward.

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