On August 11th and 12th, we witnessed a pageantry of White nationalism and experienced national grief as Charlottesville, VA became a scene cropped out of the 1950s. Abandoning their white hoods as seeming relics of a former species of White hate, White folk carrying torches paraded toward and surrounded a monument of Robert E. Lee, a vestige of southern historical misremembering. (It is stupefying how White nationalists espouse Confederate nostalgia and venerate an anti-American insurrection, yet call it American patriotism.) President Donald J. Trump condemned “violence on both sides” as a tactic of evading the necessary ideological and social distancing from the Alt-Right—the most outspoken pedestrian proponents of his leadership. Charlottesville offers America another opportunity to pull back the curtain on the insidious culture, economic incentive, political utility and historical continuity of racism still alive in America.
The Alt-Right, Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis compose a lethal fringe element of the American body politic, but we must not ignore that White supremacy is diffusive, pervasive, and everywhere. White supremacy is omnipresent in America. It is America’s birth defect, coded in the very DNA of our nation. While the founders of our republic distinguished themselves with democratic discourse, the burgeoning chattel economic arrangement actually instantiated America’s “greatness.”
The sacralization of White privilege at the expense of the equality and human dignity of non-white personality renders White supremacy demonic and an illegitimate form of power to be contested and countered.
Whiteness refers to structural logic, not simply skin color or ancestry. White supremacy is a logic that governs our lives, forges ways of thinking and produces frameworks of meaning. White Supremacist logic silences and works against the legitimacy of non-white equality and belonging. The sacralization of White privilege at the expense of the equality and human dignity of non-white personality renders White supremacy demonic and an illegitimate form of power to be contested and countered.
Charlottesville further unveils the national necessity to resist and dismantle White supremacy in all its terrorizing and morally anemic forms. Curiously, the gaze of the nation effortlessly turns to the crudest forms of White supremacy like what transpired in Charlottesville. Nevertheless, America aggressively blinds itself to the discursive, omnipresent forms of White supremacy that inhabit all American institutions.
Structural violence must incite in us these same levels of prophetic rage and righteous indignation. When we reduce White supremacy to Tiki torches, racist epithets, burning crosses and multifarious lynchings, we cede a gross type of innocence to our republic, providing a moral cover for the slow deaths and structural sins inflicted on non-white lives every day. I use non-white instead of persons of color as a way of centering Whiteness as a moral crisis and public health hazard.
Though by no means an exhaustive list, one can enumerate the omnipresent, daily forms of White supremacy as underfunded urban schools, mass incarceration and black criminalization born out of a government-manufactured War on Drugs, redlining that created concentrated pockets of non-white poverty, popularly referred to as Ghettos, a gendered and racialized wealth gap mirroring realities of the 1950s, hiring discrimination against the formerly incarcerated and legalized voter suppression enabled by the Supreme Court’s decision to pull the teeth out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. White supremacy is omnipresent.
Omnipresence is an attribution typically reserved for a deity. This allusion to the ultimacy of Whiteness in America underscores the heresy of White supremacy, which is often thinly veiled under the bloodstained banner of a Christian religion. However, the banner of this Christian religion is not stained by the blood of Jesus, but by the blood of innumerable unarmed and unsuspecting Black, Native, Asian and Latinx bodies. Whiteness finds sanctuary in the people and structures of America. Whiteness persists as an American god—what Paul Tillich may call an “Ultimate Concern”—with altars in every American school, police station, courthouse, bank, and legislative hall. Whiteness is not God. It is a western idol, a symbol created in the image of its over-privileged idolaters.
White supremacy even inhabits our houses of worship. Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote, “Christianity is not a finished set of propositions to be accepted, but an unfinished task to be completed. It is not a matter of if Christianity is true, but how can we make it true.” Much of what we have seen on display in White evangelical Christianity is an untrue, empty, fraudulent, vacuous, anemic approximation of Christianity. While some White evangelical leaders denounced the nationalist demonstration and distanced themselves from President Trump’s consternating responses to said events, countless White pastors retreated to silence or sacralized the reaction of Mr. Trump. Note that none of the members of his faith council resigned or issued public statements against what Mr. Trump uttered in what I will call his “let’s talk about the statutes” diatribe.
There is something duplicitous about a Christianity that fights so called “Radical Islamic terrorism,” but cannot categorically condemn White supremacist Christian terrorism in Charlottesville.
There is something duplicitous about a Christianity that fights so called “Radical Islamic terrorism,” but cannot categorically condemn White supremacist Christian terrorism in Charlottesville. Something rings hollow about a Christianity that is prolife toward unborn children, but supports cradle to prison pipelines for them after birth. There is something empty about a Christianity that follows the teachings of a convicted man like Jesus, but provides cover for a system that warehouses Black bodies as slavery by another name—the New Jim Crow. There is something fraudulent about a Christianity that espouses the love of neighbor, but attempts to snatch healthcare from 22 million Americans and supports bigoted policies aimed at ending affirmative action. White supremacy is omnipresent.
Although it is everywhere, Whiteness is a moral choice all of us can resist. James Baldwin, a democratic saint and poetic prophet, penned in No Name in the Street, “This moral erosion has made it quite impossible for those who think of themselves as white in this country to have any moral authority at all.” The growing cultural and social insecurity of Whiteness enfleshes itself as a symbiosis of racial narcissism and racist paranoia. Baldwin goes on to say, “Because they think they are white, they cannot allow themselves to be tormented by the suspicion that all [people] are brothers [and sisters].” Taking White supremacy seriously requires more than denouncing hate groups, hosting community conversations and prosecuting White terrorists; America needs white people of conscience and faith to fight to remake America. Our mutual destiny hinges on Americans fighting to realize “10 Commandments for a New America”:
- Remove all statutes and memorials of white terrorism.
- Expand access to and guarantee affordable healthcare to all Americans.
- Guarantee a living wage and quality housing for every family in America.
- Enforce the accountability systems for achievement equity in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Acts)
- Protect laws, policies and guidelines that preclude discrimination against non-white people in higher education admission practices.
- Protect immigrant communities by defending DAPA and DACA
- Reform sentencing and policing practices to guarantee “equal protection under the law.”
- Pass legislation that expands and protects the living opportunities for formerly incarcerated persons.
- Advance a legislative agenda toward environmental justice in every area of American life, providing relief to the most burdened communities.
- Restore and expand the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Our challenge is not to “Make America Great Again.” We have an obligation to remake America. Charlottesville is another fatal reminder America must be born again.
Featured Photo: Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
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