Sometimes racism isn’t about vicious bigotry and hatred towards those with different skin color than your own, let alone a willingness to walk into a church and massacre nine of those others because you think they’re “taking over your country.” Sometimes, racism is manifested in the subtle way a person can dismiss the lived experiences of those racial others as if they were nothing, utterly erasing those experiences, consigning them to the ashbin of history like so much irrelevant refuse. In the last few days, since Dylann Roof’s terrorist rampage in Charleston, we’ve seen some of that on the part of those who steadfastly defend the confederate flag, which Roof dearly loved, from its critics. As the flag has come down in Alabama and is poised for removal from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina, its supporters have insisted that the flag is not a sign of racism, even if the government whose Army deployed it made clear that its only purposes at the time were the protection of slavery and white supremacy.
Those who defend the flag consider the black experience irrelevant, a trifle, hardly worthy of their concern. Who cares if the flag represented a government that sought to consign them to permanent servitude? Who cares if segregationists used that flag as a blatant symbol of racist defiance during the civil rights movement? Remembering the courageous heroics of one’s great-great-great-grandpappy Cooter by waving that flag or seeing it on public property is more important than black people’s lived experience of it. That such dismissiveness is intrinsically racist should be obvious. But what of less blatant examples?
For instance, what are we to make of certain comments by Congressman Louis Gohmert, Senator Ted Cruz and conservative media personality Sean Hannity in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide? While those comments were not about race per se, it is hard to deny that their implicit subtext demonstrates a worldview entirely shaped by a white racial frame, viewed through a white racial lens, and one that takes as its starting point a profound disregard for the lives of persons of color: in short, a worldview that is (whether consciously or not), white supremacist to the core.
My appearance on “To the Point” (KCRW/Public Radio International), June 24, 2015 to discuss racism in America in the wake of the Charleston Massacre. An excellent discussion with journalist Jonathan Capehart, author Joshua DuBois, and Janai Nelson, Associate Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Or, if the above player doesn’t work, you can listen on Soundcloud here:
A short clip of my appearance on CNNs New Day, to discuss the “controversy” over the President’s use of the n-word in a recent podcast, in which has was discussing the issue of racism. Here, I respond to those whites who still can’t understand why black folks are able to say the word, while we can’t (or shouldn’t). It’s a point I’ve made before, but is worth making again, since many people still don’t get it
My appearance on RT America News, June 22, 2015 to discuss the Charleston Massacre and the connection between terrorist Dylann Roof and the larger white nationalist and neo-Confederate movement — and specifically the debate over the removal of the Confederate battle flag from the statehouse grounds in South Carolina.
In the wake of the terrorist killings in Charleston by admitted white nationalist and neo-Confederate Dylann Roof, many a voice have called for the removal of the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina statehouse, and in general, from American culture. That flag—actually a battle standard of the army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War—is prized by Roof as a symbol of white supremacy and segregation: both of which his recently discovered manifesto makes clear he supports. Much as the Klan and Neo-Nazi groups have brandished that flag as a symbol of their cause since the 1950s, so too does Roof consider it an appropriate totem for his.
Naturally, those who defend the flag, whether on statehouse grounds or a bumper sticker, have been quick to condemn any suggestion that the flag is a racist symbol. No matter the use for which it has obviously been put by overt white supremacists, including Roof, they insist that the flag and more broadly the Confederacy itself was not about racism. Indeed, they insist the flag is about “heritage, not hate.” It’s an old canard and one that we who are southerners have heard all of our lives: The Confederacy was about state’s rights, they insist, or tariffs, or taxes, or an intrusive “central government.” That anyone could still believe such things is testament to the broken and utterly pathetic state of American education. Much as some apparently don’t wish to believe Roof was motivated by racism and white supremacy, even as he said so from his own mouth before slaughtering nine people, many white folks appear incapable of trusting the very words uttered at the time of secession by Confederate leaders, all of which make clear that enslavement and white domination were not only the biggest reasons for their breakaway government but indeed the only ones.
The folks at Brave New Films have just released a powerful new short clip demonstrating the way in which media frames, quite literally, black protesters as “thugs” while de-racializing and actually minimizing violence and riots done by white folks in the wake of sporting events, etc. This is a must see, and something that you can easily send around to those folks who fail to see racism and racial bias in reporting…
In a country where being black increases your likelihood of being unemployed, poor, rejected for a bank loan, suspected of wrongdoing and profiled as a criminal, being arrested or even shot by police, the mind boggles at the decision of Rachel Dolezal some years ago to begin posing as an African American woman. Yes perhaps blackness helps when you’re looking for a job in an Africana Studies department, selling your own African American portraiture art, or hoping to head up the local NAACP branch—all of which appear to have been the case for Dolezal—but generally speaking, adopting blackness as one’s personal identity and as a substitute for one’s actual whiteness is not exactly the path of least resistance in America.
And so, cognizant of the rarity with which white folks have tried to pass as black over the years—and in all likelihood for the above-mentioned reasons, among others—many have chimed in as to the personal, familial and even psychological issues that may lie at the heart of her deceptions. Not possessing a background in psychology I am loathe to spend too much time there, but having said that, it strikes me that there is an important, largely overlooked, and quite likely explanation for Dolezal’s duplicity, and one the importance of which goes well beyond her and whatever deep-seated emotional baggage may have contributed to her actions. Indeed, it has real implications for white people seeking to work in solidarity with people of color, whether in the BlackLivesMatter movement, Moral Mondays in North Carolina, or any other component of the modern civil rights and antiracism struggle. It is one I hadn’t really thought much about until I read something yesterday, a comment from one of her brothers (one of the actual black ones, adopted by her parents), to the effect that while Dolezal had been a graduate student at Howard, she felt as though she “hadn’t been treated very well,” at least in part because she was never fully accepted—she the white girl from Montana who paints black life onto canvas, and quite well at that—at this venerable and unapologetically black institution.
And what does a nice white girl from Montana do when the black folks don’t welcome her with open arms? Well, while I (in an earlier iteration of this essay) gave her credit for at least not chalking it up to “reverse racism” (as many a white person might), it appears I spoke too soon and was far too ecumenical. Turns out, she did just that: filing suit against Howard for “reverse discrimination,” claiming that her whiteness is what prevented her from obtaining a faculty gig and caused her art not to be as prominently displayed as that of black artists on campus. While the suit was dismissed and she was forced to pay the school’s legal fees, the incident provides some insight into the motives behind her subsequent journey into blackness. At worst, it means her transition to black identity was a sick kind of payback—as in, “I’ll show them. If they won’t treat me right as a white woman, I’ll just become a black woman”—in which case it was all about her. At best, she had a change of heart and decided she wanted to work as an ally but still felt she could never be really accepted as a white woman in the battle, or at the very least didn’t want to take the time and pay the dues needed to earn it. Read the rest of this entry »