Written in 2018, this author’s posit reminded me of a book I have been reading by Dr. Ibram X. Kendi. Kendi’s explains that racism, at it’s heart, is a form of self-interest. (Get a copy How To Be An Anti-Racist: https://www.indiebound.org/book/9780525509288 )
Elad Nehorai, the author of The Philosophy of Selfishness is Destroying America, discusses selfishness in a (mostly) objective tone. “…in order to get what we want, someone else must pay a cost. And vice versa: if anyone else gets what they want, it comes at a cost to us. …This is the philosophy of selfishness. A person gaining in society must inevitably mean the fall of another. The gain of women will, must, come at the cost of men. There is no other outcome, for this is the way the world works: there are winners and there are losers, and if you are not the one winning, then you’re a loser.”
In his book, How To Be An Anti-Racist, Dr. Kendi explains that it is not ignorance and hate that give rise to racism, it is rather, the opposite. Self-interest fuels racism which gives rise to ignorance and hate. Racism was constructed and is maintained to perform a purpose, that purpose: a tool to maintain power. Therefore, self-interest, at the heart of racism “sparks ignorance and hate” and we must combat it with hope and to treat it like the cancer it is. Nehorai goes on to explain, “Obama’s election, and the subsequent cultural and economic rise of blacks in America (think: Black Lives Matter, and the backlash), sent a message: minorities are rising, and so white people will soon suffer. Whatever negative economic effects were happening in the white, rural and suburban worlds had to be because of the rise of another group. It could not be structural issues like education, it could not be issues of their own, it could not be their lack of diversity. It had to be the rise of others.
This is the philosophy of selfishness. And it’s one that has been bred in Americans since its creation. To build the country, it had to be on the back of slaves. A philosophy so deeply ingrained that it took the deadliest war in American history to simply begin to break the idea that whites could only prosper when they treated others like animals. Worse than animals. And so those committed to the opposite.. of enhancement of what makes humans great: our interconnected nature, our ability to do great things when we work together… either don’t realize or don’t care that they’re actually hurting themselves. To them, it’s impossible to imagine a world where others’ success also means their success.”
This article was written in 2018. The next excerpt, I am wondering, if we have seen the beginning… what do you think?
“…And so, at some point, be it now or later, there will be a reckoning. One where the sufferers rise up and take back their dignity, or one where today’s “winners” become tomorrow’s losers. But ultimately, like Pharaoh, it is up to them to decide how it goes. Because no matter how many times we repeat this story, the ending is always the same. And always will be until the final ending: the day all men and women are free.” by Elad Nehorai
The world is in upheaval (COVID, police brutality, White silence, literal lynchings in the streets…) more than I have ever seen in my lifetime and I’m a bit overwhelmed by it. Some days it’s all I can do to make coffee, feed the cat and scoop the litter box. The rest of the time, my eyes are tired from staring into a screen abyss of politics, activism, hatred, inspirational, revolutionary moments in time for us social justice warriors. My teaching job is exclusively online now also. The screen is the new daily norm. I’m also heartbreakingly bearing witness to those who are clinging to the banks of the river of change and they seem like dogs who have also been chained, but by their own illusions of superiority. I believe deep down they know the difference between right and wrong – humanity from hatred – but they’ve never been able to access it for a vast many number of oppressive reasons.
White supremacy and power is an imposed bigotry system. It gives poor White people the notion and perpetuates the belief that they are in some way superior to people of color, regardless of how poor they may be. People of color were perceived to have been (or deserve to be) dominated and defeated, enslaved and incarcerated. White people in poverty do not have the slightest clue that they too are incarcerated in an insidious way, by their own ignorance and subsequent hatred, by a system which benefits by feeding them White supremacist lies.
Poor White people are fragile because deep down, they know the experiences of all Black, Brown and Indigenous people of color are indications of grave sins committed by White power. Even if they haven’t consciously tapped into that notion, they are fighting to save what little they have in an effort to maintain a sense of their own right to exist. They have been convinced, over time, that their lives mean something more than Black and Brown people, because they aren’t “getting into trouble”. They are kept from the truth of the thin line which keeps them safe, but only in the moment – until they can’t pay for their cancer treatments, they lack the money to buy their children what they need, their car breaks down and can’t be fixed, addiction kills a family member, they lack true protection from police even if there is sexual abuse or other atrocities in the home, they lack the ability to save their children from dying of diseases which could be treated with access to money. They have no idea that the color of their skin makes all of this heartbreaking reality just a little bit (if not a lot) better for them. President Lyndon B. Johnson once said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” Poor White people are, in all senses of the term, appeased. They are complacent and comfortable enough to swallow the messages of their racist and bigoted churches, their right-wing news commentators, they’re whispering racist coworkers or military regiment brothers and sisters, their parents’ or grandparents’ “generational” ideas about race and gender inequality…
“By most accounts, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 couldn’t have become law when it did had not LBJ personally wheedled, cajoled, and shamed his former colleagues in the House and Senate into voting for it. One of the secrets of his success was the ability to speak the racially insensitive language of his fellow Southerners. (For two decades in Congress he was a reliable member of the Southern bloc, helping to stonewall civil rights legislation. As [biographer Robert] Caro recalls, Johnson spent the late 1940s railing against the “hordes of barbaric yellow dwarves” in East Asia. Buying into the stereotype that blacks were afraid of snakes (who isn’t afraid of snakes?) he’d drive to gas stations with one in his trunk and try to trick black attendants into opening it. Once, Caro writes, the stunt nearly ended with him being beaten with a tire iron.) He (Johnson) understood them (Southerners). He understood their reluctance and in some cases downright refusal to tear down the walls of racial segregation. He knew racism from the inside, and he knew well the role the rich and powerful played in promulgating it.” (https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/lbj-convince-the-lowest-white-man/)
My point in all of this is in attempt to say this: those poor White people who believe themselves to be superior to Black and Brown people of color are imprisoned by their ignorance and inherent privilege. This is poor White people everywhere – Southerners are not alone in this. They are blinded by the imposed class structure so much so that their struggles, financial and otherwise, are not seen. Therefore, their reality is not shared with minorities who have similar experiences, but theirs are even worse comparatively and statistically. Poor White people can’t imagine giving up anything in order to allow for Black and Brown people to come forward because they don’t have anything to give – that they can see. This is why the argument of privilege is so unpalatable. They do not see their own struggle in those to whom they subjugate. They are systematically prevented from feeling empathy or understanding. It is impossible for a White person to understand what it is like to be a person of color. I struggled with this specific concept in my own experience in developing an anti-racist praxis coming from a working-class, poor White family. At one time, when I was around 2-3, my mother, father and I lived in the back of a beat up Grand Torino. I was sexually abused and physically abused as a kid and young adult. I knew hunger, neglect and I hated/feared police because they never saved me; they didn’t put my abusers in jail… if all this is part of my identity, then what do I have to give? I had (and continue to have) a lot to learn is all I can say.
The insidious nature of racism cannot be understood by someone in terms of privilege if one does not see their own yet, it can only be taught relationally, the process and idea of imagining oneself in someone else’s shoes. The sacred concept of critical thinking isn’t bestowed upon people who go to public schools. “You may have experienced all those things, but you’ve never been Black.” says a White, anti-racist advocate Alice Sarti. What an amazing way to put it, how simple, how understandable! Knowing deep down that Black and Brown people have had no stick at all, instead of the short end, that’s the part Poor white people got. This concept is simply and finally understandable. Poor White people can only understand the privilege of their existence through the example of relationships. Somehow, honoring Life (not just White lives) has escaped the awareness of hateful, White supremacists. That a Black person’s life has value, or a Lakota has the right to this land or the Guatemalan or Mexican person is a human being has been intentionally manufactured as unrecognizable realities.
I see a way to begin this conversation with someone. It starts by making a relational statement, as I did with my grandmother on Sunday. “Put yourself in the shoes of George Floyd’s mother, his grandmother. How would you feel to watch that happen to him? What if he was your grandson? Imagine little Kevi (my nephew, her oldest grandson) under the knee of that police officer and even worse, remembering intrinsically that your entire family knows it could’ve been one of them on the ground that day. That’s how prevalent this kind of violence and police brutality is for the Black and Brown community. Imagine seeing little Joey’s face (our youngest nephew/grandson) sticking out from under the police officers knee and recognize that it happens all the time. If this had not been filmed – there would not yet be people of all colors outraged in the streets.”
White people had to see it to believe it. Even though we’ve seen it before, somehow, thank God, there has been a breaking point, emblazoned by technology and the Black and Brown community saying “We will take no more. Our lives matter too”. Imagine that Maw Maw… Then I read to her statistics about disproportionate numbers of Black and Brown people in prison and she asks “So they’re not just getting into more trouble, they’re being met by racist system?” “The system which teaches cops”, I added, “by design or inadvertently, explicitly and implicitly, that Black and Brown people are more dangerous and therefore deserve to be targeted.”
Yes. I had this conversation with my grandmother after she said this: “Please don’t misunderstand me and think that I am intentionally being prejudiced (or something like that), but shouldn’t all colors be included? They (Black Lives Matter) should change their slogan to ‘all lives matter.'” Our conversation was civil and respectful. My grandfather, sitting to my right, seemed a bit less enthused about my perspective and was quiet for much of the conversation. However, when I told them about the White professor asking her mostly White class to raise their hands if they would want to be treated like Black people in the United States. I explained that no one in the class raised their hand. Then I shared that the professor then asked, “What are you all doing about that?” My grandfather retorted, “Sounds like she’s just an agitator.” Sorry Paw Paw, looks like you’ve got an agitator for your granddaughter… I love you.
In the end, I think my grandmother began to see what I was explaining. I asked her several times, like the teacher I am (she was also, for 32 years), “Does that make sense about George Floyd’s grandmother and the prevalence of police targeting, brutality and institutionalized racism?” “Yes, it does.” she said.
White Power & How To Confront It As A White Person
I remember dreaming last night in a fitful sleep. I went to bed thinking this: things in our world are both building and deteriorating. Systemic, institutionalized, implicit, and internalized racism are coming into our White collective consciousness and there are those who are resisting that truth, tooth and nail.
On my mind are the non-violent steps being taken to combat these ills (protests, vigils, marches, social media amplification of melanated voices, removal of racist statues and the banning of racist flags, White people doing their own consciousness work, ETC) and the backlash I deeply feel is coming to meet them. There are many more people on this continent now than after the 2nd Reconstruction (after which due to White power “ultimately led to the overthrow of that democracy and decades of whites-only rule”) or during our last Civil Rights movement, only about 50 years ago. What is being highlighted right now is the incessant use and prevalence of police brutality, especially against Black and Brown people.
Dumbfounding to me is the seemingly complete and utter lack of respect and dignity for human life. Vehicles being driven through groups of peaceful people. “Shoot them in the leg.” as if that is a conscionable solution? There has been a manufactured crippling of critical thinking skills and intentional building of hatred via indoctrination and propaganda. There is a distinct and variable lack of morality — lack of care for the common good — lack of devotion to the common principle of opponents having equal worth. There is a serious and rampant deficit of concern for people or the planet or for life in general from those who would wish for things to stay as they are (or even worse, hearkening back for when they were “great”).
The depths of the aforementioned violence is not solely exclusive to the police — the hearts and minds of all who have grown up in this country are also painted with that same racist, bigoted brush. In no way is it possible to have grown up in this country without being racist, no matter how much you would like to think to the contrary. Racist history makes one either racist outright, silently, unknowingly or for Black and Brown people, racist against one’s own self (internalized). (See WEB DuBois for more on this: here.) Our history of OCCUPANCY in this country began with genocide of Native American people. Very soon and subsequently after, the economy of White, rich men (landowners/thieves/dominators — call them what you will) and their descendants, began to thrive on the backs of African bodies, owned and sold, existing in forced and disgusting slavery. What is not often discussed here is poor White people who were also marginalized — by that I mean never included in the dominant ruling class. They were however, and most importantly, pitted against their Black and Brown counterparts.
Our history has given birth to us as direct descendants who perpetuate mass violence, poverty, inequality and also silencing of dissent. Those inherited perpetuations directly injure Black, Brown and Indigenous people of color. Poor White people have been historically and purposefully convinced of our superiority and by swallowing that pill to save our own asses against exploitation and brutality, we pass that exploitation and brutality to our Black and Brown brothers and sisters. We have participated in one of the greatest fallacies in human history. Being deceived by “those in power” (rich, white, male, power-hungry executors of violence) has created harmful White violent culture and a poverty of conscience. Those of us to whom the powerful give some riches and some privileges pacifies us into submission and makes us tolerant of some racism (appeasement). We see that gatekeepers most certainly will not simply hand over stolen, unearned wealth and unsound privilege. Some who profit from this fallacy and their leaders will cling, like the great Smaug, to the mounds of hoarded gold and silver, aka toilet paper, hand sanitizer, land and powerful positions of authority. Having a divided racist class system protects the powerful. They will use the media to confuse and divide us further. What these allied classes look like however, are you and me, people in police or army uniforms, many of us never stopping to think about what it is we are actually protecting, that is, White power.
Another outfit worn by the protectors of the powerful elite are white collars and corporate suit-wearing humans, confused into thinking that a savvy tongue and piece of that pie will save them when the shit hits the fan. Unfortunately, it will not. You too will be pushed out of the lifeboat when this ship is sinking of its own burning weight in riches.
All of us manipulated gatekeepers have access to power with our White skin, but lack the insight and ability to truly question or, dare I say, threaten White power with Love and radical, sacred inclusion. We will continue to unknowingly — very well knowingly — perpetuate this cycle of violence set upon our Black and Brown Spirit siblings and, insidiously, our very own selves, unless this collective consciousness is tapped SO HARD as to turn on the light and take on the risks and tasks of anti-racism with our every action and breath. We have to give away, willingly and with grace, the privileges of our White skin in order to uplift our more oppressed neighbors of color. Then, we can start rectifying our collective cycle of divided existence in this country. This has never been done on a mass scale. There are current examples, minuscule efforts of some humble White people. Give up seats in the Senate and General Assembly. Give up board of directors appointments. Give up our seats on the bus. Give up our privileged, protected and powerful positions everywhere where that privilege keeps Black and Brown people down. That means at every level. That means in every stage.
That means in OUR hearts we must trust that we are not, in any way or shred of consideration, better than, more qualified or entitled to the opportunities in which simply our White skin has afforded us. It has never been about qualification (for those of you who are pissed about affirmative action), it’s about equity. We White people literally have to go backwards in order for our Brothers and Sisters to move forward. We have to get out of the way so that we can ALL be a part of the way, the new flowing of this rushing river. We may not be able to pay out of pocket (but we should try anyway) reparations. (Yes, I believe in reparations. The same way I believe the men who sexually abused me as a child should still be in jail and owe me some money, at least to cover my mental health costs). By giving of our own privileges, taking ourselves out of seats of power (the little power we have compared to the mega-rich and powerful), we can come together to fight the beast that is patriarchal capitalism run by rich, White men.
They certainly didn’t invent racism, violence or slavery, but they damn sure profited off the perpetuation and weaponization of it throughout our history in North America and worldwide. Exponential riches and power have been gained by global colonization and dominance, profiting from and exploiting the Earth and people of color, and so have we, regular White people, profited in our acceptance of trickle-down privilege.
White people in our own ways, in our own lifetimes, we, too, have profited and existed in a trickle-down privilege and that has to stop, NOW. Check your privilege in every moment you exist from this moment forward and ask yourself “Why?”. “How did I get this?” “Did I inherit this?” (See this and this for more on how to do this and this. Or hell, come talk to me, we can do this together.)
Next we can ask ourselves, “Who can I give this to or share this with?”. How can I, if I truly believe, as stated above, that I am in NO WAY superior to Black, Indigenous, and Brown people of color, give this up and work consciously for equality and equity?
PS: These questions above refer additionally to privileges of gender, ability… all the privileges and layers of marginalized identities which exist in this separate and totally unequal society. This means the environment, too. Mother Earth has also been marginalized.
It shouldn’t stop there — we should not stop just with White people stepping back and marginalized people coming forward in power. No, the transference of power will not appease me. Ayn Rand’s Anthem ends with the oppressed becoming the oppressor and this will not do for our future at this point. The transformation we need can lead toward a more nurturing economy led by people who understand oppression. We must begin thinking of the virtue of life itself, the virtue of a human being with inalienable rights of dignity and somehow instill an undeniable sense that there is value of life, value of difference, value of harmony in our economic structures, our political decisions and systems. Some say it may be possible that similar systems have happened before. This is our time to be an example, give a true gift to our children. What is it to both live in and transform the world we live so it can be a real, more just and equitable society? What is it that we truly need to thrive? What would better serve the planet and greater good of all living things?
What would better serve us right now is to realize that we White people inherit our privilege — our male-dominated culture dictates that one (__fill in the blank, color, gender, ability, etc__) is better than the other and that concept is, in every single way, wrong.
I say, have lofty fucking goals. Aim high. We may miss the mark and we most definitely will mess up. Forgive yourself and continue on. Don’t let fear of the unknown, making mistakes or losing friends keep you from working to exist in a world where we are all equal and Love wins, ’cause that time, is not right now, not yet. We all must make steps to get there, even if it happens after we die, we have at least worked for something greater than ourselves, for the Higher Power that is Serenity, Peace and Justice for All.