New York, New York, USA — 1/3/1920-New York, NY: Photo shows anarchists, reds, and radicals who were rounded up in NYC in last nights raids, arriving at Ellis Island. These undesirables will remain at Ellis Island until investigation and deportation proceedings have been completed. Many arrested in Newark and other nearby cities arrived at the Island during the afternoon. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my internet connection issues are history, and I’m going to work the plan that I had last week…tidbits by tweet today and text on Thursday. While the Current Occupant has settled on a strategy of distraction by rallying his base through crass racism, the fact remains that families are still being separated; the international understanding of the rights of asylum seekers is being ignored and upended; and our own understanding of who we are is being challenged and redefined. The latter, of course, has the potential to be the silver lining for our future, but we have a long way to go before that potential is fulfilled. For now, we have to look at the evil of our past, of our present, and in all likelihood, of our future, and be prepared to eradicate it with truth and through reconciliation.
Please, Mammy (1899)
Over the weekend, a Bill Maher-initiated hashtag on Twitter caught fire amongst too many on the Left. It was a play on a racist slur used by 45* against Sen. Warren, and far too many failed to realize that playing with the words of a racist slur was not clever, but an extension and reiteration of the essential racism. For once, I found myself in the position of understanding how unacceptable the hashtag was without having it spelled out to me, but as I saw white person after white person repeating the hashtag (and often arguing with those who asked that they stop), it was an object lesson in privilege trumping good politics, good citizenship, and good sense. I also realized that a fair number of tweeters stopped using the hashtag when asked without really understanding the layers and nuances of why the hashtag was offensive. That’s another privilege that comes with Whiteness, but it’s in understanding subtleties that White folk can learn to be better allies. For this post, I’m going to look not just at a stereotype that few would have trouble recognizing as racist, but at some of the underlying assumptions that are less recognized but no less harmful.
This is a personal post. It’s part confession; part tearing at the fabric of my own privilege and hubris; and part invitation to examine one’s own influences and determine if there are any bubble that need popping. It has been prompted by a realization I had last week; one in a long series of revelations that I’ve been having as my historical, political, and social justice awareness has increased. I’m not sure what it says about either myself or our white supremacist system that I seem to be doing my greatest amount of learning post-age-60, but I find some small comfort in the fact I’m still capable of popping my own bubbles.
Boston cream donuts: white center[ing] acceptable. Elsewhere: problematic.
I recently downloaded Layla F. Saad’s, me and white supremacy workbook
(Me and White Supremacy
) and have been working through the 28 daily challenges. I recently completed Day 16, “You and White Centering,” so the topic has been very much on my mind. When I involved myself in twitter conversations at the end of last week and over the weekend because I saw white centering happening, it became very clear to me that it’s one of the most difficult white supremacist paradigms to identify and relinquish. Because of that, this may be an uncomfortable post to read. I will be intentionally defusing it by using less personal examples and pointing out instances where white centering is something that other people do. I’m making that choice because this format does not lend itself to the type of constructive back-and-forth conversations that lead to growth. I will also be framing the post in terms of the primary campaigns, assuming that they are a common area of interest that most of us have been following. That also creates several degrees of separation, which allows for a sense of safety. But make no mistake: these are conversations that anyone who wants to claim the name “Ally” needs to be having, both internally and in small group settings, if possible. Comfort and safety are privileges of whiteness; if one wants to be part of deconstructing white supremacy, it will ultimately be necessary to choose to walk away from that refuge and address inequality and injustice with unflinching honesty, a whole lot of humility, and the willingness to fight back against one’s own internalized white supremacy.
A former slave of U.S. President Andrew Jackson (probably Betty Jackson) and two of her great-grandchildren; 1867
After Denise’s tour-de-force of a post on Sunday (if you haven’t already, be sure to read it here: I refuse to honor George Washington, and ‘founders’ who enslaved and sold human beings
), my efforts seem meager by comparison. But that’s never stopped me before, and I think it’s important to continue the litany of shame that is as much a part of our national heritage as all the mythology we’ve created about the Founders and their successors. Here then are the final six slaveholding presidents.
White fragility on display.
Iowa Rep. Steve King is facing criticism after he defended white nationalism and white supremacy in an interview. “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?” King said to The New York Times. “Why did I sit in classes teaching me about the merits of our history and our civilization?” (bolding mine) Iowa Rep. Steve King under fire for remark on white nationalism and white supremacy
I haven’t read the full NYT interview, because I avoid the NYT like the plague. So when the news of Rep. King’s abhorrent comments came out, I initially only heard about the first part of his comment and not about the second half, bolded above. When I finally did, it was a full-blown smack-my-head moment. It is obvious to me, and to anyone not invested in white nationalism, that the reason he (and most of us) learned about the merits of “our” history in the classroom is because our country is built on the existence and promotion of white supremacy. In previous years (especially pre-2008), much of the language and goals were coded, but it wasn’t always that way any more than it is now. Perhaps Rep. King would have benefited from reading some of the primary sources which make explicit the embrace of white supremacy as a guiding principle. I doubt knowing history — unprotected, unhidden, and unvarnished — would stop Rep. King from being an out-and-proud racist at this point, but one can hope for others.
Benjamin Tillman, 1910
Last week, one of the correct answers in the game version of Primary Sources was Benjamin Tillman. His name was familiar to me as “some late 1800s politician dude,” but beyond that, I remembered very little. Working on the assumption that I was not alone in a vague remembrance, I decided to shine the spotlight on him this week. I’m not going to provide his overall biography; Wikipedia has a very detailed rundown for those who are interested (Benjamin Tillman). Instead, I’m going to provide pictures of his legacy, interspersed with his own words and words of academics.
Good ol’ Will; he gave us so many useful sayings!
What follows is a personal reflection, addressed as much to myself as to the Village. Make of it what you will…
Bill Maher said something grotesque last week, and social media blew up. In what has become a predictable pattern on Twitter (and DK and just about any other platform), people of color and allies said, “No. White folk can’t use that word.” White folk whined, “Hypocrites! If black folk can say it, why can’t we?” Persons of color responded, “Look it up…lots of explanations out there already”, while white people yelled, “No, YOU explain it to me!” And then there were the subtweets and discussions about whether using racist language makes one a racist, with never-ending cross-talk as individuals claimed conflicting definitions of racism. And so it went.
I chose to mostly ignore the arguments for several reasons. First, I don’t particularly like Bill Maher, don’t watch him, and don’t generally listen to him. Secondly, if I’ve learned one thing over the years, it’s that when issues of race and racism come up, listening to persons of color is important and necessary, so I didn’t feel I had anything to add to the “discussion.” Finally, I generally considered it just another moment of a loudmouth white guy saying something stupid, and really, is that anything new?