Thursday, December 11, 2014

Racism, Part 2: Deconstructing White Supremacy

Racism is everywhere.

In Part 1 of this series, I said that different places are different. My step dad conformed to a racist culture when we moved from southern CA to central PA, but where I lived in CA was not the most diverse place either, and I distinctly remember there being skinheads around.

I found this article from 2013 chronicling the rise of the white supremacy movement 'down the hill' from the mountain top I grew up on. Here is an excerpt:
"...the number of militia or patriot groups are an indicator for other extreme groups such as neo-Nazis. He reports that militia groups peaked in the mid-'90s with 858 groups and then plunged. By the millennium, there were 150 such groups. That number stayed the same through 2008. Then it rocketed from 149 to 1,274 in three years."
The author if this piece, which is part of a series chronicling the rise of white supremacist groups in southern CA, got an interview with a member of a white racist gang. Why the rise in hate groups, the author asks,

"Very clearly," he says, "the main driver of the growth of these groups is the changing demographics of the United States as personified by a black guy in the White House."

So, there you have it...very clearly.

Also, of note in this article, is the naming of hotspots of white hate groups in the country:  Idaho's northern panhandle, northwest Arkansas, southeast Missouri, southern North Carolina and northern South Carolina.

Racism is hard to talk about and hard to deconstruct. There are many 'ways' leading to racist acts.

The most fertile source is:

White Supremacy

I break this category up into four outcomes that were birthed from the historical idea that white people are better, smarter, cleaner, handier, holier etc. We are caught in the snares of this history, and I have found four distinct outcomes of it:

1.) Continued deliberate belief that white people really are better.  
a. example above- the skinheads, kkk etc.
b. this can be replicated in offspring, and whether or not the offspring believe in white supremacy or not they will be subject to the ghost in the nursery. People who do not want to be racist, may simply be as part of a deep grove that was worn in them by experiencing racist patterns over and over from their parents/family/community.

There is a choice- stop the pattern or continue the pattern. If the pattern is recognized, one can seek help to stop the pattern, lest one ends up actually repeating the words/actions of their parents out of HABIT. What a failure of conscience that would be.

2.) Institutionalized racism, or white privilege
A most stubborn specter of white supremacy in history, and especially in politics (the power to distribute wealth and resources), is institutionalized racism or white privilege.The accumulation of millennia of acts to keep power in white hands, even to the point of inviting and dis-inviting people with non white complexions to be 'part of the club' at different times in history depending on potential benefits to those in power.

It may seem strange to people in the USA now, who have grown up with a sense of democracy and the ringing words of 'equality' and 'justice,' but democracy, equality and justice for the people is historically a rare thing. Nations are new, and the ability of people to hold power instead of the wealthy or elite is...dubious...even for the US. "Constant vigilance!" is the only way, and we have not proven we can do that...even men, or white people, or anyone who is not placed in powerful positions politically.

Now, white friends, if these ideals of freedom, equality and justice are dubious for you, what of those who came to the US as slaves?

I am happy to have come across the organization, The People's Institute for Survival and Beyond and their program for Undoing Racism (TM). Their principles teach the history of how, where and why institutional racism and white privilege came to be. Knowledge is 90% of the battle, just recognizing that these forms of racism exist is, in the words of some participants, 'shocking' and 'life changing'; and in the words of one cop who took the program, potentially life saving. 

3. White Guilt
My second epiphany on race was that I have committed acts of racism because of white guilt. I was on the diversity committee in college. It was a pretty pathetic committee anyway- basically a room full of people epitomizing the power relations on campus, the only rule being, the leader could not be a white male. Our greatest accomplishment was an anonymous survey on how 'comfortable' people felt on campus...and we had to bribe people to 'voluntarily' take the survey with prizes...

In any case, I approached the Black Student Association to see if they wanted to have a panel discussion on racism. They were not interested. They pretty much just looked at me funny and ignored me. I did talk to some random other people in the lobbies and halls on campus, but I didn't approach any organization, like the Ag Club, or Student Union or Democrat or Republican, just the Black Student Association. Looking back, I feel ashamed that I felt so comfortable going to a club that is definitely not for me and asking them to let me in and tell me all about them...all their secrets and handshakes. I would never do that to any other club, or any other group of people.

Why do I keep trying to talk to black people about racism? They are not racist! ...ah, that brings us to my first epiphany on racism lately...I should be talking to white people about racism, cause...I'm white and problem is that white people are racist.

I was seeking comfort, forgiveness, because I felt guilty. Gah! There are few moments in life when one wants to hide under a rock in humility, but, yeah, when I realized this, that is what I felt like...I still kind of do, but more on that in the next post.

4. White Ignorance
White ignorance is denying all of the above things to remain comfortable and avoid the 'I am so ashamed I feel like hiding under a rock' feeling. 
I also found this interview with Jesse Jackson very enlightening, because he talks about black American culture in ways I did not know, explaining where the sagging pants and unlaced shoes come from; how black communities are kept at the margins of society by design and really kept out. A quote from The People's Institute brought this home for me: "People of color have been historically locked out of participating in key community institutions, leading to dependency, instead of empowerment."

Make a great day!

Next time: Why I'm Giving Up White Guilt and other solutions.