When pressed to explain why they are backing their candidate, some of Donald Trump’s white supporters often answer with a critique – one that Trump himself articulates – in which they couple America’s multiculturalism and growing multicultural population with, for example, trade agreements like NAFTA, corporate relocation of American manufacturing jobs overseas, and business reliance on cheap immigrant labor. Not surprisingly, this coupling has been routinely analyzed and condemned as racist scapegoating of people of color – primarily African Americans and Hispanics – for economic problems not of their own making.
Yet the fact that these Trump supporters interweave neoliberal policies and practices into their frequent invectives against multiculturalism indicates that something else is at work. Indeed, it suggests that what we might be witnessing is blow back from what Jodi Melamed (“The Spirit of Neoliberalism”) calls neoliberal multiculturalism – the “incorporation of U.S. multiculturalism into the legitimating and operating procedures of neoliberalism” – and thus blow back from neoliberal proponents’ evocation of multiculturalism to champion their economic policies and practices as the embodiment of our national ethos; from the framing of “neoliberal policy as the key to a postracist” and multicultural “world of freedom and opportunity”; from the fact that multiculturalism functions now as our nation’s “official antiracism,” through which neoliberalism – and thus our economic dominance – is cast as “in harmony with some version of antiracist goals”; from the ways multiculturalism serves as the expression and face – both politically and aesthetically – of U.S. global military and economic power; and, from capital’s cosmetic readjustments to our rapidly growing multicultural society – its commercials of interracial couples, biracial children, and bilingual voice-overs.
Most especially, however, Trump’s support appears to be blow back from the fact that neoliberalism has innovated, through its incorporation of multiculturalism, “new” means of “fixing human capacities to naturalize inequality,” and in ways that do not exclude – on the basis of race – folks like Trump’s supporters from its discipline and punishment.
In essence, the Trump campaign appears to be driven in part by a revolt against the “new racism” that neoliberalism has produced.
Within the framework of neoliberalism, Melamed tells us, multiculturalism “codes the wealth, mobility, and political power of neoliberalism’s beneficiaries to be the just deserts of ‘multicultural world citizens.’” At the same time, it represents those whom “neoliberalism dispossesses” as “handicapped by their own ‘monoculturalism.’” Neoliberal multiculturalism thus innovates “a new racism,” one that “rewards or punishes people for being or not being ‘multicultural Americans,’ an ideological figure that arises out of neoliberal frameworks.” In fact, it “extends racializing practices and discipline beyond the color line” – beyond, that is, the white supremacist logic of race as phenotype. As a consequence, “new categories of privilege and stigma determined by ideological, economic, and cultural criteria overlay older, conventional racial categories” – meaning, that “traditionally recognized racial identities” (like white identity, for example) “can now occupy both sides of the privilege/stigma opposition.”
This is all bad news for those Trump supporters who not only desperately cling to monoculturalism (as expressed, for example, by their desire to “Make America Great [white] Again”), but who also live and work in a hypersegregated white world. As economist/researcher Jonathan Rothwell found, the women and men “who view Trump favorably are disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated zip codes and commuting zones. Holding other factors constant, support for Trump is highly elevated in areas with few college graduates, far from the Mexican border, and in neighborhoods that stand out within the commuting zone for being white, segregated enclaves, with little exposure to blacks, Asians, and Hispanics.”
Within the framework of neoliberalism, to be so damn white is to be, or to risk being cast as, just another Other.
This might help to explain in part why Trump supporters at times speak of themselves in terms of racial marginalization, terms they conflate with their lost (or perceived lost) fortunes under a neoliberal economic order that they understand to be at odds with their particular identity politics because it is aligned with the multiculturalism they loathe. To them, nothing signifies this alignment more clearly and demonstrably than the triumph of Barack Obama, who for eight years has stood at the helm of the neoliberal global order and who Trump supporters blame for policies (like NAFTA, for example) enacted prior to his administration.
Of course, it goes without saying that neoliberal policies have absolutely created great suffering for many whites who support Trump – especially those who are poor – and have opened a space for neoliberal policymakers and cheer leaders to explicitly and unashamedly frame these whites as undeserving, shiftless and lazy (monocultural) Others. “The truth about these [white] dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die,” wrote Kevin Williamson of the National Review. “Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible…The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles.”
White suffering, however, goes hand-in-hand with the fact that whiteness remains privileged within our economic and political order, and in spite of the new racism that neoliberalism has produced. We still operate, as Melamed explains, under “a racial-economic schema” that “continues to associate white bodies and national populations with wealth and nonwhite bodies and national populations with want.” Thus, whites who do fall on the side of stigma are nevertheless privileged Others, a people excluded from the kinds of brutal racial procedures that neoliberalism “adapts,” for example, to “innovate new forms of racialized wage slavery such as one finds in the free trade zones of the global South.” Nor are these white Others subject, to any comparable degree, to the kind of discipline and punishment meted out (for instance) to poor, hypersegregated/monocultural African Americans, discards of our racial capitalist regime.
None of this should be surprising, of course. After all, capital and state power remain firmly in the hands of primarily white elites – like Trump – for whom multiculturalism is a means to expand their wealth and power because it facilitates the opening of markets abroad. Within neoliberal frameworks, in fact, white men in particular are the consummate neoliberal subjects, against which most of us are measured and frequently found wanting.
The willingness of Trump’s supporters to not see in neoliberalism white elite power is itself a testimony to their deep investment in the “old” racism of white supremacy, long ago rejected (Melamed tells us) as the official racism of the state in the service of global economic expansion. That investment compels Trump’s supporters to speak in the very terms that mark them as Other (as we saw recently, for example, in the New York Times video of whites at Trump rallies. While that video exposed the raw racism of the candidate’s supporters, it simultaneously framed them – and invited us to see them – as Other). Ironically enough, the more they vocalize their racism, the more they announce themselves as men and women who are unable and/or unwilling to reconstitute themselves as proper neoliberal subjects, i.e., as neoliberal multiculturalists.
Lest we be tempted to say, “so what?”, we would do well to consider this: the very framework that marks Trump’s racist supporters as Other is also a framework that denies – and renders unspeakable – the existence of racism altogether.
Neoliberal multiculturalism articulates our nation, and the neoliberal project that our government serves, as nonracial (or, as Melamed writes, neoliberalism has effectively incorporated “U.S. multiculturalism in a manner that makes neoliberalism appear just,” while it obscures “the racial antagonisms and inequalities on which the neoliberal project depends”). It condemns as “divisive” antiracist critiques of neoliberalism and U.S. racial politics – condemns them as that which actually creates racial division, discord, and inequality. Moreover, it invites punishment and disapprobation upon those who both challenge racist practices and expose neoliberalism as being the racist plunder that it is.
Thus, it should come as no surprise, for instance, that those who organize under the banner of Black Lives Matter are frequently attacked for defending, against neoliberal policing, those presumed to be undeserving of our regard – the black/monocultural children, women and men who are marginalized not because of any political and economic policies (we are told), but because they have failed to refashion themselves as proper American neoliberal subjects, i.e., as disciplined and efficient rugged individualists, self-styled entrepreneurs and competitors in our free market society. Indeed, BLM defense of the undeserving marks BLM itself as the ultimate Other, to which state surveillance and violence, along with “All Lives Matter!” (an incantation of neoliberal multiculturalism if ever there was one), are appropriate, disciplinary responses.
So what seems to be unfolding before us, then, is a racist revolt against a racist paradigm – a revolt that speaks not so much to a desire on the part of Trump’s supporters to upend neoliberalism per se, as it perhaps speaks to an unspoken desire to reconstitute it as an explicit articulation of white power. And why would they want to upend neoliberalism, after all? Contrary to the myth that they’re all poor whites who are beset by low wage employment, addiction, and so-called broken homes, many of Trump’s supporters, as Rothwell discovered, are not particularly distressed. They haven’t been “disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration.” On average, they don’t “have lower incomes than other Americans.” And they are not “more likely to be unemployed” than the rest of their countrymen and women. To the contrary, they have done relatively well for themselves, even if the communities in which they live have taken a downturn.
But as monoculturalists, they are entirely vulnerable to neoliberal multiculturalism’s racializing discipline.
Trump, then, is not only the promise of an end to that vulnerability; he is also a beginning, the promise of a new new racism, one that resembles – and honors – the racism of old. Or as one supporter put it: “He’s the last chance we have to…preserve the culture I grew up in” – the last chance, that is, to preserve a culture of white economic, social, and political privileges that can be passed on, ad infinitum, to future generations of white monocultural Americans.
Originally published at CounterPunch.
I can’t stop thinking about Dae’Anna – Diamond Reynold‘s four year-old daughter who was in the car when police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile, Reynold’s boyfriend. Specifically, I can’t stop thinking about Dae’Anna’s words to her mom as her mom broke down crying while sitting handcuffed in the back of a police car: “It’s okay mommy. It’s okay. I’m right here with you.”
I have a three-year old who crawls in bed with me whenever I am incapacitated with the pain of a migraine. She lies on my chest, kisses my face and says “It’s okay, momma.” I know that in such moments she is terribly afraid, and that it hurts her deeply to see her momma in such agony. So when I heard Dae’Anna comfort her mother during that incredibly violent, horrific event, I was not surprised, and I knew in my heart of hearts that not only was Dae’Anna unimaginably afraid; she was also in great pain – for her mother, for Philando, for herself. Maybe even for Officer Yanez.
She was also frighteningly vulnerable.
In my heart of hearts I also know that the violence suffered and perpetrated by adults must be answered by turning toward Dae’Anna – toward little black girls and other girls of color everywhere, especially those who are poor – and asking: what is required of us to make the world safe for you? What must we do to ensure that little girls never have to turn to mothers who are forced to flee war, to flee men, who suffer poverty and racism, who suffer through the violence of routine traffic stops and the funerals of kin cut down in the prime of life by state-sanctioned and private acts of violence and say, “It’s okay, mommy. It’s okay. I’m right here with you”?
We turn to them for our answers because it is clear that to resolve the question of their safety and well-being, and (by extension) that of the entire planet, is to commit unhesitatingly to a political, economic, and spiritual revolution that will completely upend the structural and gendered violence by which our society – all of it – is organized and in which all of us are immersed. To turn toward our little girls is to examine, through their eyes, what we have built and to see without blinders the shitty ways we recreate the very circumstances that force them – the most vulnerable in our society – to be their mothers’ comfort and keepers in the midst of violence (slow and fast, visible and invisible) that is also their own trauma and inheritance.
Indeed, if we can ever get to the point where we can say that our girls are safe and thriving — that society is right and just — it will be because we will have courageously and selflessly undertook the labor of radically transforming everything, every damn thing, from the bottom-up. It will be because we will have put to rest the very logic that has created a society that not only renders black people disposable; but that also renders violence “the most important tool of power” as well as “the mediating force” – to use the words of Henry Giroux – “in shaping social relationships.”
Ultimately, if we can ever say that our girls are safe and thriving, it will be because we had come to understand that the meaning and measure of a just society could have only been defined in terms of the needs and care of the least of these. We would have finally understood that this inescapable network of violence (racism, neoliberalism, militarism) — of which war, gun violence (nay, the very ownership of guns) as well as racist, militaristic policing are the articulate expressions — could never have been tweaked or refined or perfected enough to coexist with justice, and that it could have only guaranteed that four year-old black and brown girls would forever be witnesses to, and thus victims of, the horrors it inevitably produces.
So let’s transform the words “It’s okay mommy” into a subversive call to action, into a promise we make to our little girls, and thus to ourselves, that we will transform this world into one where we all – but most especially they – will be absolutely okay.
A friend recently told me that while I could “afford” to vote for Bernie Sanders because I am, as she put it, “highly educated,” she absolutely could not vote for him – nor could many of her friends and others who were decidedly not like me (i.e., highly educated). “For me,” she argued, “the stakes are too high” – the stakes being the elevation of Donald Trump to the highest office in the nation, and thus potentially four years of GOP control over all branches of government. Because of the real and present danger that a Donald Trump win would pose, “I will vote this November,” she declared emphatically, “for Hilary Clinton.”
My friend is right, of course. I am highly (or perhaps, as my brother would put it, over) educated.
And just for the record, I am also middle-class, African American, lesbian, 52, gainfully employed, insured, and a U.S. citizen with a (meager) retirement savings. Et cetera. I will vote for Sanders when my time comes, and if she captures the nomination, I will vote for Clinton. (That’s a strategic black vote, by the way).
Like many, I live a life of both privilege and vulnerability. I don’t apologize for what I can afford – voting or otherwise. And while I don’t fool myself about my vulnerabilities by believing that they don’t exist, I also don’t use them to claim a sameness with all African American women or others in ways that belie class, citizenship status, education and other differences among us – differences that often make for vastly dissimilar experiences with (for example) racism, sexism, economic instability.
But of course there are moments when our experiences are remarkably similar.
Nevertheless, my friend is right as well about the fact that the stakes of this election are YUGE (to use Bernie-speak). A Donald Trump win! win! win! would be absolutely disastrous for the country (and for me. I would not, as she incorrectly assumes, escape unscathed the consequences of his victory). Continued inaction on climate change; the ability to install a Supreme Court thoroughly committed to inequality, the decimation of individual rights, economic and environmental deregulation, and the interests of the rich; expansion of war in the Middle East and a return to Cold War politics; reversal of marriage equality and freedom of choice; the plunder of the treasury; repeal of Obamacare; the shredding of what little safety net we have left….this is the kind of craziness we face.
Given these stakes, then, we must vote, and vote wisely.
My friend is not alone in thinking that a vote for Sanders is a dangerous vote – one that threatens the safety of many of us, most especially those targeted by Trump, Trump supporters, and the GOP generally – while a vote for Clinton is a safe vote or, to put it differently, a vote for safety. You encounter this argument all the time from HRC supporters – in editorial pages, on Twitter, in blogs, on Facebook, in coffee houses, over the airwaves, and in conversations overheard on BART. Bernie Sanders supporters, they say, are fools – elite fools – who might very well usher us all to the end of times.
Or something like that.
Yet, I have heard similar arguments as well from Bernie supporters. Because the polls say Clinton will lose against Trump (some argue), to vote for her is to cast a dangerous vote, one that will plunge us all deep into GOP chaos. On the other hand, the polls do predict that Bernie will beat Trump. Consequently, our safety lies with his nomination.
But we should wonder about this propensity to speak of Hilary’s or Bernie’s supporters, or of a Clinton/Sanders presidency, in terms of danger, protection and refuge – this willingness, in other words, to believe that voting for either candidate will make us safe.
Should Donald Trump lose to Sanders or Clinton (assuming that he will defeat a Republican coup and actually become the Party’s nominee), we will still go home to families, coworkers, friends, neighbors – and mingle daily with strangers – who are willing to sacrifice democracy to authoritarianism, xenophobia, tribalism, patriarchy, white supremacy, and the machinations of wealthy white men (e.g., Trump, the Koch brothers) whose hunger for power is, it seems, absolutely bottomless.
We will still be surrounded by neighbors and intimates who do not eschew violence as a means to redress economic dislocation and to contend with change that is not merely a reiteration of current power arrangements.
We will still live in a country riven by hate and divisiveness, and be governed by a Congress for which that hate and divisiveness is the stuff of religious creed and public policy.
We will still live in a nation in which the infrastructure is crumbling, coastal cities sinking, schools failing, inequality increasing, desperation mounting and hunger considered just deserts for those who are poor — especially those who are poor, black and female.
We will still be at war, everywhere.
In other words, we are already unsafe – already living dangerously, and we were doing so long before Donald Trump upended the Republican Party.
So whether you vote for Hilary Rodham Clinton or Bernie Sanders, your vote will not protect you.
Thinking of safety in the narrow terms that we do – i.e., merely voting for a president every four years in order to keep at bay the draconian policies of a mean-spirited party and electorate – will not protect us. This is especially true given that our narrow conception of safety is itself a buy-in to a top-down politics of change.
Now don’t get me wrong: vote we must. It is imperative. But we need to think more deeply and ask: what does it mean to be safe? What does real safety look like and how do we create it for all of us – haters included?
Safety, it seem to me, resides with us, in what we do every day – in whatever capacity we are able – to put in place policies and institutions that are grounded in safeguarding and nurturing the lives of the most vulnerable. For if the most vulnerable are cared for, if that which is creating the vulnerability in the first instance is eradicated (poverty, segregation, war funding, separate and unequal school systems, state-sponsored and private acts of violence, structural inequalities, the upward distribution of wealth), then safety will be the order of the day (I, for one, believe that this means envisioning economic, political, geopolitical and social security through the eyes of a poor, undocumented girl of color – but that’s just me).
That kind of safety is purchased in part by the vote, but most especially by political action and grassroots involvement at the local level – like, for example, sitting in on and participating in neighborhood meetings, helping to organize your workplace, conversing with and listening deeply to people who are different from you, running for office, creating viable third, fourth, fifth party alternatives.
Perhaps most of all, the kind of protection we seek – real safety – is purchased by our refusal to live in fear.
We need to stop proclaiming that we are afraid of Donald Trump and his supporters, and to stop telling everyone else that they should be afraid. When we do this, we make him, and them, larger than life, and in the process, we make us small, fearful and powerless.
Our fear will not protect us.
So let’s move beyond fear and way, way past thinking of either Sanders or Clinton as our saving grace; they are not (while we’re at it, let’s also abandon altogether the shitty, hateful, divisive discourse that passes as constructive political engagement. There’s nothing radical about speaking the same language as, and acting like, those who hate us).
Instead, let’s demonstrate the truism that we are in fact “the ones we have been waiting for” and that our calling is to be dangerous to the politics of what is. Let us make the nation absolutely unsafe for poverty, war mongering, patriarchy, racism, xenophobia, neoliberalism, free (as opposed to fair) trade, economic inequality. Let us be dangerous to all that stands against peace. And let us be so regardless of whether or not Hilary, Bernie or Donald ends up in the White House.
But of course, let’s make sure that neither Donald nor a GOP alternative makes it anywhere near the Oval Office.
Thirty-seven percent of Flint, Michigan’s population is white. Approximately 14,000 of Flint’s white population live below the poverty line.
Neither statistic has factored much into discussions concerning the water crisis in Flint or in analyses of the “structural racism” that created the crisis in the first place (in fact, pundits and others have cited the statistics merely to show that Flint is, and Flint’s poor are, predominantly African American).
But these statistics matter, and they matter not only because they speak more fully to the suffering state and federal officials visited upon the people of Flint. They also matter because they betray Democrats’ and progressives’ failure to seize opportunities to speak directly to, and be in conversation with, poor and working class whites about the class and race politics that have created much of their suffering. No one who has talked about Flint – not Hilary Clinton, not Bernie Sanders, not their followers, not progressives in general – has had anything to say whatsoever about just how expendable to Michigan’s white elites are the lives of Flint’s poor and working class white folk. In fact, it is almost as if whites who live at the margins in Flint don’t exist at all (or exist only so that one can make a point about black people and racism).
At a recent event in Harlem, for example, Clinton said of the water crisis: “It’s a horrifying story, but what makes it even worse is that it’s not a coincidence that this was allowed to happen in a largely black, largely poor community. Just ask yourself: Would this have ever occurred in a wealthy, white suburb of Detroit? Absolutely not.” During a town hall meeting, Sanders, too, wondered what “the response” would have been had the water crisis happened in “a white suburb.” Flint “is a poor community,” Sanders stated. “It is disproportionately African-American and minority, and what has happened there is absolutely unacceptable.”
To be sure, both Clinton and Sanders probably considered whites included in the term “poor community.” But it is clear that poor white people were not the point Clinton and Sanders wanted to make. Instead, what Clinton and Sanders hoped to demonstrate (for good reason) was their understanding of how racist policies continue to constrain the lives of African Americans and to serve the interests of well-to-do whites. Or maybe what they hoped for was recognition of what New York Magazine writer Rembert Brown gleefully declared about Hilary Clinton: that they were willing to “chastise” their “own privilege” and, in so doing, to put “the privilege of whiteness front and center.”
If putting “the privilege of whiteness front and center” was what Clinton and Sanders were trying to accomplish (and I believe there’s some truth to this observation), then what they ultimately gave voice to was a class politics on the part of Democrats and progressives that erases the experiences of poor and working class whites, and does so through a racial politics that reifies the myth of a “naturalized, unmarked, homogenized, privileged white identity” (to borrow from law professor Camille Gear Rich’s “Marginal Whiteness”). This myth is one by which white elites have, throughout American history, defined white interests in terms of their own privileges, wealth, and power – as it is also one by which whites who live on the margins have framed (often to their great detriment) their own interests so as to enjoy the privileges of white identity.
Both candidates (as well as progressives who wrote about Flint) could have explicitly talked about how the water crisis was allowed to “happen” just as surely to Flint’s poor and working class white community as it was allowed to happen to Flint’s African American community; how the privileged whites and minorities who live in the “white suburbs” were provided with clean water; how anti-black racism constitutes a set of policies and practices that facilitate well-to-do whites’ exploitation of poor and working class white people (that is, after all, what happened in Flint). And both Clinton and Sanders (who just yesterday visited Flint & addressed the water crisis in front of an overwhelmingly white audience) could have had this discussion without giving credence to the fiction of equivalent victimization.
Indeed, both candidates could have discussed or put “front and center” for analysis and critique their own class privileges vis-à-vis the black and white Flint communities. They could have stated, as Rich observed, that for some whites “access…to the material and dignitary benefits associated with whiteness is not always assured,” and that some whites – like those in Flint, no doubt – “only enjoy white privilege in contingent, context-specific ways.” They could have spoken of whites – and even of African Americans – in terms of differences that belie the myth of homogeneity.
But that kind of discussion did not happen. Consequently, the Flint water crisis remains solely a story about anti-black politics.
Talking about the racism African Americans face in Flint and beyond, of course, is not the problem. In fact, it is necessary. But while Democrats and progressives sustain the myth of a homogenized, privileged white identity and choose not to be in conversation with poor and working class whites about the kind of class and race politics that creates their suffering (whether we’re talking about Flint or inadequate health care), Donald Trump fills the void. Through a racist and xenophobic framework he engages poor and working class whites directly, casting their suffering as the fault of racial others. In the process, Trump recreates and reinvents – by casting himself as the answer to all white America’s woes – the myth of a homogenized and privileged white identity as well as the fiction that white interests are white elite interests. As long as Clinton, Sanders, Democrats, and progressives offer no real alternative – as long as they persist in spinning the myth themselves –Trump might very well capture the White House this November, and with the help of poor and working class whites.
My book is out! Nonviolence Now! Living the 1963 Birmingham Campaign’s Promise of Peace (Lantern Books 2015)
While there are countless reasons why Bernie Sanders’ adoption of a Racial Justice platform that tackles violence against African Americans is both extraordinary and unprecedented, certainly one reason must be that the platform in effect charges our government with the responsibility to practice nonviolence toward African Americans in particular and people of color generally. In fact, Sanders’ platform – the adoption of which was instigated by #BlackLivesMatter activists – presupposes that folks of color deserve nonviolence, both from the government and from private citizens. We deserve it, the platform suggests, because we are a valuable part of the body politic – “we must pursue policies that transform this country into a nation that affirms the value of its people of color” – and because it is right and just.
The platform is not, as one might imagine, merely a recitation of platitudes about racism and justice (though it certainly includes many); instead, it offers specific policy changes that Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists hope will help to make African Americans’ and others’ lived experiences of violence a thing of the past: police retraining, expanding the franchise, ending the War on Drugs, banning “prisons for profit,” investing in youth employment programs. These are just a few of the proposals that the platform outlines.
Of course, the word “nonviolence” does not actually appear in Sanders’ Racial Justice platform, even though the platform refers to and quotes Martin Luther King, Jr. in the section dedicated to economic violence.
Nevertheless, with its focus on “the four central types of violence waged against black and brown Americans – physical, political, legal and economic,” it is hard not to see that what Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists have done is something quite in keeping with what King did in “Beyond Vietnam,” his crucial 1967 speech against the Vietnam War: denounce the government’s violence and require from it something radically different. For King, that radically different something was for the government to conduct domestic and foreign policy in ways that reinforce “brotherhood,” and thus for it to choose “nonviolent coexistence” over “violent co-annihilation.” For Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists, that something is for the government to refrain from waging violence against black and brown people.
Because Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists produced a platform that expresses in great measure the spirit of King’s challenge, they accomplished something rather remarkable: they inadvertently produced a framework by which we can construct a platform that commits us to making nonviolence the crux of our nation’s domestic and foreign policies. Physical, political, legal and economic violence – these categories certainly capture what we justify nationally and internationally as in our national interest, and thus they provide us an opportunity to offer the kind of nonviolent alternatives we sorely need. Our undeclared war against ISIS, the unspeakable suffering of the Syrian people, the horrific attack in Paris, the everyday violence we suffer at the hands of one another – what else do we need to add in order to see, finally, that we really must choose between nonviolent coexistence and violent co-annihilation? What other kind of mass shooting, suicide bombing, war – what other kind of atrocity do you require?
So, forgive me for having the audacity to offer a nonviolent political platform – a work-in-progress that builds upon (and borrows from) what Sanders and #BlackLivesMatter activists started. I offer this because it is clear to me that unless and until ordinary citizens step up to put forward alternatives to our culture of violence, we will continue to be mired in bloodshed, hate, and conflict both here and abroad until we destroy ourselves. It is my hope that you will comment, critique, talk about and add to what I have written here. It is my hope that you will even imagine a platform more daring, one that shifts this superpower inexorably toward militant nonviolence and to which you will, through bold action, hold every single candidate accountable from now until November 2016.
While the student protests at the University of Missouri continue to be dissected, analyzed, and judged, we might want to direct our attention to the folks who – remarkably enough – have not been thus far the subject of much debate and critique: those white students who shouted racial slurs at Peyton Head as he walked near campus, the drive-by racists who shouted “nigger” at the Legion of Black Collegians while they practiced for homecoming, and the other faceless, nameless students who engaged in racist conduct (we might also want to include the silent white assenters – students, faculty, staff – as well as any onlookers who stood on the sidelines and maybe even laughed or otherwise encouraged their colleagues).
It is not enough merely to call these students or their acts “racist” and their words “hate speech,” to speak only of epithets and hurt feelings, to evoke the First Amendment (while forgetting the Fourteenth), and then to turn and launch extended critiques of “political correctness” on the part of those protesting (a “political correctness” that we must – if we are honest with ourselves – see as, in part, an outgrowth of the heavier burden of free speech that some communities are forced to bear).
Instead, or perhaps primarily, we should be wondering out loud, and without distraction: what are these students trying to do? What do they hope to achieve?
It seems to me that one of the things that they are trying to do is to speak as, and on behalf of Mizzou – with the full power of the institution behind them. Or to put this differently: I suspect these racist students (and others) presume that Mizzou is the institutionalization of a particular kind of white power and privilege, and that because they are white and because they are Mizzou, then when they speak the language of racism and white power as well as engage in racist conduct, they are merely being Mizzou itself. And in being Mizzou, they hope to impress upon students of color, and African American students in particular, that they can never be Mizzou and thus can never embody and exercise power – on campus or anywhere else. No, power belongs to, and can only be exercised by whites and whites only.
If I am right, and I suspect that I’m a little right, then we need to ask whether the University of Missouri – the governing body, administration, staff, and faculty – give white students such as these every reason to believe that they and Mizzou are of one mind and one body. For if this is the case – and I suspect that this is the case – the resignation of Tim Wolfe will hardly suffice. Indeed, what will be required is nothing less than Mizzou’s radical transformation – its mission, its governance, its admissions policies and criteria, its hiring, its faculty, its student body – and, by extension, the entire state of Missouri itself.
And so here we go again. The moment that African Americans describe or share the pain that racism has wrought, many of our countrymen and women respond by trotting out and bombarding us with their racism porn – you know, the statistics or studies or, as is usually the case, the flat-out pronouncements about African American life that these folks always seem to have in the ready. Their tried and true collection of what passes as knowledge about African American communities is the material from which these men and women generate and feed the barely disguised pleasure they apparently get from African American hurt, subordination and – if we are honest – from their own racial privileges.
It is absolutely obscene.
In her commencement speech to Tuskegee University graduates, First Lady Michelle Obama did a remarkable thing: she spoke candidly not only about the racism that she suffered during President Obama’s first run for office and throughout his presidency; she also spoke openly about the pain that she suffered as a result. Michelle, for example, recalled the criticism she received while on the campaign trail, criticism that was clearly motivated by a desire to tear her down by framing her within the myriad stereotypes reserved specifically for black women. “Was I too loud, or too angry, or too emasculating?” Michelle remembered. She reminded the graduates that she was characterized as “‘Obama’s baby mama,’” a slight meant to denigrate Michelle by associating her with the much-maligned single parent households in African American communities, with so-called “illegitimacy,” and with “absent” black fathers. Michelle spoke, too, of the “insults and slights” that “Barak has endured.”
“All of this used to really get to me,” Michelle confided to the Tuskegee graduates. “I had a lot of sleepless nights.” Moreover, she worried “about what people thought” of her, wondered if she “might be hurting” Barack’s “chances of winning his election,” and feared how her “girls would feel” if they “found out what some people were saying about their mom.” Faced with such an onslaught of hate, she had to discover ways to “keep” her “sanity and not let others define” her.
And still, because the attacks haven’t subsided – “all of the chatter, the name calling, the doubting” – she has to “block everything out and focus” on her “truth.” Experiences such as these, Michelle confessed, make for a “heavy burden to carry. It can feel isolating. It can make you feel like your life somehow doesn’t matter.”
That’s a lot of pain. And it is pain that I am sure the graduates understood, having themselves experienced (no doubt) racism all of their lives.
But why bother acknowledging that pain when what’s important, really, is that you use it to arouse your own pleasure? For example:
“Why didn’t the First Lady share the reason why she got into Princeton was probably because of affirmative action?” Angela McGlowan of “Fox & Friends” happily asked (I mention her first because she’s African American and, as such, she truly represents the triumph of white supremacy).
Both Michelle and Barack, charged Ann Coulter gleefully, planned the Tuskegee speech “in order to keep a certain segment of the black population angry and voting against Republicans” – in particular, the “‘predator class’” in Baltimore’s African American community that “largely targets other members of the black community.” What it “all comes from,” Coulter continued (in orgasmic glee and no longer concerned about whether her critique actually addressed anything Michelle Obama had to say) is “illegitimacy,” for which we have to thank the “New Deal” and the “War on Poverty.” The latter, Coulter triumphantly pronounced, “just breeds a predator class.”
The “First Lady’s transparent manipulation of clueless blacks this past weekend in Alabama” – that would be Tuskegee’s college graduates – “would be comical” (noted M. Catherine Evan) “if her black brothers and sisters weren’t killing each other at alarming rates (including aborted babies).”
Michelle has “a giant chip on [her] shoulder,” Rush Limbaugh passionately declared. Indeed, she was just using the Tuskegee speech as an excuse to “roil the culture, rile up people who ought to have a different approach being made to them.”
All this in response to the First Lady’s speech (I’m going to stop now – not because there isn’t more hate to quote, but because writing this makes me downright ill).
So let’s call out these reactions for what they are: getting off on black pain, getting off on racism, and getting off on racial subordination. “Illegitimacy,” “black-on-black crime,” “fatherless households,” “affirmative action,” “criminality,” “public assistance” – all of this, when hurled in response to black pain (and even when not), is racism porn, the recitation of which is absolutely heady to the one reciting it and signifies his or her deep, if not bottomless illicit pleasure in the racial status quo.
And how do we know that this is all about pleasure? The dead give-away is that those who usually trot out this stuff do so not from a desire to improve the lived experiences of African Americans or to help heal African American pain or to offer solutions, the purpose of which would be to support a thriving African American community. Instead, they do so both to elicit a reaction that will allow them to keep their hate juices flowing and to cause, if they can, even more pain (psychic, spiritual, and material).
So we have to start calling out this pleasure, naming it, and challenging it by taking on those who seek pleasure in and make money off of other people’s suffering — and we must do so because their pleasure is, at bottom, a form of violence that none of us should ever have to endure.
“I will personally do everything I can – as will my entire government – to ensure that anti-Semitism doesn’t have a chance in our country,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in response to an upsurge in German anti-Semitism and to anti-Semitic remarks voiced during recent political rallies in Germany against Israel’s actions in the Gaza Strip. Indeed, it is “every German’s duty,” Merkel explained, to take a stand against hatred, and against those who would use “the legitimate criticism of a government” as “a cloak of one’s hatred” toward others. Such people, Merkel stated unequivocally, “misuse our basic rights of freedom of opinion and assembly.”
This is how the leader of “the whole nation” responds to the hateful targeting of its minority citizens.
She or he doesn’t avoid naming the hatred at play. If it’s anti-Semitism, she calls it anti-Semitism. If it’s racism…well, she says it’s racism.
She doesn’t characterize that minority’s experience of hate and violence as merely an issue of their “feeling marginalized and distrustful” or of their belief that “bias is taking place” or of their lack of “confidence” that they are “being treated fairly” (as President Obama said in response to Ferguson, and then to the grand jury decision regarding Eric Garner’s death). Instead, she affirms that their experience is real, that they are truly targets of hate — the fact of which then unquestionably requires a powerful and unambiguous national response.
She doesn’t let her nation off the hook by simply saying that it has a “problem.” No, every citizen, she asserts, actually has an obligation, “a duty” to take a stand against hate and to affirm that the lives of all of the nation’s citizens matter.
She doesn’t leave untroubled the idea that the constitutional commitment to freedom of speech is more sacrosanct than the constitutional commitment to anti-racism — especially given the history that made the latter necessary in the first instance.
And she doesn’t…my goodness. She doesn’t frame her government’s response to hate in narrow terms. No, she asserts that she “will personally” do “everything” that she can, as will the “entire government,” to ensure that the hatred directed at the assailed minority “doesn’t have a chance” in her country.
That is how a President of the whole nation responds.