The Problem With “Them”…
It took Donald Trump two full days to even utter the word “white supremacists” in his denouncements of the events of this past weekend of August 11th and 12th, under relentless pressure from all corners of the nation. Although objectively speaking this statement could have been uttered on any weekend of any year, by any leader any daggone where.
While his statement does mention the “KKK, neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists”, it doesn’t say alt-right, the most vocal bedrock of his political base, and the ideological love-child of his Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon. He doesn’t directly mention Charlottesville or the events there, and he doesn’t acknowledge the connection between them and his own incendiary rhetoric, which leaves a trail of divisiveness and derision many thousand miles long. It was specific enough to give token appeasement to the media, enough cover for his followers to point to any in the media who would decry its tardiness as disingenuousness, and broad enough for his most ardent ideological bedmates to be able to say “That doesn’t apply to me!”
And herein lies the problem with “Them”. “Them” are the right wing extremists, the hate-mongerers, the lynch mobs and picketing KKK, Nazi-saluting yahoos who despise MLK and Barak Obama alike. “Them” are the ones no one could — or would — defend, because they’re so obviously filled with hate. Their language is so obviously filled with slurs and filth. Their hands are so obviously covered in blood, and how happily the rest of mainstream America washes their hands of it — even as they covet their sins.
Look what happened this weekend in Charlottesville was a softball, a slam dunk, a cakewalk. We could all easily condemn the repugnancy that stunk up the airwaves and our computer screens for the past several days. Republican lawmakers and their Democratic counterparts, lined up to denounce the violence and to use every synonym for terrible they could possibly muster. They were salivating at the chance to distance themselves from something few other than a man-baby of a race-baiting president would embrace. To quote former President George W. Bush, it was easy to capitlize on the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”
Funny, because I just can’t seem to recall this Parade of Compassionates having been anywhere near this firm in their language for the past seven-and-a-half months while Trump assaulted every ethnic and social group except the alt-right. Seriously! It’s as if they were all on some sort of mystical technology fast that left them completely without access to broadcast news of any form for nearly a year, yet as they reentered the world they were greated by news that would make Grandma Mildred clutch her precious pearls in disgust!
This isn’t the 1930’s or 50’s or 60’s. There were no canvas white hooded robes with cryptic Judeo-Christian imagery. These were Charmin-soft frat boys in benign polo shirts and Brooks Brothers khaki’s. They had tiki torches — TIKI TORCHES!!! — like it was a Fall Rush luau on the campus yard! Imagine for a second that there had been no violence, or at least none titillating enough for CNN to breathlessly gorge its coverage on for 16+ jaw-dropping hours.
The fact is that these engineering majors and loan officers would have come and gone without the revelations of their faces plastered all over the internet. They woud have returned to Arizona, and South Dakota, and Ohio, and Arkansas and their employers would have been none the wiser. Their neighbors would have been none the wiser. Their Black co-workers and fellow students would have been none the wiser…
Which makes this brand of neo-fascist, neo-nazi all the more deadly. Because now it’s corporate, and it is unashamed. You have to ask, what makes a young, White male dental assistant so comfortable that he feels he can just shoot across the country to a rally protesting the removal of a Confederate statue as a weekend jaunt? It is truly the normalization of radical racist ideologies. The question is, how did this happen???
It’s been happening for the last several decades. The soft whitewashing of racism. Call it the “invisiblising” of it. It has become increasingly harder to call it out because, according to most White people, it doesn’t really exist. In a recent 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, the majority of White Americans said we already talk about race too much, and less than 2 out of 5 of them even see the need for changes to occur that will ensure the equality of Black and Brown people in this country. Blurred lines indeed.
It began with the Southern Strategy employed by Republicans to win back the South. Actively courting Southern Whites with dog-whistle terminology to appeal to their “colorful” world-view. Words like “conservative” or “Patriot”, or “welfare reform” or any number of labels that gave a wink and a nod to their deep-seeded racial ideologies and, yes, their heritage of hate. It proved to be impressively effective. So much so that the South has been solidly Red for going on fifty years.
We have had several of the individuals who were bold-faced enough to march hood-less in the streets and commit — at the minimum- verbal atrocities upon all who look unlike them, and yet still claim they aren’t an “angry racist.” “These pictures do not tell the story of who I am!” Hey, who ya gonna believe? Me, or the Nazi flag I’m holding???
So it has come to this, that in our new world of “Alternative Facts” & “fake news” racial truth is now only an absolute in the murkiest of senses. Even blatant racists chanting in a rally with neo-Nazis and alt-right hate mongerers can feign ignorance and claim the injury of mistaken identity. You can be seen chanting racist vitriol and still deny being a racist!
Here’s why it is both so maddening and troubling: because no matter what distinctions may technically exist between neo-Nazis, the alt-right, and your average-everyday-run-of-the-mill White male Right Wing Conservative, there’s not a whole lot of difference depicted in the photos and videos of that day. Those guys could have been going to a bar to watch a baseball game as easily as they could have been headed to a Christian youth meeting!
I cannot speak for other ethnicities, but what was also so disturbing to Black Americans about Saturday was the fact that you could have just as easily have told any one of those rally-goers to have a great weekend on Friday as you headed home from work! As evidenced on my social media timelines, some of those co-workers have been talking as if they were there!
So, how do you combat an enemy you cannot see? One who hides in plain sight? Racism has become Keyser Soze, the devil who claims that he does not exist!
Racism is becoming harder to fight, because only the loudest, most putrid, extremist versions of it are ever allowed to be named by those who — in all fairness- have coddled it’s existence in backyard barbecues, and church pews, and exclusive golf clubs all over this country for decades. Meaning, it doesn’t exist if it’s not waving a Nazi flag and screaming the “N-word” in the face of a non-threatening Black person.
It doesn’t exist in the actions of a White cop who shoots an unarmed Black person. It doesn’t exist in the policies that leave an entire city of minority children with poisoned water for years. It doesn’t exist when you lock us up into a few square miles of a major American city with no jobs or opportunities or fair housing practices, and then point at us like animals in the zoo when our despair violently eats our children alive. It doesn’t exist in the complicit silence of NFL owners who have flipped the field of meritocracy, where a player who is clearly talented enough to earn a place on a team, has been shut out for no reason other than he dared to defy the oppression of a supremacist system.
For the Black people in this country, it’s hard to ignore the presence of racism all around us. To be told we’re not seeing what we’re seeing is tantamount to calling us simple-minded children scared of a phantom bogeyman in broad daylight. Charlottesville was one more chance to say that it’s real, that we’re not crazy. Instead it may prove to be the excuse to say that it’s only a fluke, an extremely small segment of a fragmented segment. “It’s not us.That’s just them! It’s not who we are as a people,” they say. We’re not like “them” they say.
The problem is… we can’t tell…