Charlottesville and the Dehumanizing Effects of White Supremacy

Artist Dianna Settles @platonicyouth

I’ve written less about racism since our president was elected. It struck me as fruitless. When Donald Trump began his unrelentingly racist campaign, with that first speech on Mexican rapists, from that day, and that first announcement, he exited the political terrain, the second he stepped foot upon it. Continuing with his abhorrent birther rhetoric, he never provided any politics to consider beyond racism. That’s because he is a dim man, incapable of even parroting coherent political ideas because he is not bright enough to retain or comprehend them. The racism, on the other hand, is more freely espoused. He is after all, a son of the Klan. He is the man who called for an end the lives of five innocent black teenagers. As a real estate developer, he discriminated against black tenants and refused to let black people count money at his casinos. He is a documented sexual predator and con man. But white supremacy is a magical miracle maker, able to pardon all of these truths, because white supremacy is a system incapable of nuance or reflection.

Y’all voted for this man. And when I say y’all, in my native southern parlance, please understand I do mean *y’all. Your racist brother and sisters, your cousins, your daddies and your aunts did this — not mine, and not those of the people who don’t look you. It’s not just your toothless gun-toting Southern cousins either. It’s your homies. Your sorority sisters. Whites with and without college degrees, all ages and incomes.

Race in America is a colonial construction of white people. What would be the point of an enslaved population conjuring a system that further dehumanized them? Racism was designed to maintain systems of power that continue to benefit the people it was designed for — a benefit that endures even today.

African Americans are often told to get over the past, but we are the ones fighting you to get over the past, to remove your racist flags and monuments, from your losing history. And yet it is you that violently clings to the past. It’s your racist cousin who decries the right to maintain these symbols of hatred. They can’t let it go. What they are holding on to is a remnant of slavery, one of the two original sins of this nation, after, of course, the stolen land upon which we stand upon and fight today.

Concepts like white supremacy and white privilege are very, very difficult for white people to absorb. It is a sad delusion that makes one incapable of understanding, which makes one incapable of empathy, which collectively corrodes ones humanity. It is the uneasy feeling that something is not right, but no sense how they may reconcile and be liberated from this looming inequity. Instead it is ignored, and the lie grows. There is no sense of peace in this lie, and sometimes, like in Charlottesville, that lie violently encroaches on otherwise peaceful streets. We all suffer from white supremacy.

For non-white people, we are so innately aware of the racist structure that we live in, that although we are tormented by it, we are not victims of this same delusion, and therefore, I believe more liberated in the face of this relentless bigotry.

Consider one who lives in poverty. After awhile, we concede to our circumstances. When all you’ve ever seen is poverty, it’s hard to imagine a world without it. But it’s also possible to be broke and happy. And after many months of struggling mightily with the election results, I’ve decided to be broke and happy. Because our country is morally impoverished, that I can’t see a world without that. I am not particularly proud of this, but as a means of coping with this bleak and pervasive poverty called racism, I’ve tried to focus on things that make me happy.

Imagine if there were actual affronts to white supremacy. If their histories included strange fruit swinging from trees, if their mothers’ bodies were taken, then left for dead in unspeakable and degrading violence. What if their ancestors were surpassed by their children who fought in wars for this nation, only to return to find the benefits, like housing loans, had been issued for their black veteran cohorts, but were not available for them? And imagine that even if there were mortgages, they were later stolen by the policies of redlining. Imagine those racist policies retooled each generation with a fresh batch of gerrymandering schemes instituted to keep white people away from polls and power. I could play “Imagine…” more times than John Lennon. POC’s don’t have to use our imagination, we just exist with open eyes. That’s what we mean when we say, “woke.” (Gotta clear that up; Even our lingo is a victim of colonialism.)

This is all a very consistent and truthful account of our history. It’s hard to understand how one could not have looked at the campaign Donald Trump without being able to anticipate something like what happened in Charlottesville.

On days like today, I’m reminded that what happened last weekend began on election night. Racists used to wear masks. Now we have a president and executive office that doesn’t actually condemn nazis, even when asked to do so on a teleprompter. Instead, the media is condemned. ISIS — who’ve killed 700percent fewer Americans than the real terrorists of our nation, white men — are not condemned.

Bigotry is enabled and allowed to flourish. How “non-racist” white people did not gather that if David Duke and Richard Spencer were aligning themselves with the president, that it would be improper to do the same, is a fact I’m too jaded to consider. What a privilege to overlook this fact, because one has no sense that it will affect the quality of their life’s outcome. White supremacy cannot be ignored by the oppressed. We stay woke.

The fragility of white people will likely preclude them from reading even this far. They’ll say, “Not me”, and feel somehow absolved. But it is the self-proclaimed “liberal” white person who, because of their ideology feel morally superior to their helplessly racist family members, yet resist even a single utterance to those relatives over meals and gatherings expressing how their political values have real and deadly consequences for the people in the country who do not look like them, it is this group, as always, that precludes us from real progress. It is part of the lie and delusion that robs white people of their humanity. The implicit support of racism by those who benefit from the system will not undo the devastating syndrome. To be clear, what is being supported, is an annihilation of all people who do not look like them.

Not so long ago, when I was more outspoken about these matters, and before I lost faith in white people completely, I was heartened by kind words of encouragement on social media, usually after an innocent black person was killed in the streets without recourse. I wanted people to understand the hurt, but that, I learned is not possible. Everyone wants to feel understood, and I thought I was being understood. In retrospect, it all appears theatrical. Not that I expected white people to understand the deep suffering of black people, but the naïveté (“Not all white people”, “I don’t know any Trump supporters”, “I made it on my own”, “This isn’t who we are”…etc) was maddening.

What was not said, and what would’ve been far more meaningful, is, “We’re sick of this shit. We’re sick of living in a racist country with overt racial inequality and we’re going to organize (ourselves) and do something about it.” But again and again, the afflicted populace are the same being asked to administer the change, and asked to do so without consideration of the victim’s condition or the severity of their wounds. Our power has been marginalized, yet we are asked to undo this supremely powerful system of racism. As victims. We are no longer gathering around whiteness to impress this upon you. It is in fact us who are absolved of this work, not the other way around as my well-meaning liberal white friends struggle to harness.

Finally, and this is really important, is that, there are no moderate republicans. Republicans have fought to enable and protect this racist system. Trump was not elected because of his tax policy, or political savvy. The white men of the Republican Party have enabled this man and his mean-spirited agenda each step of the way. Why earlier this year, did the GOP decide to relax laws for drivers who ran over protesters? Why have white supremacists without political capital, like Steve Bannon — who has openly bragged about his last gig being a mouthpiece for white nationalists — been allowed into the Oval Office? The alt-right have not just been meeting with the politicians, they are the politicians. They are so confident in the support, they’ve even named the latest rally, Unite the Right. There has been no vociferous effort from Republican politicians to distance themselves from these purely racist agendas , and more often, they’ve lined up behind the president, conceding their morals for a chance to take advantage of a political dimwit, and belligerent bigot. Their statements from this weekend are purely political calculation and in no way reflect their voting histories on matters of Voting Rights, justice for unarmed black and brown citizens killed by the state, immigration rights or Muslim bans.

Humans are beautiful and horrible. It’s true I’m speaking in absolutes, but I’m speaking absolute truth. I have always had and will always have white friends who are beautiful, that I have called lovers and family. But they all benefitted from a system of white supremacy that I too can attest to as I stood alongside of it, and thereby also benefited from. There may be great trauma in the truth, but until and unless the people of privilege are prepared to face what’s true — about this stolen land and who benefits from it — Charlottesville will return, and we will all be less free.

Racism is a problem that adversely affects non-white people, but can only be stopped by white people. If there is a problem, and one is unwilling to acknowledge it, it cannot be healed or diagnosed. And so the problem of racism in this country endures.

But what I will not do is have any of this take my joy. I’ve fought so hard to maintain it in spite of this. And in spite of so much pain, I’m seeing so many of my POC friends, loved ones, organizers go deeply within themselves to rise above these circumstances and to love one another, to support the other, and in that love to say, “You are understood, and you are not alone.” We are telling each other, “I love you” and “We gon be alright.” That’s where my energy is. Forever.

The trash of this nation is on the lawn of its white citizens. It is not meant to say that there are no other deplorable humans of any other race, or that the issues of this nation are solely at the feet of its white citizens. Again, among all human beings is beauty and horror. But the stench of racism, unequivocally is a problem delivered to this nation by the hands of white people. They delivered Trump and “the promises of his campaign” (David Duke’s words) and that has delivered us this crisis we now must overcome. Now the environment weeps, authoritarianism creeps, nuclear war draws nearer and racism destroys our social fabric. Do not ask the people of color to join you on the front lines, though most likely, our black women will already be there. But this is not our fight. We are busy decolonizing, organizing and loving on each other. We invite you to support that endeavor. But if you really wanna be helpful, talk to your peoples. Y’all gonna get us killed. Or you could get us free.