Photo: Tyler Shields

A Sustained Timeline of Abuse

I’m going to preface this holier-than-thou rant with this; this is not a holier-than-thou rant in which I pretend that I’m not full of flaws, inconsistencies, or hypocrisies of my own or that there aren’t other pressing issues facing us, as a people, today… I’m just saying stuff, man… not even original stuff… just stuff I think needs to be said, and repeated, until it’s no longer true.

A recent article I posted about Jackie Robinson brought out the phrase “current climate of white guilt” which I think is problematic for a number of reasons. It diminishes the actual issues being discussed and speaks to the clear lack of understanding a great many people have of the problems we’re facing as people of all races today — why do I say “we”? Not borne of any ridiculous “All Lives Matter” rhetoric but because it is a problem that we need to face together as humans on this planet; white supremacy.

I think its a problematic perception for anyone to have of what’s going on in the world today… Whats going on today is nothing new — we’re just talking about it…. Again. And again. And again… Talking. Moving the needle one click forward and two clicks back because we, as a society, are having a hard time staring it in the face and calling it what it is; white supremacy.

I don’t feel guilty for being born with white skin — should I? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. If we’re going to talk about guilt we should instead be talking about what it is that people should feel guilty about. Ignoring history — refusing to acknowledge how we got here — putting our fucking heads in the sand and pretending that things that happened didn’t or that those things haven’t had a ripple effect that echo throughout time. Understanding what’s happening now isn’t that hard — read a book, read many. There is no need to be defensive. When people talk about white privilege it is not an attack on you, your achievements or who you are as a person. It is an acknowledgment of a social construct that creates specific barriers for people of one colour that do not exist for others; white supremacy.

Does it mean that there are no barriers for white people? Of course not, that’s ridiculous. It is merely a statement of this barrier in particular; the one that claims dominion over black bodies — one that has existed since times of the Atlantic Slave Trade and continues in various forms to this day. Its not by accident — this barrier is one of the strongest foundations that the wealth of our nations have been built on; white supremacy.

Centuries of carefully crafting the perception of black people across the colonies has lead us here, now. From 3/5ths to the Shiftless Negro to the Super-Predator… The line that history has drawn and continues to draw is clear. It speaks to both intentional exclusion and unconscious bias. White supremacy is not upheld exclusively by active racists or even exclusively by white people alone — the construct is that deeply ingrained. Its fine if you don’t agree with that — but know that I formed this opinion not through reading the occasional BLM headline on Facebook, I formed this opinion by studying history with a heavy focus on the history of the African diaspora in the colonies and beyond. When you understand historical context — its easy to look at current events and say “of course, because in 1831 this happened…” or “in 1898 this happened…” or “in 1931 this happened…” or “in 1961 this happened…” or “in 1991 this happened…” so all of a sudden “in 2016 this happened” doesn’t seem like an abstraction.

These events are more like keyframes on a sustained timeline of abuse. They feel like a natural extension of what has happened in the generations before us — instances in a pattern that ebbs and flows in frequency and ferocity but never quite goes away. Despite whatever advancements are made and hurdles overcome — of which there have been many — it still feels like the beast of lore rearing its ugly head. The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world he didn’t exist; white supremacy.

This was something I must have always known but it wasn’t until probably 15 years ago when I began to stare it in the face properly. I went from saying “fuck neo-nazis” to trying to understand why neo-nazis and other extremists weren’t really the problem. It was us… All of us. A friend gave me a Leonard Peltier book which referenced a Zinn book which referenced a hundred other amazing pieces of historical literature. I read as many of them as I could… One of the most telling of the bunch was W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” which is basically a series of short stories written by DuBois around the turn of the century… It remains a favorite to this day.

One of the stories in this book is entitled “Of the coming of John” and it was one that stung, in particular. It hurt me to read it, it honestly did. A little over a decade ago, I had these words inscribed across my collar-bone; And the world whistled in his ears… Here’s where those words came from and why, daily when I look in the mirror, they are a chilling reminder that lifts the veil revealing the world we truly live in for what it is.

Doing the story no real justice, here is the premise; Two young men named John — one black, one white — growing up in the same small town in Georgia where they played together as children. The story follows them throughout their lives and is effectively about how different their lives are… Really based on one thing, being black vs. white in America. Keep in mind — this is post-emancipation America so everything is supposed to be good now, right?

The story chronicles their journey into adulthood and ultimately comes to its climax back in Georgia where White John brutally attacks Black John’s sister. Black John happens upon this scene and kills White John — he knows immediately that his fate has been sealed.

“Amid the trees in the dim morning twilight he watched their shadows dancing and heard their horses thundering toward him, until at last they came sweeping like a storm, and he saw in front that haggard white-haired man, whose eyes flashed red with fury. Oh, how he pitied him, — pitied him, — and wondered if he had the coiling twisted rope. Then, as the storm burst round him, he rose slowly to his feet and turned his closed eyes toward the Sea. And the world whistled in his ears…”

I encourage you to read it in its entirety, then read the book in its entirety, and then keep reading until the world as it is makes more sense to you. Until your sense of propriety has been replaced with empathy, and love, and a desire to live in a world where the grave injustices of the past cease to exist in our future. Realistic? Maybe not really… But that doesn’t mean that this fight isn’t worth having. Power is not an accident — it has been built on the backs of others and maintained with their blood.

If you aren’t able to step outside of yourself for long enough to draw parallels between this century old story and todays events, well… then… You’ve probably wasted enough energy thinking about this already but consider this; a century from now when historians write about this time in history — which side of it do you want to stand on?