Why White Cops Can’t Stop Killing Black People
On the night of Trump’s stunning Electoral College victory in 2016, CNN’s go-to guy on all things “black,” Van Jones, was practically in tears as he described Trump’s shocking, come-from-behind win. Jones declared that Trump’s triumph was nothing more, and certainly nothing less, than the latest iteration of an old-fashioned “whitelash.”
Of course, what Jones was describing is a recurring phenomenon that many people who think that they are white have indulged in since even before this nation-state’s founding. Jones’ colorful descriptor was, of course, an abbreviation or condensing of the better-known term “white backlash.”
Historically and currently, any and every time black people have gained even the most modest of “reforms” or the slightest redress of grievances, America’s white nationalist and “conservative” right wing has always had at its white core a seething racism and rock-hard belief in its own “supremacy.” That white-hot id always reacts to black “progress” by limiting, if not eliminating altogether, those selfsame gains.
However, as Professor Ibram X. Kendi explained in his 2017 seminal tome, “Stamped from the Beginning — The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America,” the never-ending practice of white people taking back black folks’ gains has never been a simplistic one-step-forward, two-steps- back situation. Instead, he described this phenomenon as “…a dual and dueling history of racial progress and the simultaneous progression of racism…”
As an obvious example, Professor Kendi allows that:
When the Obamas of the nation broke through racial barriers, the Trumps of the nation did not retire to their sunny estates in Florida. They created and sometimes succeeded in putting new and more sophisticated barriers in place, like the great-grandchildren of Jim Crow voting laws — the new age-voter ID laws that are disenfranchising Black Americans in the twenty-first century.
And then, of course, there is the brilliant attorney, author and self-described “racial justice advocate,” Michelle Alexander, who offered us perhaps the first documented instance of Jones’ whitelash (or the more colloquial “white backlash”) in her 2010 opus magnus “The New Jim Crow, Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.” Alexander reminded us of the largely forgotten and dimly understood 1676 “Bacon’s Rebellion” — a seminal and defining event in not-quite- yet “American” “race relations.” Bacon’s Rebellion occurred, yes, a full one hundred years before slave rapist and deified “Founding Father,” Thomas Jefferson, declared that “all men are created equal.”
As I have pointed out elsewhere (“How White People Became White: Notes of a New Jim Crow”), Alexander, however, did not label that first reactionary response to Nathaniel Bacon’s organization of white indentured servants and “free” and enslaved blacks as a “white backlash.” Rather, she perceptively dubbed it America’s “first racial bribe.”
Briefly, the bribe worked like this: Rich colonial planters offered white indentureds shorter and less harsh conditions and terms of service, together with “freedom dues” following their successful completion of those terms. Freedom dues included a plot of land, tools, implements, and farm animals to work the land, foodstuffs, clothing…and, crucially, guns — but if and only if the “white” indentured servants abandoned their black cohorts and accepted “whiteness,” their own and their rich benefactors’ whiteness, as a material thing of value over and above the “blackness” of “free” and enslaved “African”-Americans, and the “non-whiteness” of all “others.”
And, in a recent New York Times column, Alexander posits that this extraordinary moment in which we find ourselves today may not be so extraordinary after all. Rather, it is a “last chance” for white Americans to get right with black people, to get right with the world, and to get right with themselves.
Why White Cops Can’t Stop Killing Black People
And, even as we enter the third consecutive week of nationwide, indeed worldwide, protests against US police brutality, and centuries-long black dehumanization, white cops have made it known that they will not stop killing black people because, well, they just can’t. Even as protests against the three most recent modern-day lynchings of black people (Ahmaud Arberry, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd) still rage, these killer cops add a fourth name to the 401-year-long list of black martyrs: Rayshard Brooks.
“Conservatives” and assorted white right-wingers, especially right-wing media mavens, have already begun the inevitable push-back and retrenchment against any meaningful actions, particularly against killer cops.
Indeed, even in the face of massive, grassroots challenges to and disruption of the political, social and economic racial/racist status quo; even in the face of 750 protests in all 50 states and in every corner of the earth, white-right retrenchment not only continues but grows.
Nobel Laureate and New York Times columnist Professor Paul Krugman has issued a warning that we must be ready for the sure-to-come, full-scale, subtle and/or brazen reactionary response emanating from both individual and state-sanctioned actors.
White Backlash Has Already Begun
True…city councils, state legislatures, and even the US Congress are all feverishly proposing and passing new ordinances, laws, rules, and regulations to try to rein in or at least temper America’s Finest’s hardcore racist proclivities and practices. Yet, even in the midst of these protests, the cops themselves, their unions, their racist political partisans (“on both sides”), and racist individuals and race-based groups are not merely complaining or grousing about city and state governments finally checking them. Many of these people have done what they always do — shift their disdain for black people into a higher gear.
Who Are These People?
To stop killing black people would deny killer cops of their birthright. Again, these people are spiritual and often physical descendants of those first white indentured servants, slave patrollers and overseers, those dirt-poor and working-class immigrant whites who, for 401 years, have used black corpses as stepping stones into “whiteness” and a perverted sense of “identity” and self-worth. The destruction of black life has never been merely a “job” or even a sport to these people. It is their life’s blood, their raison d’etre, and they will only give it up at the point of a gun, a bigger gun than those they already possess.