Built above the drowned, choked and silenced cries of those whose children, grandchildren and great grandchildren lived and died as property under a false master's lash; built above the forgotten sweat and blood of those stolen men who lived and died on roadsides, in coal mines, in prison cells, voicing an anguish this country felt no responsibility to detect or assuage; built above the bodies of those who were firebombed, lynched, hosed, beaten, murdered and assassinated by a state and federal government that followed the whims of white democratic consensus and punished those who dared to assert their evident humanity; built above the shattered wishes, dreams and lives of those who thought that a society created by and for white people could function for them; built above the isolated, beaten and humiliated aftershocks of societally mandated poverty, who repeat the historical cycle of unrealized life and certain death by the millions, outside of the white imagination and by the writ of the same "justice" system that sees black murder as character building; built above the freshly added corpses of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Kimani Grey, Ousmane Zongo, Jordan Davis, Reginald Doucet Jr, Trayvon Martin and many, many, many others; built above the countenance of a yesterday that never left and tied to a tomorrow that's willfully revoked lies the edifice of deniability that stands as the foundation of modern racism.
For those whose skin anoints them as unhumanized and dehumanized; for those born with the beauty that white society would transform into a taint, the racial tiering of America is consecrated by the deafening howls of their suffering and murdered kin. For black people, history marks them; walks with them. Sculpting the terrain of their lives and fastening the grip of their restraints - regardless of their consciousness and consent. And though a measured, depersonalized distance is adopted to obscure what its victims die for unseeing, the same is true of their oppressor.
From birth they're covered with the spilled blood of those that were sacrificed to privilege their passage. Through infancy, they're placed on a mound of bones and corpses and conditioned to view them as both their cradle and their podium. Their parents - still guided by their ancestors - teach them to walk on stolen land, built by stolen hands. And embedded in their art and their news, housed in their minds and hearts and culminating in their words and their actions, the repeated truths of moral absence, of whiteness abound. Regurgitated through the channels of false authority that echo the parables of false supremacy. Singing anew the rationale of slave-owning founders and voicing the whispers of segregationist parents. Showing their progeny the same lie they, too, will learn to repeat to their progeny. Christening the belief - intimately held, and viciously defended - that closing their eyes erases the essence of whiteness that's daily purchased through the historical and omnipresent oppression willingly inflicted on black life.
But where blacks are haunted by the cries that history obscures and the tears that modernity stifles, whites are empowered by a lash that no longer requires a hand or a person or their knowledge to crack. Where blacks are relegated by the chains of white-enforced propriety to have their souls forced out of alignment with the smiles and restraint they're forced to show to white faces, whites are permitted to make their emotions and words - uncritically replete with their prejudices - the cusp of universal humanity. Where blacks labor under a system they did not create, burdened by a history that system refuses to correct, white politicians are left to use white culture and white morality justified with white arguments about white topics from white people to make a racially exclusive reality - scourged by the depth of what whiteness is incapable of considering - both culture and law. Where blacks walk with the implicit, collective threat of the noose transformed by "progress" into the bullet and the cage transformed by law into "justice", whites can look at police and see benefactors, look at democracy and see fairness, look at neighbors and see allies, look at neighborhoods and see peace, look at their country and see themselves, and look in their mirrors and outside of their windows and not see byproducts of collective effort, ordained by democratic will.
Always, that power - illegitimate in its origins, unchecked in its scope, and mundane in its exercise - veils as quickly as it acts. Clothed in loved faces and familiar voices; girded in "reason" and welded by the fires of slave insurrections into a language that's specific in its effects, but never in its targets; it acts and reacts through existence alone. Asserting behind denial its neutrality. Whispering behind closed doors and anonymous usernames its uncompromising fairness. Enacting - by law, by all - the "truths" that justify the boundaries of black life; just as it limits the imagined extent of black potential. That power - unmoved by identification, unmoored from accountability - radiates from the very whiteness it's reflected from; marking its territory in all words, all considerations, all exertion, all emotion, all love that stands unshared and unguided by its victims. For above all else, that power demands a vacuum. A closed circle wherein its expression normalizes its own corruption. A false reality wherein the very history that ensures its power is always irrelevant to the power of those who possess it. A bubble that presumes all spaces and all considerations should be and must be white, because the very nature of white existence suffers no truth that belies that.
It's within this context that blacks can be illiterate and uneducated because they dare to speak in a tongue that is not their presumptive masters'; because they've adopted a dialect borne from conditions they caused. It's within this context that racialization only happens when an aware person of color taints a white space with clear articulation of its whiteness. It's within this context that validity and fairness are regarded as a given when all life, all expression is filtered through white politicians, white intellectuals and white artists against the tyranny of presumptive white expectations. It's within this context that black women - who work within the interlocking evils of white patriarchy and white racism - can be simultaneously demeaned and oversexualized, overworked and deemed lazy, starving while dubbed leeches, voicelessly struggling while being called loud and overly angry. It's within this context that
all black men - who they'll never know and never deign to know - are
suspects of a never-proven violence that pales in comparison to the
intergenerational genocides that allow white civility. It's within this context that a black child can be shot and subsequently become responsible for his own murder.
This strange fruit - blossoming from a tree that was planted before this country's founding - is oft watered by the twin lies that keep white supremacy firmly rooted and ensure that its seeds travel from generation to generation, from thought to thought, from white person to white person, resting in the fertile complicity nursed by white denial and white action. Indeed, after four hundred years of history littered with the bodies of past and future children - with the bodies of past and future humans who were never fully deemed as such in life - we're still expected to believe them. They would ask us all to adopt their pose, close our eyes and think - as they do - that white existence - which facilitates the exercise of white power - is not racist, and that white expression and white thought without the removal of white privilege can be morally valid.
Weened on the hope that white racism can be confronted without white accountability, and internalizing the deception that white supremacy can be dismantled without convenience or sacrifice, whites have dominated racial discussion by culturally institutionalizing the notion that they lack any personal responsibility for its continuance. Because if, as white logic dictates, racism is always in the purview of political opponents and elders, of coworkers and strangers; if racism is always something someone else is doing at some other point in time, then what did I do to you? And the answer is written onto your skin, just as surely as the question is written onto mine: you were born.
Under a societal pretext where white skin carries humanity and brilliance and blackness carries dehumanization and serfdom, white existence in a white supremacist system isn't just a political statement, it's a political contribution. That truth was carved into the soul of this country with blood. That power was exercised - through constitution and law, through slavery and servitude, through lynchings and pogroms, through riots and firebombings, through segregation and redlining, through disparate arrest and disproportionate imprisonment, through exclusion and murder - on behalf of all whites, and to their universal benefit. That sickness is defended by deflection and inculcated by the illogic that distinguishes between reaping white supremacy's fruits and planting them. That contribution - historically uncorrected and presently unaltered - can never be neutral. And so we have America, where racism is inseparable from the very whiteness it's normalized.
And so we have America, where all white wealth is the direct
byproduct of white supremacy. Where all white political power is the direct byproduct
of white supremacy. Where all political thought that is not responsive to, accountable
to and consistent with explicitly anti-racist, non-white elements dedicated to
white supremacy's removal is white supremacist. Where all white institutions are white
supremacist. Where all white art is white
supremacist, and serves to falsely normalize the experience of white supremacy. Where all social interaction in white exclusive and white predominate spaces is white
supremacist. Where the system that guarantees your safety is white supremacist. Where the
military that combats what whiteness defines as a threat is white supremacist. Where much of the government directly elected by white majorities is white
supremacist. Where your history is white supremacist. Where your laws are white supremacist. Where your constitution is white supremacist. And, by consequence, so are you.
You don't face it by simply acknowledging it and feeling bad about it. You don't engage it under the presumption that "awareness" is sufficient for improvement. You don't atone for it by assuming that exercising the bare minimum of basic humanity absolves you of the greater responsibilities inherent to being genuinely moral and white under a white supremacist framework. You don't remove its taint by defining "good" under premises crafted by whiteness and by assuming that wielding power attained through historically evil means can remove your ends from that evil. You change nothing unless you realize that the only legitimate exercise of the power granted by white supremacy is its removal as a factor.
In the wake of a judicial system that can use lynching justifications to defend the murder of an unarmed teenager; in the wake of a jury of our peers operating without actual peers; in the wake of whiteness once again affirming that black life is an adequate sacrifice for its existence, many have called for justice - justice for Trayvon. Many have yelled, protested, organized and cried, guided by the symbolic understanding that overdue justice should come on behalf of all black people. But how is justice possible when its scales were weighted before its creation? And how are the scales balanced unless that weight is removed?
Time and again, history and reality has shown that the only power brooked by white supremacy is white power. Black people will protest, and white people will deem it sufficient to feel sorry for the black people protesting. Black people will demand equality, and white people will define equality as waiting for blacks to move to their level. Black people will fight, struggle and endure the violence ensured by a white system that democratically works to white ends, and white people will assume that writing sympathetic posts about it every once in a while will qualify as sufficient solidarity and activism. Always and again, black political engagement must work under the confines of a system that makes black exclusion integral to its existence. And white people - the only people - with the power to change that will look, notice, claim to see and do absolutely nothing about it.
White people will own the media and hire only white reporters, but claim that racism and privilege are too big to singularly fight. They will carry the largest blog audiences and primarily staff their rolls with white writers and wonder why their topics and audiences are homogenous. They will own the halls of academia and wonder why it's primarily attended by and staffed by themselves. They will own the businesses and hire within their white kin, their white friends and white allies and claim shock and sympathy when blacks report double the unemployment and half the wages with only a percentage of the wealth. They will be exclusively hired at businesses on all levels, but they'll refuse to make their presence contingent on the addition of non-white faces. They will exclusively be offered homes at prices undreamed of by their darker peers, but they won't offer their status on behalf of POC's to get homes. They will enter establishments and websites, homes and schools, businesses and social gatherings without ever speaking against, challenging or correcting - through diversity - the racism inherent to presumptive whiteness. They will attempt diversity, but reject its importance and reject its comfort if it means they're soundly outnumbered. They will attempt anti-racist activism and support political objectives that are racially beneficial, but only if there's evidence that it helps them too.
They will live in a country with forty million black people and make excuses for not knowing anything about them. They will live in black neighborhoods, voyeuristically scope out black spaces, and even make "black friends" and never meaningfully engage with them. They will support films and television with all and mostly white casts but deem anything with all black casts too racial to even try out. They will support the lie that high literature is white; excluding black thinkers, black writers and black radicals from their libraries while wondering why some black people don't seem to enjoy reading. They will define "proper grammar" by how they speak and wonder why some demographics - who lack the benefit of speaking the same English at home and at school - might have issues. They will hear those differences, and place the responsibility for learning on the children instead of themselves and the material. They will hear the arguments, complaints and critiques of innumerable people of color, wrapped in restrained, diplomatic language or tucked neatly behind ignored comments sections and think that they're showing their racial awareness by simply rejecting the idea that they're not being problematically racial because they don't feel problematically racial. They will serve on all white juries and feel no responsibility to provide the empathy, the history, the context or the mercy their laws are incapable of allowing. They will clearly see black problems, but will refuse to see how directly it relates to their problems. They will, in their internally accepted words and thoughts, in their internally normalized feelings and actions, in their internally justified politics and morality exercise power - white power - to exclusively white ends and they will ignore that its exercise necessitates and embodies racism; ignore that it's all rooted in the benefits acquired by our racist history. And they will do nothing.
They will do nothing.
It's that fundamental inaction - justified by the racialized possession of power, and the internalized assumption that negative racialization doesn't inherently apply to all white power - that calcifies racism. Historically and presently, blacks are expected to work and labor, fight and struggle, protest and argue to reach impossible heights for the sake of parity. But whites are never expected to acknowledge unchanging, illegitimate disparities; they're never asked to acknowledge how wholly their humanity has been compromised by systemic participation and collectively step down. Whites are societally permitted to reap the fruits of racism, but never made to internalize that racism's eradication is contingent on them giving up those fruits. They're never asked to look at the disparity between white and black authority and make sure that they only apply white power to enhance black power. We're to believe, against all evidence, that racism and the cultural codification of racialized whiteness is something that just happens. We're to believe, against all proof, that white supremacy is not the consequence of self-interested parties coldly making the calculation that black suffering - properly managed, and moved far enough out of sight - is an adequate price for "normal" American life. And with every action that neither removes their own power or enhances black power, they make their choice.
Even now, in the face of a corpse that did not have to be, even now, against the cries of a people echoing the unfulfilled wishes of their forefathers, even now, when the black vote is no longer a guarantee, even now, when the need for white action is readily apparent, even now, when the availability of evidence for racism has never been wider or broader, even now, they make their choice.
And they don't expect us to notice.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
Mychal Denzel Smith:
But he's right.
So what’s next? My fellow Nation contributor Salamishah Tillet told me a story about the legendary jazz singer Nina Simone. After the church bombing that killed the four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, Simone went to her shed and tried to make herself a gun. Her husband walked in on her and asked what she was doing. She replied she was making a gun because she wanted to kill someone. He replied, “But you’re a musician.” Then she wrote “Mississippi Goddamn.”He's right. I've been fighting this since Saturday evening, and I don't know how long I can keep it up.
What’s next is that each of us take whatever gift we have and use it in a way that honors and values black life. That is the legacy Trayvon Martin can leave to this world.
But he's right.