Is America A Racist Nation?

Is America A Racist Nation?

Am I overweight?

Is America a racist nation?

Yes.

Yes.

This does not make me a horrible person.  It does not mean I don’t have other wonderful qualities.  I am a complex person and defining me solely by my weight would be unfair.  However, this does not mean my doctor should tell me I am not overweight.

This does not make America a horrible place.  It does not mean our nation doesn’t have other wonderful qualities.  A nation is a complex institution and defining it solely as racist would be unfair.  However, this does not mean politicians and pundits should tell us we are not a racist nation.

That would be a lie.

That would be a lie.

I only need to step on a scale to know the truth.

We only need to look at the vast disparities between whites and people of color to know the truth. 

It is not helpful for people to lie to me.  It is important I see myself as I really am.  It is far too easy for me to ignore, diminish or justify my present weight.  In so doing, I avoid those actions and changes that would decrease my weight and make me healthier.

It is not helpful for people to lie to us. It is important we see ourselves as we really are.  It is far too easy for us to ignore, diminish or justify the racism in our nation.  In so doing, we avoid those actions and changes that would decrease racism and make us a healthier nation.

I have weighed more in the past.  This is largely irrelevant.  Claiming “I used to weigh more than I weigh right now” is another attempt to deflect attention from my present weight.

Our nation has been more racist in the past.  This is largely irrelevant.  Claiming “we used to be more racist than we are right now” is another attempt at deflecting attention from our present state. 

If I lose a few pounds, that too does not change the reality that I am overweight.  I need to lose more than a few pounds.

 If we address a few instances of racism, that does not change the reality that we are a racist nation.  We need to address far more than the most blatant examples of racism.

Are there others who weigh more than I do?  Obviously.  This too is irrelevant.  This does not make my physical condition any less healthy.  It does not justify me remaining overweight.

Are there nations that are worse than America?  Obviously.  This too is irrelevant.  This does not make our nation any less racist.  It does not justify us remaining a racist nation.

My weight is not going to magically go away if I ignore it.

Racism in America is not going to magically go away if we ignore it.

I must acknowledge I am overweight.  As long as I convince myself that my weight is acceptable, I will not lose weight.  As long as a I pretend being overweight isn’t really a problem, I will not lose weight.

We must acknowledge we are a racist nation. As long as we convince ourselves that our present level of racism is acceptable, we will not become less racist.  As long as we pretend being racist isn’t really a problem, we will not change.

However, acknowledging I am overweight is only a first step..

However, acknowledging our nation is racist is only a first step.

The only way I lose weight is if I take the actions necessary to lose weight.  I must begin the long and difficult commitment to become healthier.  It will require work and sacrifice.  I must weigh myself periodically to measure my progress.  I can celebrate lost pounds, but I can’t stop until I have lost all my unnecessary weight.

The only way our nation becomes less racist is if we take the actions necessary to be less racist.  We must begin the long and difficult commitment to become anti-racist.  It will require work and sacrifice.  We must honestly and periodically measure our progress.  We can celebrate steps toward equality and equity of opportunity, but we can’t stop until we have been freed of the weight of over 400 years of systemic racism.

I must continue to do the actions that have made me healthier until they become habit.

We must continue to do the actions that have made us less racist until they become systemic. 

Then and only then, will I be able to say, “I am not overweight.”

Then and only then, will we be able to say, “We are not a racist nation.

When White Supremacists Like Black People

When White Supremacists Like Black People

White supremacists don’t hate all black people.

They are especially fond of some black people.  These black people accept their inferiority, never challenge inequities, and do the bidding of white supremacists. Indeed, these black people take the blame for any inequities, suggesting that America’s slow progress toward equality is evidence of black ineptitude rather than systemic racism by a white supremacist society.

White supremacists have always tolerated the compliant black person. 

This was the goal of the American plantation system, of whipping and lynching, of Jim Crow laws and police profiling.  White supremacists have worked for centuries to invent the perfect black person.  They showed off their latest model after President Biden’s speech this week.

As tradition dictates, the opposing party to the President offers a rebuttal to the President’s remarks.  On Thursday night, the Republicans chose Senator Tim Scott, the sole black Republican in Congress as their representative. In his speech, Scott delighted them by saying…

America is not a racist country. It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination. And it wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shot down debates in the present.

Let me break that paragraph down for you.

America is not a racist country.  Ignore everything you see on the news.  Ignore the statements of non-compliant black people.  Ignore the fact that Republicans control the states with largest black populations – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina – and yet I am the only black Republican in Congress. 

It’s backwards to fight discrimination with different types of discrimination.  Ignore the obvious inequities in our society.  Ignore efforts for reparations or affirmative action.  Fight against those who identify white privilege and oppression.  Focus on the nice white people like John Moniz, the white man who gave me free Chick-Fil-A sandwiches when I was poor and taught me to mouth white supremacist tropes and principles.

And it’s wrong to try to use our painful past to dishonestly shut down debates in the present.  Ignore the painful past.  Don’t mention historic inequities in debates about public policy today.  Focus solely on the progress we’ve make thanks to the benevolence of white people like John Moniz.  Discussions about race are divisive.

White supremacists love black people like Tim Scott. 

They have always wanted black people to do their work.  They know one black voice espousing their racist rhetoric is worth a thousand hooded KKK members.  The Republicans did not offer Tim Scott the opportunity to make the rebuttal because they respect him.  They did so because they knew he would powerfully reinforce what their base already believes – the only good black person is a compliant one.

Even Senator Scott seemed aware of his duplicity.  In another section of his speech, he stated…

I’ve also experienced a different kind of intolerance. I get called “Uncle Tom” and the n-word by progressives, by liberals.

While intended to elicit sympathy, Scott failed to mention whether it is the white people or black people who were calling him these names.  If it is white people, he is right to be offended.  However, if as I suspect, most of that labeling is from black people, then he should be less offended and more reflective.  Why are white, conservative Republicans applauding his speeches while black folk find his statements a betrayal?

As a white person, I will never call Tim Scott or any other black person an “Uncle Tom.”  I am not qualified to make that judgement.  However, as a white person, I am qualified to recognize someone mouthing the same old white supremacist tropes that I’ve heard white people espouse since I was a child.  Hearing those words from a black voice does not make them any less false, damaging, or ugly.

Ironically, at one point in his rebuttal, Scott acknowledged the very racism he wanted us to ignore or diminish. He said…

Nowhere do we need common ground more desperately than in our discussions of race. I have experienced the pain of discrimination. I know what it feels like to be pulled over for no reason. To be followed around a store while I’m shopping. I remember, every morning, at the kitchen table, my grandfather would open the newspaper and read it — I thought. But later, I realized he had never learned to read it. He just wanted to set the right example.

Unfortunately, Tim Scott doesn’t understand what a good example looks like.  It isn’t pretending something unfair and ugly isn’t true.  It isn’t hiding that ugliness from your children and grandchildren.  Tim Scott also doesn’t understand what common ground looks like.  It isn’t ignoring your own experience in order to make white people feel better.

Tim Scott saddens me. He is an example of the damage white supremacy does to both those who don’t comply and those who do.  In another section of his speech, Scott noted,

I was blessed.

First, with a praying momma. And let me say this: To the single mothers out there, who are working their tails off, working hard, trying to make ends meet, wondering if it’s worth it? You can bet it is. God bless your amazing effort on the part of your kids.

I was also blessed by a Chick-fil-A operator, John Moniz.

There is no blessing in a story where Tim Scott’s mother – who working 16 hours a day – couldn’t provide him with a chicken sandwich. 

I’m sad Tim Scott had to make a hero out of the white man who did.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same

Last November, during an interview, Stacey Abrams was asked about the best book she had read in 2020.  She immediately named “Ida: A Sword Among Lions” by Paula Giddings.  She thought this biography of Ida B. Wells instructive and timely for black women fighting against exclusion and injustice.  Intrigued, I ordered the book.

Last week, during a much-needed vacation, I finally read it and understood Stacey Abrams’ attraction.  I found the book both inspiring and discouraging.  For those of us unaware of the life and accomplishments of Ida B. Wells, this is a truly amazing story.  In a time when more and more black women are rising to national prominence, reading about one of the first black women to do so is enlightening. 

In 1883, long before the better-known Rosa Parks, Ida refused to give up her seat in a white only woman’s train car in Tennessee. Forced from her seat and the train, Ida sued the train company and won.  Though she would lose in the court of appeals, her case garnered national attention.  Shortly thereafter, Ida became the first black owner and editor of a newspaper in Memphis. 

In 1892, enraged by the lynching of her friend Thomas Moss and two other black men, Ida published a series of editorials exposing how often lynching was used to eliminate successful blacks, discourage interracial relationships, and terrorize black populations.  She also denounced these brutal spectacles as evidence of white moral bankruptcy.  She encouraged blacks to move from Memphis and southern states to establish safer communities elsewhere.  Her editorials led to the departure of thousands of much needed black workers from the south.

As you can guess, her opinions and suggestions were not well received by white society.  While away in New York City for a meeting, her newspaper presses were destroyed, and a bounty put on her head.  She would be unable to return to Memphis for more than 20 years.  Undaunted, Ida would continue to write, speak, and travel.  Supported by an aging Frederick Douglas, she would become one of the most famous black orators of the early 20th century, speaking to hundreds of thousands across the United States and England. 

Almost singlehandedly, she generated the outrage that would slowly shift the opinions of white people in both the north and south around lynching.  After many lynchings, she would travel incognito to the lynching sites, interview both the families of the lynched persons and those who lynched them and expose the racism and brutality of what many still thought of as vigilante justice.  Her reports and pamphlets countered a white press that often celebrated and justified these heinous acts.  She would speak out against lynching during meetings with four different US presidents.  Her story is one of incredible courage and perseverance during a time when speaking out often led to your own lynching.  

Yet reading this book was also discouraging.

How is it possible that I didn’t know much about this woman – other than her name – after 12 years of public school, four years of college and three years of post-graduate education?

More tragically, how is it possible that millions of black girls have grown up without knowing the full story of this amazing role model for what it means – both positively and negatively –  to be a strong, assertive, principled black woman in America?

Ida would be less surprised by her obscurity.  She, more than anyone, understood how often black women are ignored and devalued.  Toward the end of her life, she saw W.E.B Dubois publish a history of the anti-lynching movement that would mention her only ONCE.  Why?  Because DuBois, Booker T. Washington and other black male leaders were never comfortable with Ida.  They, as much as white society, were guilty of diminishing her contributions.

I suspect part of the reason Stacey Abrams found this book so compelling is how often she must have seen her own struggles in those of Ida.  Many times, as I read, I thought of the saying, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  While lynchings ended, brutality like that experienced by George Floyd and so many others remain.  The justifications for police brutality echo those used to justify lynching. While we have certainly made progress since the days of Ida, there are far too many ways in which black women fight the very same battles today.

Ida faced both racism and sexism as she struggled for justice.  Many of her black male peers resented her popularity.  Liberal white women, while supporting her anti-lynching campaign, were far less supportive when she advocated for women’s suffrage.  At the Women’s Suffrage March in 1913, she refused to march with the black contingents in the rear of the parade as she was asked.  Like Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris and thousands of other black women, Ida lived her whole life never knowing if she struggled more against racism or sexism.

Ida was held to higher standards than black men and white women.  Ida had to constantly defend her character and behavior.  She was falsely accused multiple times of sexual and moral indiscretions.  Unable to dispute her arguments against lynching and white supremacy, her opponents repeatedly tried to portray her as greedy, power hungry, attention seeking or a bitter and angry woman.   According to her critics, when she was unmarried, she was a slut.  After she married, she was a negligent mother.  Today, white supremacy continues to use this tactic against black women.  Stacey Abrams was attacked for being in debt.  Kamala Harris has been called a Jezebel.  Maxine Waters was called ignorant and stupid by President Trump.

Let’s be clear.  It is impossible to be stupid and a successful black woman.  That is a privilege reserved for white men and women.

Ida refused to play the games required to obtain power.  Indeed, what infuriated her black male critics so much was her accusation that many of them had traded the dribblings of white power for their silence and apathy toward systemic injustice.  Never satisfied by people’s supportive words, she expected action.  When organizations or the politicians refused to act, she both acted and noted their inaction. 

Ida would have applauded Stacey Abrams for responding to her election loss by challenging and addressing voter suppression.  She would have understood the impatience of Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, the black women who launched the Black Lives Matter Movement.  Ida would also understand why most people don’t know their names.

Ida deeply understood the concept of intersectionality long before the phrase was coined.  For Ida, it wasn’t just the lynching of the falsely accused that was an injustice.  She defended the unlawfulness of lynching those who were guilty, something hardly anyone did in her time.  She would become a probation officer, a prison reformer and advocate for the poor.  For her, the oppression of even the most unsympathetic person was still oppression. 

Ida would understand why Dee Dee Watters is fighting for the rights of black trans women or Michelle Alexander is challenging our white supremacist prison system.  Ida understood that her liberation was wrapped up in the liberation of others.  She, like many black women today, was unsatisfied with any right given to exclusion of others.

I am grateful for Stacey Abram’s recommendation of this book.  I am appreciative of the life and witness of Ida B. Wells.  I am sad I didn’t know of her until now, but I have shared her story with my strong, black, thirteen-year-old daughter.   She would be hard pressed to find a better model for her life than Ida B. Wells.

(Friends, many bloggers are noticing that Facebook algorithms are severely limiting the readership of posts that mention race or racism. If you have depended on Facebook to access my blog, I would encourage you to become a follower of this blog. You will receive a blog notification in your email whenever I publish a new blog.)

The Greatest Threat To White Supremacy

The Greatest Threat To White Supremacy

Note to My White Self…

As a white person, you are self-confident.

This is not surprising.  You have grown up in a society designed to eliminate your obstacles and encourage your dreams and desires.  Your empowerment is baked into the system.  You have also been repeatedly told – implicitly and explicitly – that you are superior to those who are black.

You are resourceful. 

This too is unsurprising.  You have been given easy access to nearly every resource you might need.  Your neighborhoods, schools and other supporting institutions were given more resources than black neighborhoods, schools and supporting institutions.  Indeed, you began your life with 7 to 10 times as many resources as a black person from your same circumstance.

You are self-assured. 

This is intentional.  You have been assured time and again that your opinions and decisions will and should be given more weight and power.  You navigate life with the assumption that black people will and should defer to you.

Because of these three characteristics, you are also arrogant.

It would be nearly impossible for you not to be.  You are proud of your self-confidence, resourcefulness, and self-assurance, believing these attributes evidence of your personal character development.  When you see others, who struggle with self-doubt and lack your resources, you assume these are character flaws in them.  For this reason, you easily interpret the disparities between the wealth, power, and success of black and white people as evidence of black inferiority rather than of societal inequities. 

This culture of whiteness is designed to protect your delusions about yourself and the society you live in.  The media, the arts, Hollywood, advertising, the stock market, religion, and government are all primarily centered around your whiteness, continually reassuring you of your normality and superiority.

The only real challenge to this deeply embedded prejudice is a black person.

A self-confident, resourceful and self-assured black man or woman is the greatest threat to you and your white supremacist society.  These men and women – by their very existence – call into question your assumptions about yourself and your world.

The strong black person is a threat to your myth of superiority.  What does it say about you when a black man or woman – who have not had your advantages and resources – overcomes their many obstacles to succeed?  They expose your arrogance.  How can you compare yourself to them without sensing their superiority?  You cannot know if you would have succeeded if faced with their obstacles and challenges.  This is humbling and no one likes to be humbled, especially someone who has been told all their life that they are special.

The self-confident, resourceful, and self-assured black person is also a threat to your myth of earned merit.  You like to think that all you have and all you have accomplished is evidence of your hard work and initiative.  Like the plantation owner, you like to sit on your front porch with a glass of lemonade and marvel at all your hands have created, even while watching the bent backs of the people of color who made your wealth and power possible.  In truth, you are the beneficiary of a system that allowed you to succeed even if you made poor choices, stupid mistakes or were lazy.

Every time you meet a self-confident, resourceful, and self-assured black person, you experience a challenge to these delusions.  You experience them as a threat whether you are conscious of it or not. Either by word or action, you feel compelled to diminish these examples of your arrogance.

This is why many of those who were lynched were lynched for the crime of being too successful as farmers or businesspeople.

This is why white people bombed and destroyed Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921.

This is why Medgar Evers, Harry and Harriette Moore, Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and Martin Luther King, Jr were assassinated.

This pattern continues today.

This is why police pull over black people driving expensive cars and often humiliate them by suggesting they fit the description of some criminal, or that they looked out of place in the neighborhood, or that they don’t often see someone like them driving that model.

This is why a self-confident black person is much more likely to be treated violently by police when they fail to respond with deference and question their treatment or complain of an injustice.

This is why – in a professional meeting – the opinions of self-confident, resourceful, and self-assured black people are often ignored, At least until a white person makes that same point.

This is why well-dressed black man or woman is more likely to be targeted for surveillance in a store, or stopped on the street, or asked for identification.

This is why Senator Tim Scott, one of the most powerful black men in our nation, still reports having the Capitol Police question his right to walk into that building.

This is why white people in the United States elected one of the poorer examples of a white man as president immediately following the election of a self-confident, resourceful, and self-assured black man.

This is why Vice President Kamala Harris is increasingly the target of campaigns to diminish her accomplishments and abilities.

Think about this.

What does it say about your nation that the signs of success that bring white people respect, deference, and the benefit of the doubt bring successful black people resentment, suspicion, and hostility?

Next time you are in the presence of a self-confident, resourceful, and self-assured black man or woman, take a moment to examine your thoughts and feelings?

Are you impressed?   Surprised?   Dismayed?  Threatened?  Or afraid?

All of these are the responses of a racist person.

The proper response of a truly self-confident, resourceful, self-assured, and antiracist white person should be obvious.

Respect.

American “Exception”alism

American “Exception”alism

On January 11th, in his last major speech as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo argued, “It is not fake news for you to broadcast that this is the greatest nation in the history of the world and the greatest nation that civilization has ever known.”  In his speech, he repeatedly championed the idea of American exceptionalism, that the United States is the model that all other nations should seek to replicate. He made this claim even though the United States is far from exceptional in a wide variety of international measures of quality of life.

Pompeo would hate the previous sentence.

American exceptionalism is not a uniquely Republican idea.  Presidents from both parties have historically described our nation as exceptional.  Trump’s “Make America Great Again” and Biden’s “America Is Back” proclamations – while viewing the present state of affairs very differently – are both built on this assumption. They are both convinced of America’s greatness and blame the other party for tarnishing America’s reputation in the world.  That other nations might find this arrogant and hypocritical in the days after the Capital insurrection is lost on them.

Pompeo would hate the previous sentence.

Nor is American exceptionalism a new idea. The Puritans who landed in Massachusetts thought of their experiment in America as “a city on a hill” that all others could see, admire, and emulate. In 1831, the influential French historian Alexis de Tocqueville toured the United States and described our nation as “exceptional.”  His conclusions were trumpeted in American newspapers of the time.  That he made this declaration when nearly two million black men, women and children were being brutally enslaved is evidence enough of how often there have been “exceptions” to our exceptionalism.

Pompeo would hate the previous sentence.

For Pompeo and many American conservatives, the problem in America today is a lack of patriotism, which they define as an unwavering loyalty to the idea that the United States is and has always been the greatest nation on the earth.  In his speech, he chastised those on the left for “constantly” highlighting America’s faults and failures.  For Pompeo and his ilk, these instances are “exceptions” to the rule.

For them…

  • Incidents of racism are the exception in a nation committed to equality.  The liberal media’s focus on these “rare exceptions” tarnishes people’s opinion of our society.  The liberal media – rather than racism – is the problem.
  • The killing of George Floyd and other black people by the police is an exception to a generally brave and honest American policing system.  This is just the work of a few bad apples.  Highlighting or protesting these incidents is disloyal and unpatriotic.
  • That our nation incarcerates a disproportionate number of black people in our prison system is not an indictment of “the best justice system in the world,” but evidence of a tendency toward crime and violence in black populations.  Do black people get mistreated by the system?  Yes, but that is the exception and not the rule.
  • The inequities in our society are the result of personal failure and not systemic injustice.  Every person in the United States has equal opportunity to rise to the top of the heap.  Those who do not have themselves to blame.  Those who succeed – like themselves – are exceptional.
  • The influx of migrants into the United States is proof of our exceptionalism.  They are attracted to the city on the hill.  Immigrant success stories prove the infinite possibilities of our exceptional nation.  Anyone who works hard can succeed.

Your agreement or disagreement with the five previous statements places you on one side or the other of our present political and cultural divides. Your opinion about America is usually determined by what you do with the “exceptions to the rule” today and throughout history.

Both the right and the left accuse their opponents of revisionist history – of altering the historic record to fit some modern agenda.  For the left, they see much of American history as an attempt to sustain white supremacy and male dominance by eliminating or ignoring any references to America’s ugliest moments.  For the right, they see the highlighting of these moments as an attempt to revise and tarnish the American story and thereby American pride and reputation.  At its heart, this is an argument about a central question – Is America exceptional?

For Pompeo and the right, the answer is an unequivocal YES.

For those of us on the left, the answer depends on who are you.

For me, as a white man growing up in a middle-class family, America has been an exceptional place to live and thrive.  I would be hard pressed to find another place on earth better suited to my desires.  This nation was designed to meet my needs at the expense of all others – domestic and foreign.  This was true for the white men who wrote our Constitution, and it remains true for me.

However, if you are a black boy or girl born in some neighborhoods in Baltimore, Chicago and New York City, this nation is no more exceptional than the slums of Mumbai, India, the townships of Soweto, South Africa or the barrios of Sao Paolo, Brazil.

If you are a woman born in America today, this nation is less exceptional than all the Scandinavian countries and much of the European Union.  There you would be paid more equitably, you’d be given as much as a year of maternity leave should you decide to have a child, and you would be provided with free childcare if you wanted to return to work.

Pompeo would hate the last two paragraphs.

Not because they aren’t true, but because they challenge the myth that allows white men to pretend that they and their nation are exceptional.

Here is the truth.

Mike Pompeo is not exceptional.  He and his kind are far too common in America.  He is a pompous, self-righteous, privileged white man defending a system that gives him inordinate power.  The American nation he extols only exists in his gated communities, elite clubs and twisted imagination. 

America will only become exceptional when the white men like him – Republican and Democrat – are removed from power.

Ted Cruz Is A Terminator

Ted Cruz Is A Terminator

Senator Ted Cruz has made the news recently for all the wrong reasons.  Two weeks ago, when the electrical grid in Texas failed after one of the worst winter storms in their history, Cruz decided the proper response was to take his family on a vacation to Cancun, Mexico.  While Cruz was jetting south, Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate he defeated in 2018, was organizing his campaign’s volunteers to make wellness calls to 150,000 Texans.  Rightfully, the media and political world responded with indignation.  In several critiques, his actions were highlighted as the epitome of white privilege.

There is only one small problem with this analysis.

Ted Cruz isn’t white.

Ted Cruz’s actual name is Rafael Cruz.  He is the son of a Cuban immigrant.  According to presently accepted categories, Cruz is Latino.  He could list himself as such on the census.  He and his children could receive whatever benefits – however meager – being in that minority group might provide.  Indeed, during his campaign, when speaking to primarily Hispanic audiences, Cruz was quick to claim this heritage and identity.  He was also equally quick to avoid these connections when speaking to the white population of Texas.  He needed his white audiences to see him as white.

This desire is not unique to Ted Cruz.  For centuries, people have hoped to be seen as white and to receive all of the benefits thereof. In a recent post, How To Keep America White, I explored the historic instances when the definition of whiteness was expanded to include new populations.  When whiteness is threatened by demographic shifts, one of its defense mechanisms has been to allow some previously excluded group to join the club.  This strategy has allowed whiteness to remain the majority and protect its supremacy.   

Italians are an often-mentioned example of this dynamic.  Pre-Civil War, Italians were not considered white by most Americans.  They were treated as an inferior race and discriminated against throughout society.  Only with the growing fear of black emancipation were Italians redeemed and claimed as members of the white race.  They responded by becoming some of the more ardent anti-black racists of their time.

That Donald Trump was able to garner about 25% of the Latino vote in the 2020 election is startling evidence of this new manifestation of white expansion.  It is one of the explanations for how Latinos could vote for a person who consistently said derogatory things about them.  Simply stated, many Latinos no longer see themselves as Latinos.  Many – like Cruz – identify more with American whiteness than their ancestral roots. These new recruits to whiteness – in order to prove their worthiness – are often the most ardent proponents and defenders of white supremacy.

Ted Cruz is the epitome of this tendency.  Rather than express solidarity with other Latinos, Cruz consistently champions policies that do significant damage to people of his ancestry without any remorse.  For example, he is an ardent opponent of birth right citizenship which has been the path of citizenship for millions of Latinos.  Many of his other positions would make it more difficult for minorities to vote, receive government assistance and avail themselves of their civil rights.

While Cruz would argue his positions are conservative rather than racist, he was not shy in claiming Jesse Helms, one of the most racist Senators in US history as his political idol.  Cruz often brags of sending the Helms campaign a $10 donation at the age of 10. At an event honoring Helms shortly after his death, Cruz said, “The willingness [of Helms] to say all those crazy things is a rare, rare characteristic in this town, and you know what? It is every bit as true now as it was then. We need a hundred more like Jesse Helms in the U.S. Senate.”

Why would a Latino boy send money to Helms and adopt him as his hero?

If you want to be seen as white, identifying with the most racist white person you know is a good place to start.

This is why I fear Ted Cruz.  Again and again, in US history, white supremacy has weaponized its newest recruits to defend white supremacy.  After the Nate Turner rebellion, poor white sharecroppers were recruited into whiteness and helped build the societal structures that made slavery an exclusively black institution. In 1863, white supremacy inspired Italians to rampage through New York City, targeting and killing hundreds of black people.  In the years since, whiteness has invited Caucasian featured Asians, Latinos, Native Americans and even lighter skinned blacks to understand themselves as whiter than a targeted minority.

Sadly, Ted Cruz is not an example of a Latino man rising to the heights of national power and prominence.  Ted Cruz is a Terminator.  Like in the famous Terminator movie series, Cruz is a tool of white supremacy disguised as a Latino man, but sent to destroy those who look like him in order to protect his masters.

We can only hope that – as in the movie – the Terminator is ultimately defeated.

One Thousand One Hundred Dollars

One Thousand One Hundred Dollars

Two weeks ago, my wife answered a knock at our door.  A white woman handed my wife an envelope and explained that our neighbors were deeply disturbed by the recent racist attacks on our family.  Over the past year, our transracial family has been the target of two incidents of racist graffiti and – more recently – someone shooting a bullet into the hood of our car.  The woman said our neighbors wanted to demonstrate their support.  After she left, my wife opened the envelope and found one thousand one hundred dollars.

In the days since, my wife and I have gone from surprise to appreciation, from appreciation to discomfort, from discomfort to deep questioning.  While we felt guilty for “looking a gift horse in the mouth,” we couldn’t shake the suspicion that something wasn’t quite right about this gift. What did the gift demonstrate?  Why was it given?  What should we do with it?

The last question was the easiest.  We couldn’t keep the money, even if our property had been damaged.  Being a white ally should never be financially advantageous.  Posting our “Black Lives Matter” sign may have made us a target of abuse, but it shouldn’t make us money.  Being an ally to black people isn’t praiseworthy.  It is the lowest of bars – an act of basic human decency.  Ironically, a few days before we were given the money, I’d written a post entitled “White People Are Neither Brave Nor Brilliant.”  Being rewarded with this money felt wrong.

Resolving this question wasn’t difficult.  My wife and I matched our neighbor’s gift of one thousand one hundred dollars with one thousand one hundred dollars of our own and donated this money to two organizations.  The first was the Black Lives Matter Foundation, which works to support BLM advocates and initiatives across the country and the second was the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America (NCobra).  These are both organizations doing important work on racial justice.  We made these donations not as an act of generosity or charity, but of responsibility and reparation.  I note this because understanding the motive of a gift is important – for both donor. and recipient.

This brings me to the second and more difficult question we’ve tried to unravel.  Why did our neighbors – who are nearly all white – give us this money?  Was it an act of solidarity with us, with black people, or with both? Was it motivated by guilt or responsibility? Was it charity or reparation?  Since the gifts came from many different neighbors, I suspect there were many different motives, including simple peer pressure.

But why us?

I wonder if our neighbors would have been as generous and outraged if this had happened to a black family.  I suspect some would have been, but I also know that when anti-BLM graffiti was sprayed on our property that several white neighbors stopped to tell me, “I disagree with Black Lives Matter, but I still think its horrible that someone vandalized your property?”  Later, I wished I had replied, “I don’t give a damn about a little vandalism.  I care about 400 years of black oppression and injustice.”  Would my neighbors have stopped to voice their support for a black family?

I worry those one thousand one hundred dollars are just another example of my white privilege.  Historically, when white allies of black people are attacked, the damage is lighter, the response of the authorities is quicker, and justice is more likely.  I worry about the black families in our city, state and country who have faced far more abuse than my family and NEVER received a single dollar in support.  I worry that my neighbors – whether they were conscious of it or not – were motivated by seeing an attack on someone who looked like them.

This brings me to our final question.  What did the gift demonstrate?  Was it an act of solidarity with black people and their plight or an attempt to assuage white guilt and escape white responsibility?  While I cannot answer this question with certainty, I have my suspicions. I should tell you this same group of neighbors – in response to our situation – decided to place signs of support in their yards. They chose signs that read, “Love, Not Hate” instead of “Blacks Lives Matter.”  They chose signs that will NOT make them targets of racist attacks, that do NOT address the deep racial injustices in our nation, and that will NOT demonstrate their support of the black families in our neighborhood.  Loving our neighbors as ourselves will never bring racial justice.

Why not?

Loving our neighbors as our white selves doesn’t require us to understand – or even ask – our black neighbors what they need or want.  By using our white selves as the norm, we will always do what would make us comfortable and not what would address the deep pains of our black neighbors.

During our conversations, my wife said, “I wish they had never given us that money.”

That must sound terribly ungrateful.   Especially to white ears.

Again and again, white people have given black people what we thought they needed or deserved, never asking what they desired.  When they’ve questioned our motives or complained about the inadequacy of our “generosity,” we’ve accused them of being ungrateful.  We’ve said, “After all we’ve done for you…” 

White enslavers said such things after they gave enslaved men and women an afternoon off from their dusk to dawn labors.  White politicians said such things after they granted black people a civil right that white people took for granted.  White businesspeople said such things after they hired their token black employees.  White benevolence always demands polite appreciation.

In the gift of one thousand one hundred dollars, my wife and I had a glimpse into this exhausting racial dynamic. We confronted a question that black people have asked for centuries. Do I accept and appreciate the gift or point out the deep inequities that make the gift necessary? It was a such relief when my wife and I realized that we didn’t have to feel grateful for the one thousand one hundred dollars.  It was not what we would have asked for.

If our neighbors had asked, we would have asked each of them to place a Black Lives Matter sign in their yard.  That would have made a statement in our predominantly white neighborhood. We would have asked each of them to educate themselves, to explore those groups working for racial justice and make a donation in their own name.  That could have been transformative. We would have asked them to act in solidarity with black people and not simply with us.

Hopefully, by giving their gift to black organizations, our neighbor’s financial donations will bring change.

I’m just not sure it will change our neighbors.

February Is Ugly White History Month

February Is Ugly White History Month

Note to my white self…

Black History Month isn’t for black people.

It is for white people like you.

Black people know their history. They know the myriad of ways they were exploited and oppressed by white people and systems over the past 400 years.  They know of their heroes, of those who overcame slavery and discrimination to excel and succeed.  When you attend a Black History Month event, the black people aren’t the ones being educated.  They’re the ones nodding their heads in remembrance of the historic events or individuals being mentioned.  You are the ignorant one.

Some white people complain there should be a White History Month.  While the common response to this complaint – that the other eleven months are largely white history – is valid; it misses an important point.  Black history is always white history.  For every story of a black man or woman who succeeded, there are several subplots about the white individuals and systems they had to overcome.  For every historic event that negatively impacted black people, there is a parallel history of white racism, hate and injustice. I know you don’t like to think about this, but Black History Month could just as easily be titled, Ugly White History Month.

Consider the last lynching in Indiana, an event sometimes mentioned during Black History Month.  This lynching took place in Marion, Indiana on August 7th, 1930.  During Black History Month, the deaths of Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith are often remembered and mourned.  However, this event is not solely about two black men.  It is also a story about a dozen white men who participated in their torture and lynching.  It is about the thousands of white Marion residents who are said to have attended and watched the ugliness. Sadly, in making this lynching a Black History story, we’ve allowed white people to pretend this isn’t part of our history.  Indeed, to this day, blacks in Marion, Indiana have been unable to get even a historic plaque acknowledging the events of 1930.

White history has been whitewashed.

People of color know white history is less history and more propaganda. It is false narrative about the American story, intended to ennoble white people and obscure people of color. Until very recently, most white history selectively celebrated white achievement while ignoring how often those accomplishments involved massacring Native American families, whipping black backs, exploiting Chinese workers and Latino immigrants. We are repeatedly told how exceptional we are when the truth is far more damning.

Black History Month is primarily for white people.

Even most progressive white people don’t understand this.  Progressives may not complain about Black History Month, but we ignore it.  We consider our support of such a month as proof of our tolerance and enlightenment.  Look at us.  We’ve created a whole month for black people to be center stage, even if it is a performance we don’t plan to attend.  Unfortunately, this attitude makes Black History Month into a ghetto, a place for black people to exist and interact out of white sight and mind.

You know this is true. When you’ve attended Black History, you’ve looked around. You’ve counted the white faces present; often on one hand.  Where are all those who give lip service to supporting black people and their causes?  Where are those who think Black Lives Matter?  One of the ways to prove that is to value their history and to confront the uglier side of your own.

Maybe that’s the problem. We are still uncomfortable with hearing the ugliness of white history, especially in the presence of those who’ve experienced this ugliness.  We, if we are supportive, are more interested in supporting black people from afar than interacting with them face to face.  To attend a Black History event is to be in the minority, to be confronted with black nobility and white savagery, to be the ignorant one and to become incredibly aware of the whiteness of our skin.  Our hostility toward or absence from Black History Month is simply more evidence of how deeply racism is embedded in the white psyche.

You can do better. You can make Black History a priority and not just for a single month. You can make understanding our shared history a commitment. You can do so with the understanding that the black people at Black History events do not see you as one of the villains.  They see your presence as a sign of hope.  If enough white people finally know our ugly history, maybe we won’t repeat it.  Maybe the story of black people today can be different than of those in the past.

Black History Month isn’t primarily about the past.

It is one means to a different future.

(Those wishing to begin an exploration of black history might want to begin with my post, Things I Didn’t Know.)

Black Lives Matter and the Influence of Carol Marks

Black Lives Matter and the Influence of Carol Marks

Last week, someone posted the following on my Facebook page…

“Have you ever read BLM’s “Mission Statement?”  It is right out of the Carol Marks Hand book!”

Perhaps this was the result of auto-correct, but maybe not. 

As much as the right loves to accuse the left of Marxism, most of them couldn’t identify Karl Marx in a police line-up.  Their understanding of Marxist thought is an inch deep and a mile wide.  The problem with accusations that BLM is Marxist is not their accuracy.  Many of the founders of Black Lives Matter have been influenced by Marxist and socialist thought.  The problem is that most conservatives have no understanding of Marxist and socialist ideology.  They believe socialism and Marxism are evil, but can’t tell you why. They know they should hate the “Carol Marks” handbook, but have never read Marxist writings.  Ask them to explain Marx’s critique of capitalism and most of them are clueless.

Yet many white progressives get nervous whenever another white person accuses BLM of being Marxist.  Some deny it.  Others reply that BLM is a movement and not a hierarchical organization with a united mission.  Still others suggest they support BLM’s opposition to police killings, but not its broader desire to change American economics.  In so doing, we reveal how successful white supremacists have been in justifying their existence as a counterweight to leftist Marxism.  We miss the obvious.  If Marxism is the opposite of white supremacy, why would any person committed to equity and justice oppose it?

Is Black Lives Matter a Marxist movement?

Of course, it is.

The Black Lives Matter movement almost universally advocates for democratic socialism.  This should not be shocking or embarrassing or even newsworthy.  Democratic socialism is the belief that all voices should be given equal weight and that all human needs should be given equal attention.  When the right screams against Marxism, this is what they are essentially opposing, though most of them don’t know it.

The question white people should be asking is not if the Black Lives Matter movement is Marxist, but how it could be anything else.  Why would people who were considered “capital” by white people for nearly 250 years be proponents of capitalism?  Why would the people who continue to benefit the least from a capitalist economic system be advocates of that system?  Wouldn’t these people be rightfully suspicious of a system that has allowed white people to continue to oppress them?  In America, capitalism and white supremacy have always worked hand in hand to deny black people the rightful wages of their labor.

From the moment Karl Marx outlined the central problems with capitalism, black people realized he was speaking about and to them.  When Marx described an elite, rich oligarchy committed to exploiting the labor of the poor, they remembered plantations, sharecropping, and sweat shops.  He wasn’t espousing an economic and political theory to them.  He was describing their experience.

For this reason, every movement in opposition to white supremacy has quickly realized that capitalism has been and is a white supremacist tool.  In accepting Marxist critiques and advocating for socialist solutions, the BLM movement is simply building on the foundation laid by the Civil Rights movement, which was also identified by white supremacists as communist, socialist, and Marxist.  And rightly so. 

Dr. Martin Luther Kings, Jr. first said, “One day we must ask the question, ‘Why are there 40 million poor people in America?’ And when you begin to ask that question, you are raising questions about the economic system, about a broader distribution of wealth. When you ask that question, you begin to question the capitalistic economy.”  King gradually realized civil rights and economic rights were intertwined.

King eventually wrote, “I am much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic… Capitalism started out with a noble and high motive… but like most human systems it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So today, capitalism has out-lived its usefulness.”  While it is unclear what capitalism’s noble and high motive was, it is clear King was less and less enamored with it.

A few weeks before his murder by a white supremacist, his critique of capitalism deepened, “The evils of capitalism are as real as the evils of militarism and evils of racism.”  King had come to see that opposing racism inherently required opposition to capitalism.  Make no mistake, this conclusion and its threat was what led to his assassination.  White supremacists understand that – in the United States – the dismantling of capitalism is also the dismantling of white supremacy.

It is vital that white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement understand both the roots and rationale for adopting the Marxist critique and advocating for socialist solutions.  Marxism is not a blemish on an otherwise worthy movement.  White allies need not be embarrassed or apologetic.  When the right accuses Black Lives Matter of being Marxist, we should ask them to explain what Marx got wrong about the inherent injustice, inequity, and inhumanity of the capitalist system.

When you ask, don’t hold your breath while awaiting their answer.

Most of them haven’t read Carol Mark’s handbook.

We Have Never Been More United

We Have Never Been More United

I am tired of white people complaining that our nation “has never been so divided.”  This complaint is more evidence that white people are ignorant of our history and of their privilege. We are a nation that once fought a bloody civil war over whether we could enslave black people. What the insurrection at the Capitol revealed was not something new, but an ugly and racist division that has been sustained since our nation’s founding. When it comes to the work of creating a diverse and vibrant democracy, we have never been more united.

Consider this.  In 1790, after the signing of the U.S. Constitution, only property owning or tax paying white men could vote.  White was defined as people of Anglo-Saxon origin.  Women of all races and backgrounds, Blacks (free and enslaved), Irish, Italians, Hispanics, Chinese, Native Americans and many more were disenfranchised.  This meant 6% of the population held power over the other 94%.  When it comes to who holds power, our nation was never less democratic than in 1790.

It would not be until 1828 that the last U.S state would eliminate property owning and tax paying requirements.  For the first time, most white men could vote.  Yet they still represented only about 35% of the US population.  Sadly, this minority would enshrine their dominance across our culture, establishing white male supremacy as the guiding principle for church, government, family, and society.  Those who disputed this inequity were ostracized, oppressed, imprisoned, and murdered.  We were only a democracy if you were a white man.

That 80% of the insurrectionists at the Capitol were white men should not surprise us. Only white men could look at what has happened in our country over the past few decades and conclude we need a revolution. Only white men would see the presidency of Barack Obama as a threat.  Only white men would celebrate the election of a white, narcissistic strongman.  For many others, today’s society is the evolution we have dreamed of – a multicultural nation where no gender, sexual orientation, race, or ethnic background is legally privileged.

The American story is not one of reclaiming some past glory, but of gradual empowerment.  Over the decades since our nation’s founding, the powerless have taken Jefferson’s words as truth and repeatedly challenged white male supremacy.  In 1869, the 14th Amendment gave the vote to all black men.  For a few short years, nearly 50% of our population was enfranchised.  Black men served in our Senate and House of Representatives.  For about eight years, racial equity looked like a possibility.  Sadly, this splendid failure would be the high-water mark of our democracy for the next 100 years.

In the years after the Reconstruction, little progress was made, especially for people of color.  In 1920, though all women received the vote, only white women were able to demand this right. Essentially, white women were invited into the all-male club with the unstated agreement that they continue to sustain white male supremacy.  Together, this ugly alliance of white men and women fought the inclusion of everyone else.

It would not be until 1943 that people of Chinese descent were granted the vote.  Until 1957, many states still denied the vote to Native Americans.  Until the Voting Rights Act of 1965, most blacks could not access the voting booth.  Even after that Act, white legislators in state after state did all in their power to obstruct minorities from voting.

If a democracy is a government of “all the people,” the United States is a young democracy.  Only in the last few years has most of our adult population had access to the vote.  Only in the last few years have white men and women realized their 250 years of national dominance is in danger.  Only in the last few years have white men and women cared about the historic divisions in our nation – divisions that were previously to their advantage.  Ironically, those who invaded our Capitol claimed to be patriots defending democracy.  In actuality, they were insurrectionists trying to topple it.

Here is the good news of today.

For the first time in the history of our nation, the forces in opposition to white supremacy may finally be stronger and more united than those sustaining it.  For the first time in US history, a president spoke out against white supremacy in his inaugural address.  For the first in our checkered past, calls for unity are not simply calls for white solidarity.

It is this more inclusive unity which Donald Trump and his followers fear. His campaign thrived on heightening age-old divisions.  His administration glorified a past America where less of our nation had voice.  The failed insurrection of January 6th is both evidence of this lingering malignancy and of democratic resilience. That those who have sustained white supremacy for so long are now calling for reconciliation, healing and unity is encouraging.  Those who cannot enforce their will must plead for such things. 

If it is unity they desire, we must demand it be a unity grounded in our national aspirations, so long denied to so many, that all people are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights, namely life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Anything less is appeasement, a strategy that has failed again and again in the battle with white supremacy.

White supremacy must finally end.

In this, more and more of us are united.