Monday, February 9, 2015

20 Things I Learned About Racism When I Dared to Talk About ISIS and the Lynchings of Black Americans

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Racism is not an opinion. It is a fact.

White supremacy is one of the most powerful social forces and ideologies in the United States (and the West). As such, it is reflected in our political discourse, and both intentionally (through active racism) and unintentionally (implicit bias) reproduced by individuals.

Online spaces are a great lens into white supremacy because they are a type of public arena where individuals can drop the mask of social conformity and desirability, revealing their private thoughts and true selves.

Thus, comment sections are transformed into a space where “backstage racism” can be transformed into direct and public acts.

For example, if a given society is racist, sexist, and homophobic, then its members and culture, to varying degrees, will be a reflection of those values. Some will resist them; others will actively reproduce and support them; most will go about their quotidian lives, a herd or mass public to be directed one way or another as their personal whims and desires pull, and cues from elites direct them.

Our first obligation should be to the truth. As such, in a recent essay I connected the horrific burning alive death of Muadh al Kasasbeh by ISIS and how white people did the same (if not in any many instances worst) things to black Americans by the thousands.

“Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Thousands”, which appeared on Alternet, Daily Kos, and here on WARN, has been shared more than 140,000 times on Facebook and received many thousands of comments.

A good number of those comments and reactions have been positive, with the forward-thinking and enlightened immediately understanding how barbarism is not limited by lines of nation. The banality of evil is international. America—white Americans in particular—have not been bystanders to that history. Hands bloodied, they too are accountable.

Other reactions to my modest truth-telling and basic observations about violence and American history (the burning alive deaths of blacks by whites; the related genocide of First Nations people; white on black and brown pogroms) were met with predictable rage by overt white supremacists and their slightly more “respectable” conservative brethren online. “Liberal racists” also chimed in with disgust that a person of color would dare to connect the immolation murder of Muadh al Kasasbeh by ISIS to the spectacular lynchings of black Americans.

Apparently, the relative “freedom” to speak in a direct manner about white supremacy is not grandfathered in under the umbrella provided by the 28 days of Black History Month.

Those reactions were not a surprise. Nevertheless, they were very instructive.

I learned the following:

1. White racial fragility is real. White folks en masse are very sensitive. Many of them get very upset and angry when you tell the truth about racism, white supremacy, or white privilege.
2. Both conservative and liberal racists believe that it is “unnecessary” to comment on the plain on the face fact that black Americans were burned alive in much the same as ISIS did to the captured Jordanian, Muadh al Kasasbeh.
3. Addendum to the above. The spectacular lynchings of black Americans by white people were “a long time ago” so it should not be discussed anymore lest white people be made uncomfortable. For the White Gaze, a long time ago is compressed to 50 years.
4. Be prepared for the deflection and dismissive comment that, “everyone knows this stuff! Why are you bringing it up!”
5. If you want to talk about racism and how black folks were subjected to horrific violence by white people—much of it worse than what ISIS visited upon Muadh al Kasasbeh—one must get permission from white people first.
6. The idea that white people who benefit in the present from systems of material advantage and other unearned privileges--outcomes that are the direct result of racial terrorism against non-whites--should “own” their history is very upsetting and provocative to many white folks. Never forget that White America is a country without a history.
7. Well-documented events, such as horrific violence against black Americans as committed by whites, only occurred if a white person says they did. The white speaker effect is very real in America’s racial discourse. See for example, the divergent responses to Bill Moyer’s excellent piece on ISIS and America’s lynching culture and my essay on the same topic.
8. Daring to talk about the burning to death murder of Muadh al Kasasbeh by ISIS and how it resonates with the burning to death murder of thousands of black people by white Americans is a type of “black racial narcissism”. The White Gaze is troubled by the idea of shared humanity and shared suffering.
9. White supremacists and liberal racists have much in common with their rage at the premise that a black person would dare to talk about white on black lynchings in the United States and ISIS.
10. White supremacists and liberal racists channel much the same animus and rage at black folks who tell them things they do not want to hear. The former are just more honest; the latter pretty up their racial ugliness just a bit more. Both camps are invested in Whiteness as a type of racial innocence.
11. Liberal racists—like their Right-wing compatriots—will derail, distract, and obfuscate your claims.
12. Liberal racists—like their Right-wing compatriots—also use standard troll tactics to avoid dealing with the facts as presented.
13. White supremacy’s reflection is very ugly to most white folks—especially those who have not disowned Whiteness.
14. These people are especially upset by the premise that someone like them, in their own immediate family, neighborhood, or other relation could/would have participated in a lynching, owned slaves, or benefited (and continue to) from an act of inter-personal or institutional white supremacy.
15. Remember that being a victim of white racial terrorism is the present lived experience for non-whites in the United States and elsewhere. These are living memories. And yes, many of the victims of white racial terrorism are still alive. Racial terrorism continues: see the events in Ferguson, the police killing of Eric Garner, and white on black and brown police thuggery, more generally.
16. Whiteness is ahistorical: one of the primary advantages of being white in America is the luxury of being an individual unmoored from the past, history, and perpetually living in a bubble of white innocence.
17. If the word “thug” is the new “nigger” then when white folks call a black person “angry”, “combative”, “bitter”, “unhinged”, or “disrespectful” they are channeling the new “uppity”…the latter being a crime that not too long ago could be punished by the lynching tree.
18. In some ways, right-wing racists are much more honest, and thus easier to deal with, than liberal racists.
19. At some point in the conversation, white privilege deems that white folks who are unhappy with how a person of color dares to talk about racism will somehow be magically transformed into the real “victims”.
20. The rules for how white supremacy and white racism should be discussed must always be set by white folks so that they can be told what they want to hear, their assumptions about their goodness and innocence validated, and collective egos stroked.


Justin M. White said...

Ta-Nehisi Coates has a very nice article from Friday on the response to the comparison of American Christianity's racial terrorism to ISIS. I'm sure you've seen it but in case anyone hasn't:

wawoo said...

I suspect Mr. DeVega you meant viewed more than 140,000 times on Face Book, not Shared.
If that is the most that can be found "wrong' that is a good effort on your part.
As usual.

chauncey devega said...

I meant shared :) I hope and suspect it was viewed more than that...we shall see :)

Gable1111 said...

This list pretty much nails all the variances, nuances and and applications across sub tribes ("white liberal, "conservative"), the benign and assertive proponents of white supremacy. All of which have been on display recently on WARN and other posts that have dared to make the obvious ISIS-white supremacy terror connection.

My personal fave is #7, e.g. a fact or known truth just ain't until a white person says it is. I've dealt with that one on a professional level at various times in my career.

Many of them fall under the general "white guilt," a term that has always been guaranteed to reduce both liberal and conservative adherents of white supremacy to sputtering apoplectics.

Tyrone 88 said...

They try to keep you down when you dont play by whitey's rules. Cop shoots a kid who didnt do NUTHIN, while on wall street le happy merchant parasites on us and unleashes "thug"'s on us

kokanee said...

Chauncey --You've crossed the line beyond the acceptable liberal narrative. White liberals will give black people jobs --not great jobs mind you but they assume that's your own fault because America is a meritocracy. Conservatives on the other hand want the right to deny you service at their store or restaurant. White liberals support food stamps for disenfranchised people --but not welfare --liberals did away with welfare sometime back --too many welfare queens, too many kids born to single mothers, that sort of thing. But conservatives want to take away your food stamps! They just want you to die or join a church or something. Conservatives believe someone will take care of you people as long as it's not the government. They call it volunteerism or something like that. White liberals don't want to be burdened with providing for all people of color --there's just too many of you --that's what the government is for. Northern white liberals defeated the southern conservatives and so they have to contribute to your wellbeing as well.

White liberals support subsidies for low performing urban schools. It's not that urban schools get the same funding as richer school districts. It's not liberals' fault that funding for schools comes from local property taxes, that's just the way it is.

Finally, liberals don't use derogatory epithets when they talk to you or about black people in private --not even thug or uppity --it's just not good form. As liberals respect black people, liberals request, politely, that black people know their place too and not upset the apple cart. Remember, liberals are your friends. Good luck getting such an offer from a conservative.

A white liberal.

Toni Jordon said...

chauncey devega said...

The idea of "liberal racism" brought out the fainting couch over at the Daily Kos. I was really going to zing them by posting comments from the racist website you went to for recon and some of what was said there. That would have made them go nuclear. A TNT explosion was enough.

kokanee said...

I admire you for calling out "liberal racism" (disclaimer: not all liberals are racists) as it won't go over well with most liberals. Most of them are just not ready to hear it and/or they don't want to hear it.

I hope you got a little chuckle out of the above.

chauncey devega said...

I am still laughing from the histrionics from making that damn basic observation.

Interesting semantics/epistemology observation--a true liberal by definition wouldn't be racist.

Justin M. White said...

I did an interview for a faculty position at... let's call it a 'prominent' university in Louisiana. And I can tell you, liberal racism is the ever-present backdrop of that place.

Nautim Portant said...

As much as this nails the topic on the head, there is something I want to add. You're right, both instances are atrocities that should never happen/have happened. I'd like to think as a society as a whole, we've moved past burning people. There will forever be extremists on both sides, and sadly they speak the loudest. What does get to me though, is when people bring up an event that was similar to X atrocity, that people in another country committed that was not openly denounced at the time, like we're hypocrites for finding it distasteful now. While I'm sure this is not what you were doing, I just wanted to point it out. Times change, societal norms change, what was merely unpleasant then is terrible now. The past must be remembered and learned from, but the new generation cannot be held responsible for what our ancestors did.

Which brings me to a semi-unrelated point. Yes, I'm white. And yes, by extension, I'm privileged. So what do you want me to do about it? It's not my fault, should I renounce all that I have and live in a box? Yes, things probably are easier to me because I'm a white male ,but to me equality should be about raising people up, not dragging everyone else down at the same time.

(Please note, this was more of a rant in general than directed at you. Additionally, I am not American, so I can't speak for how things are there)

Char said...

"Yes, I'm white. And yes, by extension, I'm privileged. So what do you want me to do about it? It's not my fault, should I renounce all that I have and live in a box?"

Yes, indeed, you should, if your attitude is "the new generation cannot be held responsible for what our ancestors did." You cannot lay claim to your inheritance while simultaneously absolving yourself of any responsibility for where it came from.

Nautim Portant said...

And the Americas are a former British colony that rebelled. Should I demand they give it back? You can say similar things about every single society in history.

Am I pleased about it? No, but no amount of apologies will make it go away. The best way I can make it up to the people who were wronged is to live the best life I can, helping as many people as I can.

Char said...

"And the Americas are a former British colony that rebelled. Should I demand they give it back?"

While it amazes me that White colonist suffering at the hands of the British continues to be treated as the only form of oppression, in the Americas, warranting a violent overthrow and elimination of the establishment, I don't equate an oppressive, European, imperialist empire losing conquered territory to the plight of the Blacks they played a large role in subjugating. Perhaps you meant to question if we should address the oppression of the native peoples who inhabited the land when Britain decided to claim it, but your White-centric perspective caused it to come out in a way that made it seem as if you were more worried about the White conquerors.

Please, keep talking.

Char said...

Here's a question for you. Suppose you were kidnapped by an Islmaic State militant, tomorrow. Now, it's just you and that militant alone in a room, with no one coming to help you. The militant says to you:

"Your people have attained dominance, wealth, and security in this world through terrorism and violence. I want my people to have the same opportunities your privilege affords you. I want my children to grow up as you are, only having to worry about living the best life they can. Why should I not follow the same blueprint that has made you successful? Why should I not kill you?"

What would be your answer?

KissedByTheSun said...

Point number 3 and 16, live and in living color folks!

Char said...

...and 5, and 20, and more. I'm interested in seeing if Nautim actually manages to hit on all 20 points, during this conversation.

ihopeagain said...

Reposted this to my white privilege discussion group.

chauncey devega said...

thanks for sharing. is the working group public? do you have a url for it you would like to share?

SOMARA556 said...

Yeah white people lunched black people but Africans also killed other Africans in Africa even before slavery! I'm being sarcastic but this line of arguing is the same as yours. ISIS burned that man to death in 2015, so please if you want to bring up history then do so on its own merits and not to distract from or distort what is happening today.

Also absolutly 'white America' as you put it were complicit in the lynchings even though most white people were not involved. If you accept this then why do you reject the assertion that 'the Muslim world' are also complicit in the barbarity that we see in so many Islamic countries today?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I actually haven't read the longer piece on Isis and white America, but I did see it shared by many others, which is not typical. Most of the people sharing were people of color.
I shared your 25 things learned about liberal racists a few days ago. Funny thing, conservatives jump at the bit to defend them.
Themes of conservatism this week, liberals are racist. White liberals hate black people, black liberals hate white people.
Talking about the past is only good for one thing: Simmering in hatred. Must be why the cons love to talk about their cold war.
Welfare recipients are slaves. They are taken care of by white dems in exchange for votes and they reside in a mental plantation. The tax payer is also slave to the welfare recipient. Under threat of violence, cons must work to take care of the welfare recipients. All of these slaves are metaphorical though.

Nautim Portant said...

That in those acts we caused great harm to many people who didn't deserve it. That there has to be a better way.

In response to your other posts, when have I ever said those documented events aren't important? That they shouldn't be discussed? Why does me admitting I live a better life style than others mean I approve of how I got it? Giving it up won't make it better, and relishing it won't either. In all seriousness, what a I supposed to do? I cannot right the wrongs of history, all I can do is learn from them. "Never again!" we cry, and only the truly arrogant would assume they're exempt from it.

Yes, maybe I am trying to paint the white majority as sympathetic, but only because we're a part of society too. People say "First world problems", like we're not allowed to complain, that we just have to suck up any misfortune that befalls us because our lives are easier. Sure, I'm sure some people would put up with shit at work just to have a job, but that doesn't mean you, or anyone, should have to.

If anything, I believe we should stop ISIS because they remind us so much of what we used to be and, sadly, what some of us still are (You only have to look at parties like the English Defense League to see that).

Also, I note the irony of this coming from a profile named after Char Aznable, someone who lead the Neo Zeon movement who were strictly anti-earthnoid and attempted to hurl a meteor at the planet to make is uninhabitable.

DanF said...

What can you do? If you are in a position to hire someone for a job opening, hire a person of color. If you are on a search committee to hire someone, advocate for the person of color. If you know a person of color without a job - or who has a crappy job - try and get them hired into your company. Jobs and opportunity are "who you know" more than "what you know." Expand your inner circle to include people who don't look like you. Be proactive in this. Don't just sit there saying, "What can I do? It was in the past." It is happening now. You can do this.

joe manning said...

Color blind racism is the "new improved" version of overt racism. Short term memory impairment coupled with historical amnesia are the basis of mass denial.

Nautim Portant said...

That's fine, of course, but I think it would be more prudent to say "Don't refuse to hire them based on their colour". Qualifications are important you know.

KissedByTheSun said...

Yes because "hire a person of color" means the equivalent of "hire an unqualified person" doesn't it?

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Look it's really not about you personally. It's about holding these people accountable for their actions in the past. Don't give them an excuse, their behavior was not "merely unpleasant" it was terrible. They dismembered, mutilated, and burned people because it was terrible.

People are emotionally invested in their whiteness. No one is fearful of a monetary or corporal punishment for global white supremacy. you cannot place a contingency on freedom for black people or others, it shows you do not sympathize or empathize with them.

The only responsibility anyone has is let it be talked about openly.

Black Romulan said...

"The past must be remembered and learned from, but the new generation cannot be held responsible for what our ancestors did...

Yes, I'm white. And yes, by extension, I'm privileged. So what do you want me to do about it? It's not my fault, should I renounce all that I have and live in a box? Yes, things probably are easier to me because I'm a white male ,but to me equality should be about raising people up, not dragging everyone else down at the same time."

See Tim Wise's response on Guilt vs Responsibility: "Guilt is what you feel for what you have done. Responsibility is what you take because of the kind of person you are."

Black Romulan said...

"Qualifications are important you know."

You had said here earlier that you felt "equality should be about raising people up, not dragging everyone else down at the same time."

Fine, and a noble sentiment. Then what you could do in this situation, if acting as an advocate for equitable outcomes for all - raising people up, as it were - is to look to hire those who you KNOW are not getting a fair shake in society and seek to help them gain those qualifications through your mentorship.
Don't "hire them based on their colour"; hire them based on their untapped/unrealized potential and hone them from diamonds in the rough to multi-faceted treasures.

And, yes, qualifications are important, but no one starts off qualified; everyone begins as untapped potential waiting to be discovered. The question is are you (and those of your ilk) genuinely willing to seek such and bring that potential to the light, or is it just easier to overlook a fortune in diamonds but for all the coal you glance over.

Char said...

"That in those acts we caused great harm to many people who didn't deserve it. That there has to be a better way."

So now we move away from the that's just the way of the world, not much we can do about it arguments to "there has to be a better way." Those acts continue to harm. How did you seek a better way, throwing your hands in the air while continuing to benefit from the status quo? Why is it the privileged always place the onus on the oppressed to find a better way?

"In response to your other posts, when have I ever said those documented events aren't important?"

Actually, what I accused you of is having a White-centric attitude, something you have demonstrated since your first post to this article.

Your very language betrays you. After paying minimal lip service to Chauncey's points, you get to your real priority:

"What does get to me though, is when people bring up an event that was similar to X atrocity, that people in another country committed that was not openly denounced at the time, like we're hypocrites for finding it distasteful now."

In other words, that other stuff is whatever. It is what it is. "What does get to me though..." Because that's what really bothers you about all of this, Chauncey daring to make the comparison. That's the real issue.

"Also, I note the irony of this coming from a profile named after Char Aznable..."

You fail to understand irony if you think it's ironic someone with a Char Aznable handle is challenging the false narrative of privileged innocence while reminding you the continued suffering of the oppressed buys your privilege.

For the record, Char's colony drop was about forcing the privileged humans who remained, slowly destroying it and oppressing the colonies, into space, where they would lose their privileged identity and become like the rest of humanity.

Char said...

It's refreshing that you acknowledge being the recipient of privilege due to an uneven playing field, but what are you doing to level that playing field? Saying you're not going to cheat when your team is already running away with the game, due to cheating, isn't enough. There's a difference between stopping racism and correcting racism. Your response to DanF advocates the former while conveniently neglecting to address the latter.

officer twunt said...

As a honkey ass cracker myself, I can tell you that white folks make me giggle. Working on a campaign, speaking about the Haitian demographic, I mentioned that, a strong people, they launched the only successful, sustained slave revolt in history. A Hispanic (also the beneficiaries and the originators or the trans atlantic slave trade,) woman gasped and said "I can't believe you said that," as if it was offensive. My Creole speaking sister spoke up, that it was, in fact, a source of justified pride.

We live in a country where only a minority of black Americans (and an immeasurably tiny number of whites,) seriously discusses reparations, and even fewer know that we already paid reparations for slavery, to the slave owners, for lost property.

But yes, less than 50 years ago, MLK was alive and marching and in jail, but jim crow and lynchings are ancient history. Never mind the lynchings that continue to be ruled as suicides. Never mind the continued housing, employment, educational and legal discrimination. Racism is over, and no white man alive benefits from being white. Morgan Freeman said it, it must be true.

officer twunt said...

The Americas is two very large continents, and was, at no point, entirely colonized by the British, however much the British wished that it was. But if we are to return this country (I assume you mean the United States OF America) to its rightful owners, the British are really far down the list. Thankfully, the people of the First Nations (Not Native Americans, just as the people who lived in my home before me are not "Native Twunts") don't have a concept of land ownership, but rather stewardship for the next generations, which is, I think, a much better way to look at it than deeds and trusts.

The United States of America is also not a former British colony. It is a hodgepodge of colonies and stolen land. I live in The Land Of Flowers, which, contrary to popular beleif, is not an English colony. People speak Spanish here, and have spoken Spanish here long before people spoke English here.

officer twunt said...

I'm white, Nautim, and I'm interested in where you come from, because you honestly come off as one of those sincere white folks with the best of intentions who really has no idea how you're perpetuating the systematic disenfranchisement of black people and other people of color.

I'm glad that you're posting here, not only because you're really giving a great example of what Chauncey was talking about, but because I think that, in this forum, you're really going to get the real talk that you need.

Snakes on a Car said...

"White supremacy is one of the most powerful social forces and ideologies in the United States"

"Online spaces are a great lens into white supremacy because they are a type of public arena where individuals can drop the mask of social conformity and desirability, revealing their private thoughts and true selves."

Don't these two comments contradict each other? If what you refer to as 'white supremacy' is so powerful then why do people only reveal their 'white supremacy' when they are anonymous on the internet?

Dan Kasteray said...

Fuck it Chauncey, go nuclear. Martin Luther King made history by pissing people off. He was black while being left of Karl Marx. With any luck white racist assholes will sing your praises a century after you're dead

Dan Kasteray said...

If you're pissing them off you're on the right track. Just like all the famous women were bad girls, all the great black men were "uppity" if you'll pardon my language.

Stick it especially to the fifth columnist racist liberals because they're enablers to much worse people: like the staff at arkham asylum when they let the joker seemingly walk out.

Lkeke said...

Isn't there a derailment or racism Bingo card? I'll see if I can find it.

Courtney H. said...

Thanks for linking the article. Here is a video about the President*s remarks and the reactions to them:

Ms. J. S. Butler said...

I salute your articles on the real America. We were supposed to forget that they've done the same, and much, much worse, than any 'terrorists' they may come against. In fact, the turmoil that the U.S. thinks their suffering today is only that Karma returning to bite them in the posterior for all of the horrors perpetrated around the world on people of color.

Tom said...

You can't claim "truth" if you are unwilling to argue it on even ground. Until we can validate that "truth" is being presented, or at least that an honest argument is possible, then everything else is irrelevant.

That is why you will lose.