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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.