Apparently Jim and Jane Crow Were Not Real Tragedies
The website Pando Daily has some useful content. One of its writers, Gary "The War Nerd" Brecher, occasionally offers up some insightful essays on military affairs and global politics. His style is acerbic and biting. We all have an online "voice" and angle. I do not begrudge him that choice of how to present his particular "brand" to the world. However, I do find it unfortunate that his recent essay Islamic State and American Narcissism, written in response to my basic observation about white on black lynchings and ISIS, is both intellectually dishonest and a fundamental misrepresentation of the facts.
[It is also very revealing that Brecher's essay is a close copy of the objections and comments made by overt white supremacists in responses to my work.]
Becher's Islamic State and American Narcissism is not an outlier or atypical in that regard: one of the recurring traits in the responses to my viral essay on ISIS and lynchings, Bill Moyers' thoughts on the same subject, and the online comments to others who dared to talk about America's cultural habit of spectacular lynchings and white on black violence ("then" done by rope and kindling; "now" and "then" done by cops and vigilantes in the guise of neo slave patrol overseers) is a hostility to the facts.
Yet, The War Nerd's discombobulated screed does have some value.
In Yes, ISIS Burned a Man Alive: White Americans Did the Same Thing to Black People by the Many Thousands and its followup, I located White America's denial of the connections between ISIS's horrible murder of Muadh al Kasasbeh and white lynchings of thousands of African-Americans in a matrix where Whiteness functions a type of racial innocence and also conditions its "owners", through the white racial frame, to a type of experiential, epistemological, and ethical myopia.
I believe that remains true. However, in a classic "but, and..." situation, responses such as Brecher's indicate that there are other explanations for a hostility towards discussing white on black lynchings in the context of ISIS.
White Americans do not "see" people of color, and black folks especially, as full human beings. Research has shown how white people see blacks as somehow possessing superhuman and/or supernatural attributes. Social psychologists and others have also demonstrated how white folks do not feel empathy for non-whites. Moreover, neuroscientists have also discovered that many white people's brains do not fully register the presence of non-whites.
Thus, the logic of the expected and fully rational and human response to a basic claim that ISIS's deeds are horrific and those of white on black lynchers are also horrific collapses because the White Gaze "sees" Muadh al Kasasbeh as a full human being, being burned alive, with whom "we" should all empathize. By contrast, if the humanity of black people is contingent, and not fully realized by the White Gaze, then the logic is broken.
[The White Gaze modifies its optics depending on the perspective of the "viewer" and the context of the "object". Muslims are viewed as less than human and equal by the White Gaze. But, because Muadh al Kasasbeh was killed by ISIS, his status as an Other is made secondary to how ISIS is now the enemy of the moment for the West and America. Muadh al Kasasbeh's savage murder by ISIS "elevates" his humanity from being a part of some undefined Muslim or Arab Orientalist mass to that of a "full" human being.]
There are other explanations for the vitriol and denial channeled by folks such as Gary Brecher.
The murder of thousands of black people by white mob violence in the United States echoes into the present in many ways.
White material advantages and the illegal transfer of wealth from black to white America was facilitated by white racial terrorism--this is one of the cold facts and byproducts of America's lynching culture. White America is rich because black and brown America is poor.
The perpetrators and victims of white on black lynchings and other types of terrorism are also still alive. White folks may will themselves to forget that fact; black Americans can never will away the psychic violence of Whiteness, terror flows through our individual psyches and our body politic.
"Never forget" is a motto and call to arms that is not exclusive to one group.
The lynch law mentality of punishing innocent black people for crimes they did not commit still exists in post civil rights America: white people still support the unfair and disproportionate punishing of black people by the "criminal justice system". The lynch mob has become "respectable" through the use of bureaucratic procedures that do the work of institutional (and for white folks) impersonal white supremacy.
White racial paranoiac thinking is also a constant from the days of lynching by mob to the recent murder by thug cops such as he who killed Michael Brown or choked to death Eric Garner. The black people who were burned alive and viciously tortured by white mobs across the United States for more than 100 years somehow "provoked" their own murders. White mobs were doing their "Christian duty" to punish "negro fiends". Black people who are shot dead by police and white identified vigilantes must have somehow provoked their own murders too...by wearing a hooded sweatshirt, walking the street, sleeping in car, getting their wallets, reckless eyeballing, bumptious walking, being uppity, or their "big black scary selves".
I also made another error in my assumption about how white folks en masse (and some others) would respond to a discussion of America's lynching culture and ISIS. On Twitter, an insightful and observant person pointed out how reasonable human beings know that Jim and Jane Crow were human tragedies. Unfortunately, White America, and too many white Americans, are not ready to actively own and acknowledge that fact--with all of its implications.
Thus, ISIS's savagery and barbarism are horrific and tragic; American Exceptionalism, as a white supremacist project, by definition deems that Jim and Jane Crow are less horrific and tragic than ISIS's behavior...if the former are even viewed as human tragedies--as opposed to temporary "mistakes" or "bad behavior" by "Southern whites"--at all.
This is the beating heart of Gary "War Nerd" Brecher's objections in his Islamic State and American Narcissism.
On matters of the colorline and justice, Mark Twain's work resonates and enlightens. Brecher tried to channel him in his Islamic State and American Narcissism. He failed.
A more appropriate use of the great American storyteller is as follows.
From The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
“It warn’t the grounding—that didn’t keep us back but a little. We blowed out a cylinder-head.”Those who bristle or rage at those of us who dare to talk about ISIS's burning alive of human beings and America's cultural habit of doing the same to black Americans, are as Twain suggested, upset at the fact that black folks are full and equal people.
“Good gracious! anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt."
The inability to empathize with the suffering of black Americans and other people of color is also an indicator of how Whiteness and white supremacy have hurt too many white people's ability to live fully ethical and principled lives.