Monday, November 30, 2015

The Banality of White Supremacy During "Black Friday" in Chicago

American society is structured around the maintenance of white privilege (unearned advantages for those identified as "white") and white supremacy (the dominance of whites as a group over non-whites in all significant areas of political, economic, and social life). These are systems of hegemonic power that are legitimated, circulated, protected, and reinforced by the country's dominant social institutions. Individuals, both white and non-white, internalize white supremacy and its accompanying "racial logic".

Although some sad and confused souls would like to believe that there is a "conspiracy" of white supremacy against black and brown people, one where white people are "dedicated" to "destroying" and "oppressing" non-whites, the reality is far more simple...and I dare suggest more troubling.

Racism is one of the founding ideologies of the United States, as well as the West, more broadly. It is also a quotidian affair, something day-to-day, that many white people (and unfortunately too many people of color too) reproduce on a conscious and subconscious level.

Over the weekend, Black Lives Matter and other human rights protesters marched across downtown Chicago in protest of the vicious killing of Laquan McDonald by a thug Chicago cop. Black Lives Matter and its allies took advantage of the opportune timing afforded by "Black Friday" and its gross excesses to participate in a type of political consumerism (here: the goal was to disrupt shopping, as opposed to boycotting or making targeted purchases, in order to call attention to the value of human life in age of terror, cruelty, and police violence).

The Chicago Tribune documented the protests and interviewed several people, who, with the exception of one, were none too pleased that their Black Friday plans were interfered with.

It would seem that black and brown people's human rights are secondary to the freedom of white folks to go shopping:
"I'm an American!" hollered a woman in a red raincoat as she made a doomed attempt to force her way through the scrum of protesters. "I just want to get in the store. ... I just want to shop!" 
A phalanx of Apple employees looked out on the chaos from the warmth of the store. A handful of customers jabbed fingers at iPads, seemingly oblivious...But like many shoppers inconvenienced by the protest, the seething woman outside the Apple store struggled to understand what McDonald's death and the 13-month delay to bring charges against the officer had to do with her. Like most of the aggrieved, she refused to give her full name, saying she lived downtown and identifying herself only as Marcia, 60.
She nodded as her companion, Jay Krishnamurthy, 54, said, "the whole South Side is on fire. Why don't they tackle the violence in their own communities?" She nodded again when he said of McDonald's killing, "Mistakes do happen."
Here, the white racial frame deems Black Lives Matters protesters stupid and ignorant:
And at Zara, a Schaumburg man who gave his name only as Scott, 31, violently burst through the line and then through a revolving door like a running back looking to make a first down. 
"I'm looking for a sports jacket," he said as he got his breath back. "Compared to what's happening in Syria, what's happening here is nothing much. 
"The only thing new is that there's a video of this shooting," Scott said. "It's been going on forever. None of these people could even tell you why they're protesting."
This affluent older white man is extremely conservative and likely a Right-wing authoritarian:
Others took a more draconian line. Vince Tribo, 84, was out shopping for underwear. He said he lived in Flossmoor but also keeps a downtown condo, and that he "doesn't really believe in protesting." 
"I grew up in Italy under Mussolini — I wasn't brought up with all this," he confided with a smile, gesturing to the crowd, which was chanting that McDonald had been shot 16 times. "There was more discipline and law and order. 
"My mother always said that before Mussolini came to power it was lawless," he added, before gesturing to the crowd again and adding, "it was like this." 
White supremacy is a habit, lifestyle, and worldview. It is not isolated to caricatures of Kluxers or skinheads. Of course, such people are very dangerous. But, white supremacy and systems of white privilege are not exclusively (or even predominately) maintained by violent white supremacist outliers. No, those power relationships are supported and legitimated by "nice" white people who are just indifferent, hostile to, and/or threatened by the notion that the lives of non-whites are of equal value to theirs.

White supremacy is an ugly thing. But as the Tribune's piece on the Black Lives Matter Thanksgiving weekend protests shows, white supremacy is perhaps most disturbing precisely because of its utter banality.

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