Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Reminder that Whiteness is Not Benign: Of Warnings About White, Middle Class Domestic Terrorists in the U.S. and the Norway Massacre

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly cautioned that Right-wing Conservative extremists would be among the groups most likely to commit an act of mass violence in the United States. Their most recent warnings have come in the form of a training tape which is part of the "See Something, Say Something" program.

This production has garnered much attention as Conservatives are appalled at its seeming suggestion that the person most likely to conduct an act of domestic terrorism in the United States would be a middle class white person. In an eerie coincidence, days after the release of the video a white man in Norway committed an act of Right-wing, Christian Nationalist inspired domestic terrorism that killed 76 people. What was an apparent validation of the DHS's prophetic warnings.

Each time I sat down to write something about the Norway Massacre and the DHS report, another American right-wing bloviator would produce a stupifying mouth utterance regarding the tragedy in Norway that would give me a moment of head-shaking pause. When they keep piling on, it is hard to produce something timely, as the target keeps on moving.

I routinely listen to Right-wing talk radio in order to gather intelligence on the opposition. And as expected, their commentary on the Norway Massacre has followed a predictable script in which the responses by Beck, Levin, Savage, Cunningham, et al. are, as always, no less detached from reality. In their land of make believe, Anders Behring was a liberal, he was not a Christian, and any effort to link him to the faith is an intentional smear of the Judeo-Christian community. And funny if it were not so tragic, the Right-wing deploys the same arguments used by liberal critics of profiling in the case of racial minorities, to defend themselves against such an "injustice."

And of course, Rush Limbaugh is doing a dance where he connects all evil in the world, here being the soul searching that Norwegians are doing in the aftermath of the Anders Behrings' murder spree, to President Obama because he is "an enabler" of terrorism and an "America hater."

The reaction to the Department of Homeland Security's warnings about Right-wing violence and the "See Something, Say Something" program is powerful not because of the obvious: Given the seditious political atmosphere ginned up by the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama would such worries about domestic terrorism really be that unexpected or surprising?

Rather, the response by the New Right to the Department of Homeland Security's initiatives is a damning reveal of the myopia of Whiteness and the degree that in the American political and social context, the two can be separated from one another.

If the very same warnings had been issued about Muslim Americans, a member of a different racial minority group, or even "liberals," the Right would have jumped to defend the report as necessary and to be heeded in a time of terror. There would hearings on the matter.

Following the logic of the Right-wing playbook, only traitors would boo hoo about racial profiling and the trampling of their Constitutional rights. If you have nothing to hide why be so fearful?

The Right's reaction to the DHS and the Norway Massacre speak to an additional pathology of Whiteness. The shock and awe by racism deniers and white victimologists, that a white person, a white middle class man especially, would ever be a priori suspect of a crime is a mirror for the gross narcissism of the White Soul. Whiteness never imagines itself as anything other than benign, kind, non-threatening, wholesome, and good. Criminals and terrorists are "those people." Whiteness sees itself as perennially decent, moral, and just.

By definition, Whiteness can never be the stuff of terrorism, threat, or violence.

As Toni Morrison so sharply argues in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination, Whiteness and White people have been sources of terror for black and brown people, both here and around the world.

For many, the White Man is a frightening thing; he is to be run from; he brings death and destruction; the bogeyman is not some amorphous figure, historically he was a white man brandishing a gun or whip, wearing the colors of Imperial Power, the hood of the Grand Cyclops, or donning a business suit and carrying an ID for the World Bank. The White Man's Burden was never benign...regardless of how it was framed and mythologized.

Moreover, in the American experience it is verboten and anathema to call attention to the fact that the largest terrorist group in the history of the United States was the Ku Klux Klan, a civil society organization that killed thousands of African Americans and others in its one hundred plus year reign of terror. It is equally inconvenient to call to light that white people have systematically terrorized people of color (the genocide against our indigenous brothers and sisters; the slaveocracy; Jim and Jane Crow; racial pogroms in cities such as Tulsa and East St. Louis) in the pursuit of the psychological and material wages of Whiteness, and that the Racial State's reign of terror was a central feature of American democracy, and not an aberration from it.

Whiteness finds this hard if not impossible to process. Many white folks, however benign or good or otherwise socially progressive, often have a hard time accepting that White people are perceived as dangerous by many of their fellow Americans. Liberals and others may respond to such realities with cultivated guilt and shame; Conservatives respond with rage, pleading feigned victimhood, and denial.

In these matters, I am left grappling with a set of meta level questions.

Although they are an ocean apart, are the white terrorists, the McVeighs, the Tides shooter, the Hutaree militia, the Birther Tea Party 9/12 party political thugs and seditionists, part of the same collective political subconscious, an outgrowth of the same ether and spirit of an age? Is the right-wing echo chamber in the United States, with its eliminationist "commonsense" notions that liberals are a disease to be destroyed, a cousin to the echoes and chorus which fueled the Norway Massacre?

Ultimately, are Anders Behring and the white middle class domestic terrorists that the Department of Homeland Security has warned the American people about a function of the same pathological Whiteness?


DebC said...

CD...been lurking at WARN for quite some time now, but your questions at the end of this post, drew me to comment.

It seems to me, you've ended with questions to which you already have answers, but anyway - I register an unequivocal, "Of course they are!"(but you knew that already, didn't you?)

I've learned, given the "Divine Right" beliefs (to own other people!) to which colonialists from around the world subscribed (and which still prevail in word and deed) - it's hard bein' a "nigger" (Sand, American, Afro-Cuban/Venezuelan/Caribbean, Haitian, or any number of descendants from the "Dark Continent," take your pick) ALL OVER!

And as Juan Cole said, a couple of posts before the one to which you linked, "As anyone who studies the Old South in the US will tell you, turning some people into exemplars of the N-word requires that you punish in various ways the N-lovers."

That's what happened in Norway - learned at the knee of the European colonizers from various "crowns," who "needed a nigger" (as Baldwin said) - of any stripe - to make themselves feel superior. And after all, those from the "right-wing echo chamber in the United States" to which you refer, are merely "Bastards of the Party," engulfed in "the same pathologicial whiteness" of their European forefathers, all the while pretending that they're free from that which made them in the first place - only to replicate their ways in this, "New World."

For the most part, nothing's changed, it's just recycled (with "Divine Right" always, and forever in the forefront of the mix.)

Plane Ideas said...


carole said...

Well said! I'm part Native American, so I can completely relate to your post. My grandmother was forced to live in a boarding school, hundreds of miles from her home so she could be "civilized." That this is still going on TODAY for all people of color makes me disgusted with this country.

aham said...

I will give a qualified yes with what follows:

A few quotes in particular stand out:

From the Norwegian journalist:
"All terror acts in Norway have been right wing",

"What I'm worried about with this is that it will inspire others to do this all over Europe and America"

From the Brit:
The key thing which is masked in all of the so called Economic repercussions of immigration is a need to "Respond to [European] 'cultural' concerns".
-A.k.a. (My commentary) How can we make white people comfortable with brown people sharing there vote and other benefits of 'belonging' to a society.

This last one is what I want to briefly state on:

Listen, even as a Muslim American, I think it deserves some serious thought: I don't care if white people think I don't belong, or that my values are inherently toxic. I believe we can share the same polis without liking each other or agreeing.

HOWEVER, we do need to talk, and the 'cultural' anxiety needs vent -in an honest direct fashion-, because if it is repressed, it will war into something as ugly as what's been seen in Norway. This is just psychoanalytic theory: The more someone attempts to repress, the more that which is repressed begins to define that person. In defining oneself as what he/she is not, one forget who he/she is.

I think that is one of the reason why the right is so stupifyingly blind so much of the time. The way discourse is defined leaves NO END EVER. These people would be nothing if they didn't have Muslims and Brown people to hate.....


Tom said...

I'm hoping more liberals can absorb the message--that there is a serious conflict, and which side of the conflict we're on.

chaunceydevega said...

Deb--Thanks for commenting. Speak up more, your words are welcome and wanted. But you confuse me, I am having a cognitive break of sorts, do you mean that the White Man's Burden isn't real! You got me shook girl.

Thrasher--So efficient. You ain't playing today are you?

Carole. As you know, check out the history of Dartmouth for example.

Observer Admin. I do think we need to talk about culture, immigration, assimilation, and national identity. This is a fight the Left and moderates have conceded to the Right and are thus way behind on. Always surrendering on this point. But again, I am one of those nationalists who is a bit old school in a lot of ways and am thus quick to express anxiety about a country's national character, institutions, and values when pluralism has it has in several European countries.

Tom--What side would that be?

Tom said...


My fantasy is that liberals will someday actively oppose the far right.

DebC said...

No problem CD, I will (be careful what you ask for!)

" you mean that the White Man's Burden isn't real!"

I hope you were being facetious there! But in the event you weren't - I'll just let the "The Black Man's Burden" - answer that! :-)

Carole...per Mr. James Baldwin (and I concur) - "I have said that the Civilized have never been able to honor, recognize, or describe the Savage. Once they had decided that he was savage, there was nothing to honor, recognize or describe."

The story of Dartmouth (to which CD alluded), along with your grandmother's boarding school - was classic, "Civilized/White Man's Burden" behavior (probably why there still aren't a whole lot of Native Americans making up the student population), despite "The Recommitment"{SMDH}

I tell you! Wrapping one's brain around the pervasively remaining "ties that bind" the Eurocentric mind is tiring - but necessary because, as ObserverAdmin has succinctly put it: "...we do need to talk.." - but in clarity.

I don't know CD, I guess because I've come to the realization that the only "sides" in this country are the "Civilized" and the "Savages," I always expect those things you mentioned to be "surrendered" - either in the daylight (by the "Right"), or in the dark (by the "Left"). Short of OD's, "'cultural' anxiety needs vent - in an honest direct fashion", or escape(!), anxiety seems appropriate.

Tom said...

I don't have any doubt that the Norway massacre was whiteness trying to preserve itself. Anders Behring Breitvik is similar to slavery supporters in Kansas in the 1850s. I imagine he'd make the comparison himself.

My point about liberals is that maybe being killed ourselves might help us to get involved. Against the neo-nazi types who are killing us, was my idea.