Friday, April 24, 2015

'They Live' and Opening the Eyes of Average White Folks to the Harm Done to Them by Whiteness

I am going to be at C2E2 this weekend. I will be sharing some pictures as I did last year. If I am lucky, I will be able to get some interviews as well.

I have a new piece over at Alternet on the con game that white elites have been running on the white working class and poor through the invention of the socially constructed--yet very real--identity known as "Whiteness". It is pretty long--more than 3,000 words--but I tried to offer up something that brings together some good scholarship in an accessible albeit synthetic way.

Do check it out, share, and the like if you could.

I think I did something good with The Murderous Scam White Elites Have Perpetrated on Blacks and Whites for at Least 4 Centuries.

Plus, I have the personal satisfaction of mentioning the indispensable auteur b-movie classic They Live in an essay on the colorline, truth-seeking, and politics. I count that as a double win.

Before I attend to nerdly and ghetto nerd related matters, I would like to share the following two videos.

The first is John Bracey's "The Cost of Racism to White People". It is one of the best and most direct explanations of how Whiteness hurts the average white person that I have ever seen. Bracey's lecture is essential viewing on the topic.

The second is Jonathan Lethem's deconstruction of the movie They Live. He is an amazing writer and thinker. Lethem shows his work and why he is one of the best in the game in that video and the book that he authored about the film.

Some questions for the day and weekend.

Do you think Whiteness has the same political, social, and economic currency in the United States than it did some years ago?

What movies have you seen that opened your mind to a broader world, that "red pill" moment that changed things for the better or worse?


Tony from Australia said...

Slavoj Zizek has a detailed comment on "They Live" as follows:

Black Romulan said...

"They Live" was a supremely underappreciated John Carpenter film. I'm glad to see more social scientists as yourself, CDV, using it to draw modern parallels.

To answer the weekend's questions, "The Matrix" (or more specifically the analysis, "Philosophy and the Matrix - Return to the Source" ( really opened my eyes to the broader world of critical race theory (as presumably discussed by Cornell West). I haven't been able to see white supremacy in quite the same way since I heard the analysis of The Matrix as being white privilege. I find it cute how (almost) all the "bad" programs in Matrix (Agent Smith, The Merovingian, The Architect, etc.) were all white, and most all the free, "naturally born" humans of Zion and the "good" programs (The Keymaker, The Oracle, Seraph, etc.) were people of color.

I do think, however, that whiteness still holds the same political currency as it did a few years ago BOBP ("before Obama became president"); there is now an official political party dedicated to keeping that capital valuable well past its due date. At least BOBP that party tried harder to pretend they were more inclusive; the cow has left the barn on that ruse at this point. Economically, certainly whiteness holds even MORE capital than it did BOBP; the statistics are quite clear on that point.

Socially speaking, I don't know. We are having that grand "conversation on race" we've been spoiling for, but one group is definitely more able to cloister away in gated communities, self-segregated circles and personal echo chambers than most others, and such makes it harder to bring about that normative change you would expect from this kind of mass social pressure. That alone says the social capital aspect is still pretty strong on the supremacists' side.

But all that is just one Rommie's opinion.

SW said...

Having just finished Kovel's White Racism, I'm inclined to believe that Whiteness is more potent than ever. His theory regarding metaracism is like Whiteness on autopilot. Older forms of racism have created a self-fulfilling economic, political, and societal system that is essentially Whiteness on auto-pilot. This system that perpetually upholds White culture can be "objectively" run by "non-racist" individuals. I.e., I'm not racist, I'm just seeking a 30% return on my equity investment. Or the non-racist hiring manager at Google who is in good faith hiring qualified applicants that necessarily excludes black people who don't have access to technology right out of the womb, nor access to high-tech educations to even be in consideration for the job.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

I do think whiteness has the same value associated with it as it has since its inception. Imagine the types of microaggressions white people are willing to use around people of color. White people in all-white company really let their hair down.

I read your piece at Alternet yesterday. It's really great. I would only like to add that in the post-bellum Reconstruction period, the entire American society was dedicated to removal, containment, annihilation, and ultimately assimilation of the entire Plains, West Coast, and Rocky Mountain Indians based on White Supremacy. Of course this was only an extension of the entire policy toward people of color everywhere and has a much longer legacy than the post-bellum period.

But in our eyes as we look back and see the many successes of the Reconstruction era, we want to say, "Freedom was possible." However, freedom never could be possible as long as the prevailing belief was either become like whites, which is virtually impossible for black people, or be sacrificed for the benefit of White Civilization (TM).

These policies are still in effect of course. If only the behavior of (insert marginalized group here) was better, then we wouldn't have to hold stereotypes, fear them, exclude them, kill them.

Scopedog said...

THEY LIVE is proof of Carpenter's genius. Of course, it was only years after the film's initial release that people really began to see what it was and why it was a superior movie. As a critique of the Reagan Era, it is the best.

(Plus you can't top that fight betwen Roddy Piper and Keith David!)

Science fiction has long been the genre where issues about race, class and other social concerns can be discussed (see THE TWILIGHT ZONE and the various incarnations of STAR TREK--yes, even the JJ Abrams' films). Granted, it's not all SF--but good on you for including the MATRIX films. The second and third do have flaws, but re-watching them has made me appreciate the scope of what the Wachowskis were doing.

Scopedog said...

Have a safe and fun time at C2E2, Chauncey. Looking forward to reading your report on it.

Gable1111 said...

Though it never went away, there was a period right after the civil rights movement and up until the mid 80s where it just wasn't socially "cool" to revel in it. Today it's comeback with a vengeance and appears to be "all the rage" with a certain set.

Racist acts are treated like car wrecks by the media, not to be factually explained nor really condemned, just presented for voyeurs for ratings. And actually, its even more potent than ever, what with new ways for bigots to project their nonsense on to their victims. White racism now casts itself as the "victim."

For many, whiteness is like a drug. Many who enjoy its affects understand the harm due to the hypocrisy of it, and yet,just like with many drugs, they're addicted and can't stop. Also, just like with addicts, its going to take either a revelation or an intervention.

lkeke35 said...

I found it much more informative to watch the Matrix movies while listening to the philosopher's commentary.

lkeke35 said...

Idk, I think we would be seeing it but in a different form.

As to the idea of mainlining their racism, excellent analogy.

joe manning said...

Movie exposes of racism provide sensitivity training for the mass audience. I recommend Nothing But a Man, Pinky, Black Like Me, The Human Stain, Jango Unchained, and 12 Years a Slave. Birth of a Nation and Gone With the Wind are "must see" period pieces of content that is blatantly racist and white supremacist.

Slavery is worse than Jim Crow, is worse than colorblind racism, but all the other components of institutionalized hate are operating full tilt making for an unprecedented epoch of collective endangerment.

chauncey devega said...

Blue Collar is an under appreciated Richard Pryor gem too that is essential viewing. End of Watch, which is a recent movie, is also damn problematic and insightful for its depiction of black people. It is on my list of movies to write about for a fingers--crossed--book project after this long gestating other one is done.

joe manning said...

And Blazing Saddles.

rikyrah said...

Do you think Whiteness has the same political, social, and economic currency in the United States than it did some years ago?

No. The election of Barack Obama has shattered so much for those whose bottom line was,

" At least I'm not a Nigger."

There are huge swaths of people, those that routinely vote against their own financial interests, for whom this mantra was all they needed.

OldPolarBear said...

I finally had time this afternoon to click over and read the Alternet essay. It is excellent, as all your work is, but really very fine and I shared it on Facebook. For some of my 30-odd FB friends it will be preaching to the choir and some might just get mad about it but I hope it might to a little good.

You may have heard of it already and it maybe is not even that original, but I came across the essay Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party on a blog called The Weekly Sift. He compares the Civil War to the Iraq War, saying it didn't really end in 1865, but went into a new, insurgent phase until the North basically gave up in 1877 and ended Reconstruction and withdrew the troops. In other words, the South actually won, or at the very least, they have kept the war going until the present day.

I didn't always "get" the concept of white privilege of course and I don't know when it really sank in but it has been quite a few years now. I wish I could think of some film that made a difference, but I'm not coming up with much, which is funny, because I watch so many! I do remember seeing Watermelon Man way back and it made an impression. I also saw Black Like Me, probably on a late-night TV slot. We had a paperback copy of the book. We had tons of books and my parents were pretty relaxed about letting me read any of them I wanted; they didn't censor much. But my mom didn't really want me to read Black Like Me, for some reason. Not because of racism; they spoke out quite often and forcefully against discrimination. She had read it and most everyone else in the family and they were sympathetic to the message. Maybe because there was some sexual stuff in there? I don't know.

I'm afraid white privilege is still pretty stubbornly stuck. I don't feel any lessening of having it. I am fascinated by the ideas in Race Traitor magazine, and I would like to be a traitor to the White Race, but haven't really figured out how to go about doing it. I came of age in the 70s, having been a freshman in high school in the fall of 1970. That decade is widely mocked for being silly, and there certainly were some things about it aesthetically and stylistically that might deserve mockery, but there was a lot of other stuff, too. It really did seem sometimes like race relations were getting better. I'm not going to say we were a better nation in the 70s, but I do think that we were sort of trying to be. Reagan slammed the door on all that and so much else.

seeknsanity said...

That was an excellent article over at Alternet. To answer whether I think "they" realize then harm they've causes to themselves by upholding the social structure that have kept them slightly elevated, I think some do. And this is what scares and angers many of them now. THIS, wasn't supposed to happen to them. Hadn't they signed on so that this very thing, and by this I mean the increasing income inequality, the loss of jobs, the overwhelming police or state presence, would only be relegated to those "deserving" of that sort of lack of dignity. Or as one poster put it, lack of respect.

I certainly think being a middle to poor white American no longer carries as much weight as it used to. But, only in so far as the elite, that run the world, currently have their eyes on bigger goals, maintaining world domination which is under threat more than ever now. They are a little distracted right now, and can only do the very least to keep divide and rule in place. One of which is to move the only government jobs they are wiling to finance, arms and security, to areas where they can reach as many of the sentinels as possible.

They needn't worry though, the structure is still in place. With a little attention and a few "donations" the curtains close and America can go back to be the place they believe it was before, but never was for many.

Myshkin the Idiot said...

Not a tea party a confederate party sounds perfect. Ill have to check it out. That the Confederate States win in 1877 is something I have said and im sure I read it somewhere else before. I got laughed at by a bunch of conservatives for bringing that up, but they're so so dumb.

Of course the insurgency has been ended, but the colorblind era has ushered in individuals who wish to play out their race fantasies to police departments, political office and other positions if power. I'm concerned about the public schools.

Kameshwari Kate said...

In 1972, I attended a UW-Milwaukee film class screening of Birth of a Nation. Although I cannot remember what it was that made me laugh, there was a moment my white ass laughed. People around me, including non-white students, looked at me with glaring and non approving stares. At that moment, I got it that there was something hideously flawed in my views. It was a profound sinking moment, which I can feel in every cell of my body, even as I write this. I realize that this is not the type of answer you are seeking. The next "red pill" moment came when I saw the movie or mini-series of Shogun.
I appreciate the essays, discussions and comments here at WARN.

Dan Kasteray said...

They live introduced me to left wing thought and as silly as it sounds, the matrix and Pocahontas introduced me to the idea of racism and prejudice.

Definitely have to say they live is my favorite john carpenter work. Movies like that are what starts the small conversation about race and power. And you can't have a grand conversation without a series of small ones spreading

Gregory Peterson said...

I've long been interested in the religious justifications used in constructing whiteness, many of which seem familiar in the more recent construction of heterosexualness, to not coin a word.