Thursday, July 18, 2013

Glen Ford: "White supremacy is alive and raging"

"White people don’t think they are malicious and racist; rather, they are simply defending themselves (quite reasonably, they believe) from Black evildoing. That whites perceive themselves as under collective attack is evident in the results of a Harvard and Tufts University study, which shows majorities of whites are convinced they are the primary victims of racial discrimination in America. Such mass madness is incomprehensible to sane people, but racism is a form of mental illness, in which the afflicted perceive things that are not there, and are blind to that which is right in front of their eyes.

To live under the sway of such people is a nightmare. Most of African American history has been a struggle to mollify or tame the racist beast, to find a way to coexist with white insanity, possibly to cure it, or to make ourselves powerful and independent enough that the madness cannot harm us too badly. George Zimmerman’s acquittal is so painful to Black America because it signals that our ancient enemy – white supremacy – is alive and raging, virtually impervious to any legal levers we can pull. The feeling of impotence is heightened by the growing realization that the Black president – a man who, in his noxious “Philadelphia” speech, denied that racism had ever been endemic to America – cannot and will not make anyone atone for Trayvon.

We have been in this spot before – or, rather, we have always been in this spot, but have for the last 40 years been urged to imagine that something fundamental had changed among white Americans. Trayvon smacks us awake. 
We must organize for self-defense, in every meaning of the term, and create a Black political dynamic – a Movement – that will make our enemies fear the consequences of their actions."
Read the rest of Glen Ford's article entitled "Trayvon and white madness" (Black Agenda: July 17) here.

Comment: There is a complexity in the discussion of the racial identity of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin but was found not guilty.

It is an important distinction in the manner in which race must be analyzed in the era of Obama and the accompanying assertion of post-racialness.

I don't think there are too many observers who think Zimmerman is white in the classic racial sense of being white (phenotypically).  But there are probably just as many who think the distinction unnecessary since he acts and believes like he is white (this is not merely a matter of passing for white or being a play-white).

Therein lies the rub of whiteness and an assertion I have being making here and in my academic work for at least the last decade.  The assertion is simply this:

You do not have to be white to be white.

What this means in the post-race world is that the marker of white racial identity is not only physical but that it is also ideological.  And, the latter can trump the former if the context is about defending the ideology of being white or what is commonly referred to as whiteness.

Whiteness is why Obama is an acceptable black man to most whites.  Whiteness is also why Trayvon Martin was an unacceptable black teenager to the mindset of George Zimmerman.

The rub is in the details and it requires more of a scalpel to get to what a racial moment may represent in this era of Obama.  I do not mean to say that whiteness owes its presence to the existence of Obama and his like.  What I am saying is that Obama owes his existence to whiteness but also that the flexibility of race - even what it means to be white - is not a new thing.

As an ideology with an eye on power and privilege whiteness has always had to be flexible to survive and expand its world view.  Who is white at any one time is a matter of politics and history and not a matter of racial essences (the phenotypes of blue eyes, white skin, geographical origin, etc).

For these reasons, it is totally logical that George Zimmerman appears brown Latino but lives white and even believes he is white.  What he did when he followed Trayvon Martin was in keeping with a history of slave patrols and policing undesirable (read profiling) black men.

He may not have been conscious of his actions (racism is not dependent on being conscious of racialized actions) but they were nonetheless directed by a long history of making whiteness the dominant ideology.

In effect, many white folk who see his actions as reasonable and will point out that black men are more likely to be deviant, criminal, and violent see nothing wrong in his actions.  Even the law and jury that Obama said had "spoken" could not prove that his assumption was racist.

To whiteness, black deviance is a fact that must be managed, cut in the bud, and ultimately erased.  Consequently, if black and brown people want to survive under whiteness it is probably better to defend its interests and expand its domination.

This means they have to become ideologically white - like George Zimmerman or like Obama.  At the very least they would have to accommodate whiteness and not threaten its interests or world view.

For white people who want to resist racism it is necessary to discard whiteness and, thereby, to become race traitors.  The movement betraying whiteness must be more than just modifying or reforming its excesses.

In the final analysis it does not matter how you look - it is what you believe that counts.

Or to quote my landlady Nancy from my dissertation writing days in Baltimore: "If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."


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