Moral force against symbols of white supremacy: solidarity means sharing risk

At the heart of white supremacy is the request to those who get white skin privilege to take care of their own. White supremacy means that white people explicitly or implicitly give jobs, representations (front stage in advertising, leading roles in televisions shows) and foreground the needs and stories of white people. White supremacy is insidious because it is the water we drink every day in the United States and the casual continued comfort with the symbols of white supremacy (including the stars and bars) is evidence of how deeply twisted white supremacy is with american culture.

In 2015 Bree Newsome took down the confederate flag that flew in front of South Carolina’s statehouse. Here is the Vox footage from that direct action.

This is a really interesting case study for several reasons.

  1. Newsome’s use of biblical and constitutional rhetoric present a uniquely american rhetorical location for Black amercians – faith in God and indignant appeal to promised democracatic structures for equality (civil rights). Given the central location of separation of church and state in the first amendment, the combination of biblical scripture and civil rights might seem in tension. But Black churches have been central places for spiritual respite, cultural survival and political resistance in this nation. Which is why they have historically been targeted for violence. Newsome is climbing in the shadow of the Charleston South Carolina massacre in the The Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church where an avowed white supremacist murdered nine worshipers including the pastor and state senator Clemanta Pickney. Newsome puts the pieces together about historical violence and the context of the action in the Democracy Now interview:

2. I was at a lecture this month where the presenter noted this as a good example of white work for racial solidarity. James Tyson climbed the fence with Newsome and helped out with the action. The presenter called this collaborators, arguing that anti-racist work needed more white people interested in collaborating to make changes for racial justice. Others like Noel Ignatiev have noted that solidarity to fight racism means sharing risk and there are ways that this can be done performatively. Thinking, talking and strategizing about how to be productive and ethical allies to people of color means consideration. James Tyson shared in the risk (both got arrested), used his privilege (he argues with the police officers that Newsome should be allowed to come down the flagpole on her own for safety – he notes that “They had enough respect to allow me to help her.” in the Democracy Now interview).

3. The moral authority to remove the symbol of the confederate flag in this case is the justification for civil disobedience and direct action. Newsome is excellent on this point:

Thinking about changing white supremacy means all of the tools in the tool box. The cultural awareness, education, political action, stunts, celebrity endorsements and militant actions will be necessary. This long-standing constellation of white supremacist narratives that have sustained inequality and injustice as normal by stretching and re-articulating violence as community care for people who are like you. To move away from that requires mental and political work. Taking note of the keystones and approaches that can inform the work to come is useful.

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Filed under colonialism, communication, human rights, police, protest, race, representation, resistance, rhetoric, slavery, vulnerability

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