The struggle for social justice is an all-tilt fight that most people don’t get a choice about. If you do get the privilege to reflect on where you fight, then ethically I think you should double down on your work.
Breai Mason-Campbell outlines the particular tensions with whiteness and the risks that encountering the pain of Coronavirus might encourage some white folks to tighten up and cling to white supremacy even more. The whole essay, published in a new magazine Pipewrench, is a potent read and a compass to guide us through the dark.
“Devoid of the necessary layers of sturdiness and resilience, Nice White Folks were not prepared for a pandemic that required universal suffering under the weight of compounded and inescapable realities. This was a foray into unknown pain where White Supremacy, clad in a MAGA hat, revealed its capacity to make pawns out of its own members. This was unadulterated Whiteness, feudal and indiscriminate in its destructive impulse and maskless irreverence. Being the teacher, and the nurse, and the custodian, and the cafeteria manager, and the boss or the employee, and the significant other, and the caretaker of older parents, bound to keep smiling and keep working because your life or someone else’s depends on it — it hurt in a way that Whiteness is not supposed to hurt. It broke the rules.
It also created an opportunity for real change. This pandemic squeezed empathy from a stone by thrusting White people into the uncharted territory of unmerited adversity; plagues, as the Hebrew Bible teaches us, open small windows of opportunity for liberation. Still, even after the worst pestilence temporarily broke Pharaoh’s resolve, abuse of power would not learn. His grief turned to blind rage and a renewed commitment to destruction and domination at any cost. White Power may be down, but it’s not out. “
Hearing the verdict doesn’t change the necessity for change and one white police officer having a moment of accountability doesn’t change the larger stakes and the necessary work.
On January 6, supporters of the sitting president of the United States attacked the United States capitol and rioted inside the building. The stories, images and fallout are all visible and well documented. Here is how I understand that we got here:
In the 80s, republican operatives, mapping demographic changes and voting assumptions began to see rising numbers of people of color as a threat to the electoral power that they had held. Billionare conservatives started funding very specific media sources (Breitbart, Fox News, Daily Caller) to make money from a new market – white people who could be made angry about changes for justice in order to create an enthusastic white supremacist voting block to keep republicans in power.
In their mind, there were just a few short decades to go until the showdown, so they strategized in a couple of very focused ways to ensure that conservative business leaders could resist.
They funded, fostered, nurtured white anger against people of color at every opportunity. Using the axis of race, right wing journalists could re-articulate crushing poverty as the fault of the gains of people of color. It was the Southern Strategy on steroids.
They invested heavily in controlling the courts. Federalist society, nurturing young conservatives, scholarships, mentorship, and guidance to create targeted young right wing ideologues ready to carry the white supremacist mission long after they are dead.
They worked hard to win state legislatures, and use gerrymandering to minimize the power of voters that didn’t vote republican.
They succeeded in establishing a relationships to politicize videogame players and an emerging online troll culture to embrace the symbols of white supremacy with ease and comfort.
They absorbed / hijacked the Republican party in the 2010s and reassured the traditional elements of that coalition that the gains in power would be worth the harm to the nation. Corporate donors, philanthropists, government agencies, and many others became complicit in a full-fledged white supremacist government structure working under the Trump administration to do active harm to people of color at almost every turn.
Here is where we often get it twisted. The justifications and explanations for each of these activist strategies are fairly well documented. The key question is how do a small number of very privileged republican organizers spin this strategy? What do they specifically say and to who – these questions can be part of the educational work to innoculate future fascist moments. In this case, the narrative of white supremacy was the only communiciation strong enough to push working class white people to harm people of color and it was buoyed by hatred of women and an anger at lack of white solidarity.
There are a lot of issues of accountability that will be navigated in the next few weeks. Criminal charges for those who killed a cop, resignations from those leaders who are identifed as responsible (or those who are scapegoated). And this rupture will open the space for new policies that will often have profoundly negative implications for people of color, poor people, women and disadvantaged folks (increased surveillance, new anti-terrorism laws, policing in communities of color etc). To rush into policy-making without reflection is a terrible path forward.
We should take stock of the recuperation efforts. Examine those who played a role, or had been connected to the violence and some-how are attempting to detatch themselves. We should be asking how the invitation was framed such that it made sense to so many people. But finding access points is important.
My first off note about this was Strava – the bike riding app told me that it didn’t support the insurrection against the US government and weren’t cop killers in an announcement at the top of the app. Well yeah . . . you are supposed to be an app that tracks my cycling miles, I hadn’t honestly assumed that you were in favor of a violent overthrow of the government by Nazis and their allies.
“What we saw in the US Capitol this week was the antithesis of what Strava stands for,” the letter read. “It was internal terrorism and we denounced it. Whatever the limits or flaws our democracy may have, we believe that we must protect it. ”
“This is not about politics. These are fundamental principles in which we deeply believe: treat ALL people with decency, respect and fairness ”. says the letter. “When you joined Strava, you joined a global community of athletes who are in line with our community standards: respect each other, respect the rules, and be inclusive and anti-racist.” (Sidenote: it looks like Strava disappeared this note almost as soon as it was made. The only reference I can find to this quote is from a weird fitness webpage that is giving me fascist vibes . . .)
We can probably distinguish those corporations who took a serious loss from their de-platforming of Donald Trump from those who chose the moment to try to forward their brand. In this case, we are talking about a corporation that commented on the attacks either for their own gain or to protect themselves from public relations losses.
Axe Body Spray for instance.
Axe Body spray is the worst. Not only in aroma, but in the toxic sexist rape culture advertising that has been marked, mocked and mapped. I’m not surprised that Axe body spray had to respond – they must know that the bogus entitlement to sex because you sprayed yourself down with duck urine is tied to the entitlement of those who tried to murder Nancy Pelosi.
“We’d rather be lonely” is the most minimizing and trivializing read on the events of January 6. To understand that Axe would go without their body spray rather than be affiliated with the murderous nazis and that they still have time to indicate that it would make them lonely is grotesque. They still want you to know that if you don’t wear Axe Body Spray you won’t get laid . . . Axe sells entitlement and in this case, a multinational corporation’s PR team put it clearly that this one was too far (but all the other normal entitled crap will continue).
I think that whoever run’s Axe’s twitter handle might not get the depth of this moment. But then again neither did the men who came to DC to murder uppity women. For instance Cleveland Grover Meredith Jr. The investigating report indicates that he voluntarily showed Federal agents text messages planning to kill Speaker Pelosi.
Misogynistic slurs have been uncovered and amplified in the quotes of those who drove to the capital heavily armed with a desire to do harm. The centrality of violence against women is really tied to the logic of the transgression of violating the capitol. The goal was similar to the early 1900s strategies of faux-assasination communications attentat – to illustrate the potential for somene to be harmed. To illustrate that a president or a king can be reached and to strike fear.
We could also examine this from the perspective of the domestic violence literature. Understanding the power and control wheel and the transgression of safe spaces to induce terror. Abusers will communicate in many small ways that the abused is not safe – including by invading previously safe space to communicate disempowerment.
There was no way to understand the photos of the dude with his feet up on the desk outside Speaker Pelosi’s office and his initial encounters with the press documenting his take on the event. Barnett is his name and we can match the entitlement and joy in transgressing with is deep hatred of a powerful woman.
Donald Trump has articulated the hurt done to white men in several divisive ways, but the deeply sexist and racist framings he has presented seem to have tracked well with the people who showed up to do harm on January 6.
Challenging white supremacy means contesting the common-sense nature of the dialogue. Fragmented social media (where people can bury themselves in media which affirms their point of view) has reached a point of insulation – where it can protect harmful ideas from critique. This means that unpacking white supremacist (ill)logic means navigating the ways that sexism and racism co-create this moment of deep entitlement and violence.
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.
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.
What does it look like when white people defect from the traditions of white supremacy? It probably looks (and sounds) like South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house.
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