White People: If you aren’t actively anti-racism, you are pro-racism

October 23, 2019

One of my weirdest media moments was one of my live CNN interviews. It was August 12, 2017 after the mayhem of the alt right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia that left one anti-racist activist dead. President Trump had said there were “fine people on both sides of the conflict,” equating the Neo-Nazis, who had organized the “Unite the Right” rally, with the counter protestors. I was brought on to do the usual “state of hate” analysis. I must have been too concise in my answers, leaving space in the interview. There was a pause and host Ana Cabrera then asked, “Dr. Blazak, so if you were President Trump’s speech writer today, what would be the very first line, the first words out of the president’s mouth regarding the situation in Charlottesville if you were to advise that?”

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My friends watching said I looked like I wanted to laugh out loud at the thought of being cast as Trump’s speech writer. I didn’t say what I wanted to say. I squelched the devil on my shoulder and decided to remain the professional academic. I replied:

I think it’s acknowledging the importance of diversity in this country, the fact that we are stronger together. And then we do want to come together, it’s going to take people acknowledging the history of oppression and racism that we have before we even take the next step. Sort of acknowledging that truth is key to the whole thing.

Here’s what I should have said:

Donald Trump is an idiot. At least on the issue of race, he’s a complete idiot. Not only does he not understand the very basic elements of race relations in America, he has shown no intellectual interest in understanding them. He’s not the president of all Americans, just of the ones who think like him.

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This matter resurfaces on a regular basis. From his regular proclamation that he’s the “least racist person there is,” (the least racist person would never say that) to this week’s proclamation that the ongoing impeachment inquiry is the equivalent of a “lynching.” This guy is clueless and hasn’t learned anything while being “our” president.

But this isn’t about Trump. It’s all about the white people like him who don’t understand how racism works. They think that being a racist is joining the Klan and burning crosses. They don’t understand the insidious persistence of racism in our institutions and in our psyches in the form of implicit bias. Racists are bad people so how can they be racists? They’re good!

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Sevier County Commission member Warren Hurst (an old white guy in Tennessee) is a perfect of example. At a public meeting this week, after complaining that there was a “queer” running for president, said, “I’m not prejudiced, a white male in this country has very few rights and they’re getting took more every day,” and then a bunch of other white people applauded.

This also isn’t about being “racist.” I would argue everyone is racist to some degree. We’ve all internalized ugly messages about white supremacy. Whether it’s white ladies clutching their purse when they see a black man, or black people placing a greater value on lighter skin, racism is the fabric of our lives. It’s there in Muslim bans, the gentrification of black and brown neighborhoods, police profiling, and the daily micro-aggressions that white people dismiss as “not meaning anything.” Racism wasn’t erased by the end of the Civil War, the civil rights movement, the election of a black president, or white kids listening to Travis Scott. This is about what you’re doing about that racism.

I never say I’m not a racist. I’ve internalized white supremacist values since my childhood, but I’m working hard to purge them. I’m getting better at identifying my white privilege and recognizing when I’m practicing white fragility. It’s hard and it sucks and I can see why a lot of white people don’t want to be bothered with the disentangling that requires a constant mirror reflecting some pretty ugly shit right back at you. I never say I’m not a racist, but I do say I am actively anti-racist.

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If your core orientation, as a white person, is not actively anti-racist, you are practicing racism. Like the “good Germans” who stood on the sidelines and allowed the Holocaust to happen, you are enabling the white supremacy that exists in every corner of society. Being actively anti-racist requires that there are times when you need to shut the fuck up and listen to and honor the real lived experiences of oppression that people of color endure. Don’t speak for them, whitey. Listen with an empathetic heart.

But being actively anti-racist also means speaking up when you encounter racism in systems or people. I was inspired to write this because a good friend referred to Lindsey Graham as her “spirit animal” when he defended Trump’s claim that he was being lynched. An anti-racist person would not do that. An anti-racist white person would hear the anguish of black people with regard to the vicious history of lynching and defer to their pain. An anti-racist person wouldn’t say shit, like “Well, Clarence Thomas used that word.” An anti-racist white person would know how to hear the truth and know that they can be become a better person by hearing that truth.

I never want to hear another person say they are “not a racist.” I want to hear white people say they are actively dismantling white supremacy whenever they encounter it, including in themselves.

But part of white privilege is being lazy and feeling like you don’t have to do any work on yourself. White people, you better work.

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He Killed My Child: Meditations on Christchurch and the Sociopathy of White Supremacy

March 19, 2019

There’s a response mode I go into when there is a mass killing, especially one by a white supremacist. I am called to write and comment on the news about toxic masculinity or my long research on right-wing extremists who want to spark joy among racists and launch a revolution to make America and Western Civilization “great” again. I give good soundbites to translate complex issues for the armchair sociologist. I’ve been through the drill dozens of time. “Something horrible happened in the world. I’m gonna be busy.”

The double mosque attack in Christchurch on Friday that killed 51 worshipers felt different. And not just because it happened in the violence-averse island nation of New Zealand. Maybe it was that I had just been to a meeting at the Muslim Education Trust (MET), a local Muslim school, community center, and mosque. We were starting to plan an educational event on the issue of Islamophobia. Maybe it was because I have to Muslim students in my Friday sociology class from Libya and Iraq. It certainly wasn’t because there was anything unique about the attacker. He was cut the white nationalist playbook, half Dylann Roof, half Timothy McVeigh.

I think it was the news about the victims. Many were refugees who had come to New Zealand to escape the horrors of endless wars. But among them were children. Three and four-year-olds, including a boy my daughter’s age, a refugee from Somalia named Abdullahi Dirie. He was shot in the head by the killer, who, according to new reports, was on his way to a Muslim school to kill more children when police stopped him. It’s next to impossible not to put your child in Abdullahi’s little shoes. But what do you do with that emotion?

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The reports of the attack were relatively fresh on Friday when a community gathering was called at MET, attended by local mayors and police officials who dutifully reassured the Portland-area Muslim community that their safety was a priority. Members of many faiths led us in prayer, but I don’t think the reality of the horror on the other side of the planet had sunk in. I wanted to believe the God was Great. Allah akbar.

I got called into media rotation on CNN, where there were, of course, questions about Trump’s role in the rise of right-wing extremism around the globe. It did not help (as usual) that Trump stupidly (as usual) said that white nationalism was not a rising threat (Fact: It is) and then went on whining about whatever had is panties in a wad. I managed to get this gem on a global broadcast – “Either Trump is knowingly inflaming white supremacists, a Manchurian Candidate for the alt right, or he is completely clueless to the real threat level and growing bodycount from right-wing extremists. I’ll let your viewers decide which it is.” 

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By the third sit-down with CNN, I didn’t want to talk about Trump or guns or the looming Aryan revolution. I just wanted to talk about Abdullahi Dirie and the slaughter of innocents. Saturday afternoon I was on with Ana Cabrera, who wanted to discuss the rambling 70-page “manifesto” of the shooter. I just wanted to talk about how it takes a sociopath to shoot children my daughter’s age in the head. And how the world of right-wing extremism is a magnet for sociopaths. If you get your kicks from cruelty, who better to idolize than Hitler? The shooter referenced various fascists (and Trump) in his rambling declaration of war on non-whites. 

I had a foot in this world long before I began my field work on Nazi skinheads in 1988. I grew up around Klan members in Stone Mountain. I know exactly what kind of bullies gravitate to that darkness. They think the earth (or America or New Zealand) belongs to them, and everyone else is an “invader.” Invaders from Mexico, from Turkey, or like 4-year-old Abdullahi Dirie, from Somalia. This is “their land” and the invaders must be vanquished by any means necessary.

On Sunday, I was a guest on a radio show in New Zealand and begged them not to let the divisive rhetoric of the United States infect their small country. Keep the focus on what unites people.

We don’t know enough about sociopathy to cure it or prevent it, but we know plenty about the world that magnifies it. Contrary our clueless president’s claim, the counterculture of white nationalism is growing at an alarming rate. There will be more victims. Timothy McVeigh ended the lives of 19 children in a daycare facility when he ignited his truck bomb in front of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Like the Christchurch terrorist, he did time in the sick world of white supremacy and believed the white race was “endangered.” Neither were “lone wolves” but products of a global subculture of hate.

There is no white race, only a human race. But there is a race war and our children are being slaughtered.

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