Understanding White Power
a defense of the indefensible
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Music today via www.freemusicarchive.org through Creative Commons licensing by Evil Bear Boris and Lee Rosevere. Social media assistance by Kris Shapar. Show image via Flickr through CC licensing https://www.flickr.com/photos/concellon/. Produced and hosted by Gregory Haddock.
a defense of the indefensible
Black Power. White Power. BET, the Black Entertainment Television network. The White Entertainment Television network (which would be the unfortunate acronym WET).
Let’s face it. For good reason - the term “white power” invokes almost the exact antithesis of that sentiment. It stokes fear, manipulation, inequality, and it perpetually pokes and prods the scar tissue of a wound never quite healed, occasionally reopening it for all to see the damage inside.
There is a plentitude of writing, argumentation and critical thinking in support of the position that “white power” should be a statement and mentality closeted for good. A position that has exposed the many inequities given toward people disenfranchised not only for the color of their skin, but their country of origin, their culture, sexual orientation, gender identification, and the list goes on and on. This conversation could be expanded to the treatment of Native Americans, to Eastern Europeans, Asian, and those of Middle-Eastern decent. We could have an entire discussion about the relationship between whites and Hispanics, and the obvious problems of treating everybody south of the American border as simply “Mexican”. Because of the limited scope a single podcast episode can offer, I focus on our true original sin as a nation - that of slavery. And no other racial group in America knows that as well as that of African-Americans.
But this isn’t really even about them right now. Now if you are progressive or conservative you might already be weary of where I’m heading with this, but I’m asking you to hear me through to the end of this, because I’m going to do the rather unwise act of a defense of white power.
What we don’t hear enough of is thoughtful exploration of the foundation of the fears of a dissolving “white power” that acts out in anger as it lies on the cusp of a major global shift of power. That shift being this: White European ancestry is no longer a guarantee of prosperity, and the demographic changes happening in Western Countries is rapidly resulting in a diminishing dominance economically, culturally, and ideologically.
Many may say “Good!” This is exactly what we need more of or less of - whatever the proper grammar here is.
Okay, but if you are a straight white male, born and raised in the US of A, and you “did” all that you were supposed to do as a proud American, and for the last 40 years you’re seeing progress or what looks like progress in any case of all other groups around you - except that of your own home - you are likely to become extremely confused, and then scared, and then angry. More so, as the final throes of this involuntary acquiescence of social capital becomes more and more evident - those unwilling to give in to change may become violent as their options become seemingly less and less. Hence, Charlottesville.
So if confusion fuels fear, which fuels anger, which fuels violence, we need to understand where the confusion comes from. I come from a white-dominated, small, middle-America town. And in some ways I feel I can say I was witness to, even participatory in what W.E.B. Du Bois eloquently called “double consciousness”. The black scholar coined this term at the turn of the 20th century to give vocabulary to the huge numbers of black Americans, many of the time still living vivid memories of slavery, a way to describe the feeling of being trapped between various identities. “Who am I?”
I’m well aware that co-opting a black scholar’s work that was intended for a black audience to describe white culture is culturally taboo. I’m aware it is incredibly insensitive and not much less than radically inappropriate. But, using this term speaks so well to the point I am making. In many ways, white culture has been co-opting Black culture for at least a century. Art, fashion, and music have been cornerstones of Black-American culture. Blacks in America have had to create identity for themselves in a way that whites never could imagine. For this reason, I’m sure it must be rather frustrating to many whites when they see how they’ve been “kept out” from a culture that is understandably reluctant to let them in.
Hip-hop and rap is a prime example as many white people are consistently reminded that the music they buy, listen to, and learn the lyrics of is not intended for them. This is truly disheartening for many when they appreciate the music, but are left to feel foolish for having liked it.
This is precisely why white hip-hop artists are regarded in “white culture” (a phrase that sounds funny even thinking it) as cultural archetypes for middle-America white communities. Eminem: “finally somebody who says what everybody is thinking”. It sounds awfully familiar to a prominent recent presidential campaign, right? Or the Beastie Boys massive and long-lasting success. Insane Clown Posse has a literal army of followers probably more loyal than any artist in history. Hell, even Vanilla Ice has earned his spot in time, albeit under a rather thick veil of irony.
Do minorities and people of color enjoy this music too? Sure they do. But the way these artists are reveled in white society is unmatched. It’s as if white Americans somehow “made it” into black culture, as if the roles had somehow reversed, making a white kid from the midwest as he listens to Fifty Cent the underdog, and not the other way around.
But this confusion doesn’t stop at music itself, but continues on into the bars and clubs where straight white men can feel publicly shamed. After years of conditioning and reification the line continues on “white people have no rhythm" and no amount of practice will ever help you learn how to dance, because it is a fact of your DNA. These comments are obviously untrue as are the early pseudo-scientists of the 1800’s who attempted through biological experiments and data collection to prove the inadequacy of the black man. It’s horseshit, and everybody knows it, yet the myth pervades. To prove his subordination was the will of god. Of a white god, no less. It could feel to many as though these roles have reversed, and while one is clearly no longer acceptable to discuss in polite company these thoughts aloud, it feels as though the other remains as permissible as ever.
The confusion does not stop at dancing. Popular black comedians reference the way white men speak in a way white men no longer can, or even the way they walk, or the insufferable size of their genitalia.
Black, white, brown or otherwise - if you really want to upset a man, talk about the size of his dick.
Black men are more likely to date or marry white women than white men are to black women. From the U.S. Census Bureau:
Seemingly trivial, but to an already frustrated white man this may seem like simply one more avenue of disenfranchisement. DISENFRANCHISEMENT of WHITE men???
This is a progressive podcast, and so I know what most of you are probably thinking. “Boo-Fucking-Hoo. So sad for white America”. I get it, but do you get it? 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump - a man who is clearly bad for America. If you don’t want to try to understand themindset of the frustrated white American, then don’t claim you know them. Don’t pretend you understand better than they do.
All of it is perspective. All of this is about reconciliation, is it not?
If you are a conservative I hope you feel I’ve done some justice here - sought some truth. I hope you feel like I’ve delivered a rationale that is often missing in these conversations when your whole demographic is being written off as “racist” and nothing less. But, I have one request of you. It’s that you do the same honor I have bestowed here, and try to understand the plight of what 400 years of slavery - slavery almost exclusively carried out from one race upon another - and try to contrast that to the cultural frustrations you may be feeling. That when you say “slavery is over, and we should stop living in the past” what you are really saying is “I don’t care about your past”. When you voted to “Make America great again” you voted for a time past. It is grammatically an admission that the time you long for is the past, because that past felt triumphant, eternal, and righteous. But you must see that your victorious past was so many others’ painful history, and that their existence, prosperity and success today is built on nothing less than sheer determination of the will to carry on, one day at a time. Nobody is doubting that the white race could not have done that too, but what “Black Power” means is this race did it, despite all odds. And that indeed, deserves a bow, not a rally for an equally loud expression of white power or a “hell yeah” when state legislatures promise to allow drivers the freedom to run over Black Lives Matter protesters when they demonstrate peacefully in the street. This sort of chaos and raw hatred doesn’t make you powerful. It places you on the wrong side of history. As Steven Michael of Pittsburgh wrote on Facebook:
Still don’t feel like racism exists in America? Answer this question: What race is Barack Obama? If “black” is the first thing that comes to your mind, no matter what side of the fence on this issue you land on is, you have been manipulated by everything around you to believe a half-truth. That includes myself. Obama is half-white, but we don’t think of him like that, because of white-propagated notions like the “one drop rule” meaning exactly what it sounds like. If you have one drop of black blood in your body, you are somehow forever different from the mainstream white hegemony.
After all of this I’m left with one burning question hot in social media right now.
Colin Kaepernick cannot get signed on to an NFL team this year to save himself. I end with Kaepernick, because here is a man who cannot get a contract for reasons that seem rather obvious to most of us. Some will say he simply isn’t a good enough player, and that’s the reason he can’t get signed http://ftw.usatoday.com/2017/06/colin-kaepernick-andy-benoit-blackballed-nfl. Maybe that’s true, but it doesn’t stop loads of other terrible back-up quarterbacks, much less starting quarterbacks from getting signed year after year. More than anything, from the chaos surrounding such a well-known player in a Sunday sport arguably as important as church itself or the military - his “ability” is an easy out. Would he have a better chance of getting signed to a team this year if he had simply beat up his fiancé or kids? Now, does he have to beat up his own kids or can he borrow them from somebody else. The man kneeled during the national anthem and we are ready to deport him for it. Think about that. Does that sound like freedom? Do you feel free?
The problem isn’t whether or not we love the national anthem, as much as it is that we have been sold the idea that the anthem has become equivocal to our love of the sport. The two are inseparable. There is no American professional sports event that I know of where the anthem is not sung. Interestingly, this isn’t something that is done in other countries with the type of vigor it is in the USA. Why is this a uniquely American event?
Furthermore, the honoring of military veterans during games. “Please stand and honor staff sergeant so-and-so for his commitment to honor and duty in service to our great nation.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with supporting soldiers, but you may find it concerning that the Department of Defense has paid teams (especially in the NFL) for these time slots. According to a 2015 report written up by Arizona Republican Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake (the same Flake Trump is currently trying to politically bury - in an act of truly childish petty grievance) - the DOD had paid as much as $53 million over three years for acts of “paid patriotism” http://www.post-gazette.com/news/nation/2015/11/06/Department-of-Defense-paid-53-million-to-pro-sports-for-military-tributes-report-says/stories/201511060140.
They are paid propaganda spots to drum up support for military expansion and endless wars in the middle east. We don’t think about the cost of these wars in dollars or lives, but rather in terms of the glorification of war by equivocating athletes with soldiers. This notion is archaic, and it leaves no room for notions of peace. Worse yet, it paints a picture to millions of Americans (especially children) that the only honorable American is an American that will blindly support whatever the United States government wants to do at anytime anywhere and for any reason, and to question that notion makes you an un-American traitor. True Patriots only ever say “yes”. To even hesitate makes you less than human. It makes you scum.
The irony is that the big government that Americans worry so much about, in particular conservatives, is made painfully obvious if one were to just take a minute and question a system that doesn’t allow for doubt, debate, or democracy. No, no, no this can’t happen! Get in line, or you’re out of line. Be a proud American, and stop questioning Uncle Sam, Big Brother - same difference.
All this in a nation that incarcerates more of its citizenry than any other nation on earth, a police force that shoots and kills its own citizens at rates drastically higher than any other developed country, and deprives its own children adequate access to education and healthcare more than any other developed nation in the Western world - and ALL OF THIS done to alarming degrees of disproportionality upon people of color, particularly that of Black America.
This is the America that Kaepernick is protesting, and he’s waiting with millions of others for something better.
So the next time you hear somebody say “white lives matter” you can remember another three-word slogan:
“Boo Fucking Hoo”.