Links in the Wake of Charlottesville
It’s been a difficult week watching the events in Charlottesville, VA. Despite the importance of keeping in mind the historical grounding of white-supremacist movements, and how the electoral system was effectively designed for a Donald Trump, it is hard not to feel shock seeing Nazi flags and militia men chanting white-supremacist slogans. There’s a sense of helplessness in watching the horror of, as David Duke admiringly puts it, the fulfillment of Donald Trump. I’ve compiled some links for us to get started thinking about how to process this current moment and what we can do to educate ourselves into thoughtful and effective action. Please take a look, share them with others, and talk to your friends and family. Much love and solidarity to you all.
Donald Trump asks, if people are taking down Confederate statues, what’s next? George Washington and Thomas Jefferson? They owned slaves! Apart from demonstrating a clear lack of historical knowledge—Washington and Jefferson founded the nation while Robert E. Lee was trying to secede and found a new one based in slavery—Trump inadvertently reminds us that rejecting the blind worship of the founding fathers is a necessary part of reckoning with our present. George Washington was indeed a slavemaster, which some may mitigate by pointing out that he manumitted his slaves upon Martha Washington’s death. It is quite difficult, however, to mitigate Thomas Jefferson’s view on Black people and his position as a slavemaster. In Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson uses scientific language to list biological differences between Black and white people, justifying making people work harder and longer hours and explaining how they can tolerate brutality because “They seem to require less sleep. [. . .]. Their griefs are transient. Those numberless afflictions, which render it doubtful whether heaven has given life to us in mercy or in wrath, are less felt, and sooner forgotten with them.” Can there be any doubt why we must repeat “Black Lives Matter” when a founding father explicitly denies Black grief? Take a look at this Atlantic article from 1996 in which Conor Cruise O’Brien argues that Jefferson’s flaws are beyond redemption.
Did you know that many of these Confederate statues were actually mass-produced in the North? So much for preserving art or history. Furthermore, we don’t need these statues for educational purposes: Robert E. Lee in a public space is not telling us anything about historical white supremacy except that it is not historical. Takiya Thompson, who was hit with a felony charge for toppling a statue in Durham, explains her motivation:
I chose to do that because I am tired of living in fear. I am tired of white supremacy keeping its foot on my neck and the neck of people who look like me [. . .]. I was inspired by a history of black activists and history of black organizing.
Scene on Radio has a great podcast series “Seeing White,” hosted by John Biewen with guest appearances from Rutgers media scholar and activist Chenjerai Kumanyika. You are guaranteed to learn something new about the social, political, historical, and economic construction of whiteness in America.
Consider the different police responses to Black Lives Matter protests and the white supremacists armed with militia weapons in Charlottesville. David Whitehouse’s comprehensive article on the history of the police is a good reminder that there is nothing natural about the police as the institution that exists today.
- Disobedience and the rejection of respectability politics has a long history. Why should we be beholden to unjust laws, ones that shore up our own oppression? Why should we work within a system that is explicitly designed to disenfranchise us? Take a look at this famous passage from Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (and then read the whole thing!):
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
- Ta-Nehisi Coates gives his first major interview since Trump’s inauguration on Democracy Now!, tracing the genealogy of this moment and arguing that we must refuse the impulse to see white-supremacist action as something new, caused by Trump. Democracy Now! also has a roundtable with Cornell West and Traci Blackmon, who were on the ground in Charlottesville.
A lot of the discussion around the election of Donald Trump centers the white working class. Laura Renata Martin’s insightful piece “Historicizing White Nostalgia: Race and American Fordism” explores the political economy of whiteness:
Nostalgia for the cultural and political institutions of mid-20th century America rarely foregrounds race, but that doesn’t mean that race is not present in the ideological formulations underpinning that nostalgia. For instance, to what extent was the shared culture of white blue collar workers also based on racial identity—the shared experience of whiteness in postwar America? Of course, I am not suggesting that all blue-collar workers were white, or that industrial work and union participation were white experiences. However, to the extent that some on the left today look to the past with fond nostalgia for a lost working-class culture, I contend that such backward glances fail to examine how deeply white supremacy shaped and limited that sense of a shared culture.
- White supremacists in Charlottesville chanted, “You will not replace us!” In a settler-colonial state, this statement would be laughable were it not so terrifying. In “From Charlottesville to Santa Fe: Smash Racist Memorials, Smash White Supremacy,” The Red Nation writes:
During the gathering, Spencer and other white supremacists chanted the Nazi phrase “blood and soil,” as well as the racist and colonial phrase “you will not replace us.” Why do we call the chant “you will not replace us” colonial? As Jodi Byrd points out, “you will not replace us” is “a rallying cry of settler imperialists who remove and displace indigenous peoples,” who destroy us in order to replace us. In addition to its roots in the terrorization of Black life, white supremacy has always operated according to a genocidal logic of destroy-to-replace. Anti-Black racism and the genocide of Indigenous existence—also known as settler colonialism—are twin pillars of white supremacy at the heart of “Unite The Right,” and, indeed, at the heart of U.S. nationalism.
Marco Roth’s “Caucasian Nation” traces the history of political white supremacy in the wake of the Tea Party’s emergence during Barack Obama’s first term. Bonus: he starts the article with Andrew Breitbart’s attack on Shirley Sherrod; you may remember him from such websites as the one your racist relative or friend shares on Facebook.
A lot of my work revolves around interrogating American individualism. In the long-form article “How America Lost its Mind,” Kurt Andersen traces how this individualism has led to its logical conclusion of everyone being entitled to their own truth—the ultimate subjectivity.
- Speaking of #allopinionsmatter, if you have anyone coming at you about how Black Lives Matter and anti-fascists and the spectral “alt-left” are just as bad as actual fascists who believe in genocide and establishing an ethno-state, you could direct them to Robyn Urback’s CBC op-ed, “There is No Moral Equivalency When it Comes to Neo-Nazi White Supremacy” or this piece in The Atlantic, “What Trump Gets Wrong about Antifa.”
While toxic masculinity and white supremacy are connected through the patriarchal policing of women in the reproduction of the white nation, white women have been both complicit and active in white-supremacist movements. Here is an easily accessible article in Allure on how white women benefit from white supremacy. There are many ways to fight white supremacy, and it’s imperative to be conscious of your position and what space you are taking up. For non-Black Asian POC, here is a mega-list of some resources and readings on anti-Blackness. It’s on all of us to educate ourselves and be responsible in our relations and actions.
- It is easy to slip into thinking that white supremacy is an American problem, that because Canada abolished slavery earlier and has an official policy of multiculturalism that this is not a Canadian problem. But as Toronto Black Lives Matter co-founder Janaya Khan points out, white-nationalist groups are on the rise in Canada, copying the Proud Boys from America to start their own chapters, describing themselves as “Western chauvinists.” In Canadaland, journalist Evan Balgord examines groups such as the Proud Boys, Soldiers of Odin, and the Three Percenters. Indeed, Noel Ransome cautions us against the kind of moral superiority that is all-too-common in Canada. A thoughtful and frequently updated resource is Anti-Racist Canada. One glimmer of hope here is the growing list of people who are cutting ties with Rebel Media, Canada’s version of Breitbart.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed and helpless, here is the always brilliant Ijeoma Oluo on some ways to fight white supremacy. Donating money is an important direct support if you can afford it; sharing links and contacting representatives is another support that doesn’t cost money. If you can afford the time, read as widely as you can, not just mainstream media but also long-form articles and books. If living your life is work enough and you can’t do anything extra at this moment, try to think about ways that you can resist white supremacy and decolonize attitudes and behaviours on a personal/familial/social level in your immediate sphere. Every little bit helps if we do it together.
- Finally, I want to say a few things about Heather Heyer, the woman who was killed by a white supremacist in Charlottesville and reportedly a member of the IWW. Many have pointed out how Heather’s position as a white woman allows a different kind of visibility and a different kind of mourning. I would not argue with that. Social-justice educator José Dobles eloquently summarizes what so many of us reserving our emotional energy for Black and brown victims of white supremacy are feeling: “I can’t lift up Heather Heyer the way I would like because I don’t believe we would have mourned her if she was Black. I hate that this is the consciousness that white supremacy has forced upon me.” Not mourning Heather with our full hearts is part of how white supremacy enacts itself upon even our most intimate feelings, how we are allowed to mourn. Heather worked as an activist, saw her responsibility as a white woman in this struggle, and must have known the risks as well as the imperatives for her to be on the front lines of such a terrifying demonstration. I would like to honour that. In a speech at Heather’s memorial, her mother proclaimed, “They tried to kill my child to shut her up, but guess what? You just magnified her.” Let us add our voices and our action. Rest in power, Heather.