Outlook Ohio News: In current American politics, White Power is the New Black.
Coretta Scott King, wife of Martin Luther King, wrote a letter in 1986 to Congress about KKK poster boy Jeff Sessions, who up until recently was a senator from Alabama. In her letter, King described Sessions as a racist who should never be let anywhere near a federal bench. Segregationalist Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina kept the letter from reaching the public, effectively silencing King. Nevertheless, Sessions lost his bid.
That was in 1986, when racism was down trending. In 2017, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren tried to read aloud King’s recently discovered letter during Sessions’ confirmation hearing for US Attorney General, but was silenced by another senator, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who invoked an arcane rule to make her shut up and sit her ass down. The successful elevation of Sessions into the office of the Attorney General this year is proof that White Power is back, in full force and with Bible in hand.
White Power-plus-Christianity is an international phenomenon. Since the fall of the devoutly atheist Soviet Union, Russian Orthodox Christianity has returned to Russian politics with a vengeance and is crushing LGBT rights in that country. Coupled with a falling birthrate among “ethnic” Russians (another way of saying they are White), Putin has enraptured the White population with the promise of reasserting Orthodox Christian supremacy in a country that is increasingly becoming Muslim and Asian. There is little doubt that the love affair between Putin and the traitorous Man-Baby in the White House is premised upon shared values of Whiteness, cherished Crusader fantasies, and the need for a savior/dictator/father figure to take control, drive Queers back into the closet, shut down women’s reproductive rights, make the rich richer at the expense of everyone else, and shut down women like Coretta Scott King and Elizabeth Warren.
In America, an entrenched majority of White congresspeople have declared their craven subservience to the Man-Baby and his Russian daddy. A fairly large White minority in America is happy with the Man-Baby trampling the Constitution, just as long as he continues to wave the flag and pretend to love Jesus.
That’s the bad news. Here’s the good.
This January, we witnessed the largest single protest America has ever seen. The Women’s March inspired over four million people to take to the streets. And the reason for such large numbers was the mobilization of White women who brought their daughters and male kinfolk with them. But unlike Tea Party rallies, The Whiteness of these women was not the unifying factor-race was irrelevant to them as they made common cause with anyone of any race or religious affiliation.
The sheer numbers of these White women, many who attended with their daughters and granddaughters, was astounding. Even more astounding was the difference between them and their Conservative sisters, who are so often quick to label Muslims as terrorists, undocumented workers as criminals, LGBT people as Hell-bound, and pussy-hats as inappropriate. There was no effort by White women in the Women’s March to flaunt their Whiteness. Rebel flags were not en vogue that day.
The ethic behind this strong White presence that did not have White Power as a guiding principle is the seasoned White notion of being colorblind, that race does not matter, that there is a moral imperative to ignore differences for the common good.
It is also the basis for that White comment that puts off so many Black people: “I don’t see you as Black.” Such a phrase is meant to be a compliment. But for all the good intentions, it nevertheless implies a disturbing erasure of identity. If a White person does not see a Black person as Black, is that Black person then seen as White by default? Is it really a compliment to not be Black? Patronizing at best, and racist at worst.
The problem is not so much the hidden racism of well-meaning White women, but rather the paradoxes of talking about race to begin with. Columbus Queer activist-sage Sile Singleton once told me that racism was like a wet towel across the shoulders. You might be able to forget it for a while (a rather blessed form of temporary color blindness), but its clammy weight will eventually get to you.
In the poem, “For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend,” the late great Lesbian word crafter Pat Parker wrote,
The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.
Second, you must never forget that I’m Black.
Parker’s words outline the care all of us must take in America’s racially-supercharged state: we must forget and never forget at the same time. The White allies in the Women’s March collectively succeeded in doing so, whether they came to the march with the White colorblindness my own mother raised me with, or flat-out saying that Black Lives Matter.
Or displaying the rainbow and all that it implies.