Another MLK day, and I wish I could just put up a quote and a picture and say something about how “if we’re going to celebrate his push for racial equality, we should celebrate his Socialism too, because those things are intertwined”. But I just can’t, because a few days ago we had a white-power insurrection in Washington, DC that tried to overthrow an election.
Remember that old story about how we have two wolves* inside us, one is good, one evil, and the one you feed is the one that wins? Well ever since the ‘Fairness Doctrine’ was struck down during the Reagan administration, our country has been feeding the racist wolf, the homophobic wolf, the wolf that’s terrified of the Other, the wolf that celebrates a capitalist myth over humanity. This went on for decades, with Fox News and talk radio, and Breitbart and OANN and Q and stuff I don’t even want to know about.
And when that went on long enough, (with the help of the electoral college, itself a racist relic of slavery), we ‘elected’ Donald Trump president, and he shifted into high gear for four years. He glorified racial violence, uplifted “very fine people” shouting literal Nazi slogans, and appointed straight-up white supremacists to run government agencies from the State Department to the Department of Education.
Honestly, what did anyone think would happen?
The richest, most powerful country in the world has been feeding its racism a rich media diet for years, and it’s brought us only international shame and ignominy. We literally have no moral standing to tell any other country anything about human rights or equality or decency.
For reasons of simple human decency, of course, we white Americans need to do real soul searching and turn the fuck around. Because this is not some moral abstraction.
A little imagination will tell us that what directly affects Americans of color, indirectly affects white Americans as well. We can work out what we have lost on account of racism in all its forms, from subtle to gross, individual to systemic.
Money seems to be the true religion of America, so imagine: the economic cost of what we have lost, by burying the talent and passion of so many of our citizens in poor schools, systemic poverty, and mass incarceration. But money is only a crude measure of a society, like measuring property by rock-throws.
Imagine: the neighbors and rich friendships lost to us, because the gap between Whiteness and color was wider than our hearts could reach. Along with working relationships, community strengths, and the quiet beauty long shattered by our prejudicial fears.
Think of the science, the art, the marriages, the leaders, the sense of well-being that we could have had, from a society where people look out for each other instead of having to navigate a social hierarchy of race. That unease you feel, white American, when you are speaking with a person of color? Patterned into your thinking from childhood, when your brain was not even fully formed? It didn’t have to be there.
We don’t have to be like this.
- I wasn’t kidding about the economic cost of racism. Business Insider: Racism has cost the US economy $16 trillion in the last 20 years — and will keep costing the country money if things don’t change
- *Be aware that the Wolf story, while it tells a salient truth, isn’t really from any Native American; it originates from Billy Graham. And it’s not a little racist itself, posing the white wolf as good and the black one as evil. It badly needs updating.
- The New Yorker: James Baldwin on Whiteness, Letter from a region in my mind
- More about the Fairness Doctrine.
- Historian Heather Cox Richardson reflects on MLK Day 2021, in light of the 1776 Report and attempts to Whitewash American history.