When white male supremacy ruins toughness itself

Toughness. It’s about standing back up more times than you’ve been knocked down. It’s about facing down the odds stacked against you. It’s about withstanding pain and suffering for a greater good. It’s a theme at the core of these United States. In our myths toughness is John Wayne and Rocky and Ford trucks. We love it in our myths, but in reality, toughness is Fred Hampton, Fanny Lou Hamer and the Poor People’s Campaign. America hates toughness in reality.

We used to all agree on the basic idea that toughness itself was a particular mix of strength and resilience. Even if you hated the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.at the time, his continuous risings up from brutal public beatings displayed a toughness that you couldn’t deny. Say whatever you want, do whatever you want; he would never be made to cower. If you hated him, you hated him for the obvious reasons, but you were outraged by his toughness.

Having a common understanding of toughness is important because it means we also have a common understanding of pain and suffering. This is especially important now as white liberals are beginning to understand how consistently conservatives refuse to go along with reality. Like, at least twice a day I see a post about how aggravating it is that “they don’t even believe in science!” As if that kind of thinking is new.

But a common understanding of pain and suffering has always been there. The same pain and suffering was intended with the words said against both MLK and Colin Kaepernick for their protests, though they were decades apart. Chants of “white power!” soon followed chants of “Black power!” just the same as chants of “all lives matter!” soon followed chants of “Black lives matter!” all for the sake of continuing the pain and suffering. But like I said, we used to all agree.

It’s perfectly reasonable to put a quick-draw, steel-jaw, damsel-saving cowboy with a slow-win, steel-chin, redemption-seeking boxer under the umbrella of toughness. But what if I told you that under that umbrella I was also going to put a silver-spooned, lying whiner? All things being equal, you’d probably tell me that I didn’t quite understand the purpose of umbrellas.

But all things aren’t equal. From the first moment he toyed with running for president in 2011 until right now, republicans’ favorite thing about the Commandorange in Chief has always been his toughness. Or should I say, “toughness” as in “hair?”

Now, look. Before I get too far here, no, this isn’t about what a liar the president is. If you haven’t figured out who he is by now, then you need to find Jesus. Also, this isn’t about what hypocrites the republicans are. If evangelical support of the president hasn’t shown you that by now, you ought to take them with you on your search.

And no, it’s not about how divided our nation has become—not how we currently frame that idea, anyway. When it comes down to it, there’s really only one truly divided group: white men. Black people aren’t divided over whether or not#BlackLivesMatter. Women aren’t divided over #MeToo. People without equal rights aren’t divided over whether or not they want equal rights. It’s only the people they want to be equal to who aren’t quite so sure. And right now, those people don’t even agree on the definition of toughness. This means they also don’t agree on the meanings of pain or suffering, either.

They probably never did, but like the rest of these divisions, it’s only become clear recently. Some white men define toughness the same across all social lines, but some define it as cruelty toward others. We’ve been seeing this for a while here in Maine under our soon-to-be ex-governor Paul LePage.

LePage’s exploitations are widely known. His actions have also hurt women and children while simultaneously helping along the opioid epidemic, and that’s just with one set of vetoes on a Wednesday in April. The arguments LePage gives to support his decisions probably sound very tough to his supporters, but man oh man are they just objectively the straight up whinings of a shitty kid. If you’ve ever heard his voice, then you know the tone I’m talking about. If you haven’t, please don’t.

But some do believe him to be tough. They feel the same about the “president” and in that belief, these fools have thrown away the very last bit of their national identities. Because inside toughness is stoicism and sacrifice and nobility and modesty—but now, no more. How can you respect the sacrifice and nobility, the toughness of a Purple Heart recipient if whining and bone spurs are also included in the definition?

The truth is that even toughness, the very core of American Exceptionalism itself, was just another and perhaps the last remaining veil of white supremacy in the American Myth. John Wayne, Rocky and Ford did their best, but it’s all out in the open now and everyone can see their (white) national(ist) identities for what they are.

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Speak truth of the dead and the living

The idea of “Make America Great Again” bothers me. It bothers me for all the obvious reasons, like there is no Again for minorities or women. It also bothers me because I think liberals now have their own version of MAGA and the Again is just prior to 2016.

At the time of this writing, George H.W. Bush has just died and people are eulogizing him like was the most beneficent spirit to ever grace all of God’s holy design, and I get that if you’re a republican. If you’re a republican you’ll eat as much shit as they feed you as long as you think someone else has to eat more, but I’m talking about liberals.

If you are one of those liberals mourning the loss of George H.W. Bush, The Great Man, but you hate our current president, I need you to ask yourself why. Is it because he ran a racist campaign? Is it because he put a justice on the Supreme Court who is an offense to all women? Is it because of the many cover-ups? Maybe it’s the obstruction of justice? Is it the presidential pardons he hands out to his friends? Is it the stupidity he brings into the White House?

I keep hearing this liberal MAGA shit, like Bush was a class act and a reminder that politics used to be more respectable. That worries the fuck out of me. It makes me think that if we ever do get rid of our current president, it won’t be because he’s destroying the country and the world. Instead it will be because we’ve bought into classism (and therefore racism), had our snobbish sensibilities offended by a mannerless scoundrel, so let’s get rid of him, pat ourselves on the back and return to the old ways of destroying the world.

Without even getting into the dynasty problem, George H.W. Bush was objectively awful, but if we write the history books and leave all of that out, I won’t be surprised. We do it all the time.

Here’s an example:

Most of us loathe the fact that the president was born into the elite. We hate his outright, repeated, unapologetic, public racism that he so arrogantly doubles down on. We’re disgusted by his sniveling apologies after he goes too far—even for his own base. We feel helpless as he attempts to make the rich richer, while trying to take the healthcare from millions. We’re horrified by his cozying up to dictators – and confused when he petulantly body-shames them. We’re frustrated that the head of the “family values” party has had such cruel infidelities. We’re furious at his non-stop attempts to take the rights from minorities and gay people and women. But, you know, sometimes he’s on Saturday Night Live, so…

Remember the president’s response to the Pulse nightclub shooting?

“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it, because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, Al Qaida went to Syria, became ISIS. And ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures, by pulling everybody out of Iraq. So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”

Yeah. Somehow that was a real response to the Pulse nightclub shooting.

How about that time—in front of reporters—when his wife teased him about his hair and he replied, “At least I don’t plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you cunt.”

How about that republican Supreme Court unity thing before the 2016 election?

“I promise you that we will be united against any Supreme Court nominee that Hillary Clinton, if she were president, would put up.”

Actually, that last quote was from John McCain. Also, so was the quote about the Pulse nightclub shooting. And the quote involving his wife’s makeup. In fact, plot twist, I was talking about John McCain the whole time! McCain was born into the elite. He has arrogantly doubled down on his outright, repeated, unapologetic, public racism. I say unapologetic, but that’s just until his base thought he went too far (or not far enough). Then he’d snivel with the best of them. He definitely helped the rich get a lot richer while taking the healthcare away from millions. And McCain loved him some dictators! Others, oddly, he petulantly body-shamed. And yup, for a “family values” kinda guy, he sure had some cruel infidelities. And naturally, he spent his career attempting to keep rights away from minorities, gay people and women.

These men were not respectable. They were not heroes. They were everything we say we hate, but like the portraits on our money, they were also rich, white and men, which we love. If we want to be better, we need to be honest about that and stop it. We need to admit that harm is harm, no matter how nice the person harming you seems. We need to change and we cannot change if we don’t admit what we were. Or what we are.

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The real conspiracies are worse than the wild conspiracy theories

To me, the difficult thing about writing is choosing what to write about. There’s just so much happening all the time. Do I write about the country’s racist history or policies or population? Do I write about our own Black history? Do I just write about the most recent time I got pulled over? What issue do I want to draw focus to in the moment? There’s a responsibility in that question that is clouded over by an ever-changing media landscape, peoples’ personal habits and now more than ever, conspiracy theories.

As a member of the media, a person with an audience and just as a person, the abundance of conspiracy theories in the public square is terrifying. It points to how few of us have to acknowledge the shared reality and I worry that it’s just going to get worse.

The thing that’s always bothered me about conspiracy theories is that generally, they are obviously and flatly false. For instance, I think a lot of people buy into the idea that there is a group of mysterious people who control all of the wealth and politicians and pull all of these strings from behind a secret curtain somewhere just out of sight.

I hate this idea so much for so many reasons. I hate it because believing it dismisses our own agency as a citizenry. I hate it because it’s an argument from ignorance. I especially hate it because the opposite is true and the truth is actually in our faces all the time.

Do the wealthy control everything? Absolutely. But are they hiding it? Fuck, no! They brag about that shit! It’s not a secret. They’re constantly shouting it from the rooftops, all of which they own.

Here’s how not-a-secret it is: 101 years ago Bertie Charles Forbes created Forbes magazine. Currently Bertie’s grandson, billionaire Steve Forbes, is the editor-in-chief. If you were to flip through the magazine you would quickly see that it is the voice of the wealthy publicly celebrating themselves as masters over all they see and imagine including the rest of us. And they’re so fucking ostentatiously proud of it they name the shit after themselves.

And, yes, I mean ostentatious.

If I were to tell you that the wealthy actually celebrate surging wealth inequality as a happy sign that life is becoming much more convenient, you might say, “Well, they probably think it and maybe they say some monstrous shit like that behind closed doors, maybe, but that’s not really something you can prove.”

And if that were to be your response, I would gladly direct you to a recent Forbes article, unironically titled, Surging Wealth Inequality is a Happy Sign that Life is Becoming Much More Convenient.

It’s the furthest thing from a conspiracy, though it is somehow believed to be.

That being said, things are different if you’re Black.

Very different.

That Forbes article begins with, “Two hundred years ago the American people were quite a bit more equal in terms of wealth…”

Just like my enslaved ancestors at the time, I know I wouldn’t have been considered any kind of equal two-hundred years ago. Or considered American. Or people. And that information, that the opening line conveniently leaves out is the shadow of a very tall tree with very real conspiracies for every branch, like nooses.

There are intimate conspiracies between individuals like the recent police frame job in Florida. There are more widely-spread conspiracies involving multiple institutions like red lining. There are even full-on, 40-year-long conspiracies of Nazi-style human experimentation perpetuated by the United States Government like the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Like I said, it’s a very tall tree.

I’m not saying there aren’t conspiracies based things aside from race. There definitely are. What I am saying is that there is a reality we can choose and a reality that is forced upon us and not understanding the difference can mean falling victim to both.

But understanding the difference can mean undoing both and making an objectively better world for everyone.

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