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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The George Bush lovefest threatens to obscure reality and history

Look, I realize that the passing of a former president—any former president—is big deal. It goes beyond just family and friends. It’s about an entire nation’s feelings, good and bad. And even though the family of recently deceased George H.W. Bush is tied to Texas more than anything, the family has a compound not far from where I live in Maine, and they routinely summered there. So even as Trump closed down federal offices for a day (including your postal service right at the start of the Christmas season), in a an attempt to look like he actually cares about anyone or anything other than the furry little alien occupying space on his scalp, there was a lot of chatter in my own state. Many tears and accolades and kind words.

Bush himself and the rest of his family are generally well-regarded here. I see all kinds of praise being heaped on him and have been listening to plenty of it on NPR as well. For the most part, articles like this one in the Portland Press-Herald give passing mentions to anything he did that was bad and generally shine a light on how good and decent a man he was.

You know, despite the fact he played off racism to boost his tough on crime image during his presidential campaign, relentlessly using a Black man, William Horton, as his symbol and rallying cry to drum up support. As vice president, he unfailingly backed up and bolstered policies of Ronald Reagan that helped put our nation on a horrific economic path (the ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else, among other things) and that ushered in the religion-obsessed right-wing GOP that we have today. As president, he kept a lot of those policies and momentum going. He turned a largely indifferent eye to AIDS, leading to increased death and misery for its victims, and he played a huge role in a lot of the political destabilization of many nations—including those in Central America from where immigrants seeking asylum are serving as cannon fodder literally and figuratively for the rabid conservative masses, particularly Trump.

Now, if it sounds like I hate the man, you’d be wrong.

I dislike most of what he did and much of what he stood for, sure, but that describes my attitude toward a lot of white people, particularly white men, in this nation built on stolen land and the blood of enslaved Black people.

What I dislike is this notion that we cannot speak ill of the dead, especially esteemed dead like Bush himself. That doesn’t mean I think we can only heap degrading words on dead people who did horrible things when horrible doesn’t describe the whole of who they were or what they did. But I am all for truth-telling. Balance. Honesty.

Tell lies about me when you eulogize me, and I might come back to haunt you.

The thing is, we can say in the same set of breaths that George Herbert Walker Bush was a personable and decent guy who was pragmatic in his politics, willing to try to find common ground and generous to family, friends and others—even as we acknowledge that whatever his personal personality strengths, he did horrible things that shaped our nation for the worse and did all kinds of harm.

Sure, it’s not just Bush, or Reagan, or Bush’s son George or Trump. It’s not even just the GOP. Bill Clinton did terrible things, too, not the least of which was the way he helped destroy the social safety net with welfare “reform.” And while Barack Obama may be one of the most truly decent humans we’ve had in the White House since Jimmy Carter—and he carried off two terms with no political or family scandals—he is guilty of a lot of sins toward immigrants (helping to usher in heavy deportation activity, for one thing) and civilians in war-torn nations (with all his love of using drone attacks abroad). I want the truth told about all of them.

I can honor Obama for having done a lot in office that was good and having failed a lot as well. For example: raising his voice about racial issues even as he did a lot to undermine Black Americans in his policies and things like his nearly unwavering support of police even when they needed to be taken to task for killing unarmed Black people left and right. I expect people to do the same for Bush.

And so too can we say that Bush loved many people, including a lesbian couple in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the Bush compound is—attending their wedding and serving as a witness—even as we acknowledge that he did nothing good for gay and lesbian people policy-wise—in fact, he probably worsened their lives as a group. And when it comes to racial issues, Bush almost certainly wasn’t a raving, unabashed racist, but I have little doubt there was plenty of racism in his actions, even if he didn’t think about it much and even if his “heart wasn’t in it.” And I’m not going to stand for sweeping that under the rug—he is partly to blame for how little progress we’ve made on racism in this nation. Life is about impacts that we create more than the intentions that we have.

My fears with this lovefest toward Bush and how decent he was are many. For one thing, even liberals are jumping on the train, undermining their own missions by raising up a man who opposed much of what they work toward—probably even unto his death bed. Also, all this love with very little attention paid to the negative aspects of his life threatens to cement what has already been a glossing-over of his record. History will, if we are not careful, paint Bush as some kind of saint that he was far from being. Finally, we need to admit that much of our affection for Bush and his legacy and history has to do with how absurdly awful Trump is. Remember, we’ve been on a track for years now of softening our views on his son, George W. Bush, because he’s old now too and painting and seeming so nice and quiet—even liberals talk about how we kind of miss the younger Bush’s presidency. And that was a man who tanked our entire economy and led us into awful wars that we are still fighting or trying to recover from. The late George H.W. Bush may be very little like Trump overall, but he did help pave the way for our Orange Autocrat.

No, we need to stop the unwavering love and the call to “never speak ill of the dead.” We can be balanced. We can be kind to the Bush family in their time of mourning. We can acknowledge what was good about the man. But we absolutely need truth right now in an era where lies are openly spoken from the White House and no one bats an eye about it anymore. We need to tell the whole story of influential and powerful people, not totally sanitized ones (at worst) or ones that heap on the good things and give passing attention to the bad ones (which is often the best we ‘re seeing in most mainstream media coverage).

A false history won’t help us. It may make a lot of us feel good, but it won’t fix anything. It just breaks the nation a little more to erase the sins of the past just because someone got to the end of their life just like all of us do.


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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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