The same key to solve mass violence and systemic racism

In these moments, words are meaningless. Here we stand at the moral crossroad as a nation, deeply fractured and in tatters. We are a nation under siege but the enemy is not from outside; it is the enemy within. This enemy has always been with us but until this moment, the vast majority of Americans have been woefully ignorant of its existence and nature. Now, however, this foe’s presence has become so obvious and is so glaringly in our faces that we can no longer ignore it without simply being willfully and deliberately ignorant. I fear, though, that it might be too late for us as a people and as a nation.

As I write this, we are standing in the aftermath of yet another mass shooting. A 64-year-old white man, Stephen Paddock, from his 32nd-floor hotel room in Las Vegas, took the lives of 50-plus people and wounded around 500 others. Authorities are flummoxed, as nothing in Paddock’s background can explain his actions. No mental illness, no radical background. By all accounts he lived a charmed life.

Given the arsenal of weapons that Paddock had in his possession, we could lay the blame at the feet of the gun lobby and our country’s incessant need to cling to the Second Amendment in a way that any thinking person would say the framers of the Constitution did not intend. No private citizen needs access to the type of guns that Paddock had in his possession.

Mass shootings have become as American as apple pie and baseball. However, the unspoken truth is that we are a violent nation and we have always been a violent nation. This country was birthed and raised and nurtured in violence. It’s just that the violence only affected a certain segment of our populace. Now the violence is all around us, from small town America to the glitzy strip of Las Vegas and everywhere in between. No one is immune from this very American affliction. In the five years since an armed man shot up a classroom filled with children, nothing has changed. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 was our moral test and we failed miserably.

Most of us are asking for common-sense gun laws and while we definitely need to get our lawmakers off the gun lobby’s payroll and out of the NRA’s pocket, I am sorry to say that focusing solely on the gun lobby and gun legislation is not the cure all to our issues. It will be a significant bandage, however, on a gaping wound; it might buy us some time.

No, we need to go deeper. We need to address the culture of toxic white masculinity that is also very much a part of the fabric of this nation. See, one only has to look at how we deal with mass shootings and really any aberrations that don’t fit our comfortable narrative to see certain patterns. If a Black or brown person commits a heinous crime, it is an indictment on an entire community. If you think I am kidding go ask a Muslim friend or Black friend. Yet the rugged individuality of the white male American experience does not allow for pathologizing an entire group of people if that group consists solely or predominantly of white people. To quote Chauncey Devega: There will be no ‘national conversation’ about the connection between toxic (white) masculinity and American gun culture. In the mainstream news media and broader public discourse there certainly will be no discussion of the fact that white men are 31 percent of the population but commit 63 percent of mass shootings. Such a fact is forbidden or explosive, because it connects race, gender, guns and death.”

If similar stats around guns applied to any non-white group, we would be enacting bans (like Trump keeps trying with Muslims) on those groups and would have all manner of task forces at the ready to investigate them. Instead, due to our racial ignorance and the normalization of whiteness, we ignore the elephant in the room.

Yet we are a nation now governed by the poster boy for toxic white masculinity. As anyone who chooses to pay attention can tell you, it’s hard to ignore that our commander and chief has a problem with anyone unless they are white, preferably male and definitely cisgendered and heterosexual. Trump’s response to the crisis in Puerto Rico has even those with only a basic understanding of dog-whistle politics shaking their heads at his blatant racism.

We are in a state of crisis. In order to move forward, we must find the courage to have the uncomfortable conversations. To understand that the systemic racism and violence go together like a hand in a glove. That the same culture that allows mass shootings to happen regularly also allows systemic racism to thrive and that the same key is required to solve these issues. We must start unpacking whiteness and its destructive properties alongside with unpacking the culture of toxic white masculinity. The question is, are you ready to create change or are you looking for another quick fix?
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I am tired, or The trauma of white supremacy

I don’t know about you but I am tired. Like deep in my bones, weary and wondering when will it end? The past few years have brought us a nonstop flow of Black pain and suffering as we have seen Black kids, teens and adults whose lives have been taken too soon by a system that refuses to see the humanity of Black people.

We have seen a new generation of activists and thinkers rise up and demand full inclusion to to the table of humanity and we have also seen the old guard of white supremacy fight tooth and nail against recognizing or even acknowledging that Black lives have value. Yet more white people are starting to understand that racism is not a matter of choice but rather that it is a system that was created and that continues to be maintained…and that the greatest gift one can give to this oppressive system is white silence. White silence is almost as good as saying kill niggers and anyone else deemed not worthy.

However, white supremacy has caught its second wind and I fear that frankly, it might just win and if it doesn’t win, it will be as destructive as a Category 5 hurricane by the time it’s done with us all. Hurricane Donald Trump is hellbent on reclaiming whiteness as the law of the land. Hurricane Donald and his minions have made it clear where they stand and whether it’s giving tacit approval to white nationalists who proudly wear their hate out front unlike the hate mongers of yesterday or deciding that 800,000 young people, the majority of whom are people of color, no longer are safe in their homes, in their country. It is clear that Donald Trump is not playing with us.

I am tired. I am tired of Trump and more importantly, I am tired of white people who are so overwhelmed with all of this that in the end, they fall victim to the seduction of whiteness and embrace her familiar warmth because no one told them that it is not enough to simply become educated on the issue. Once educated, one must spring to action, otherwise the line between an active white supremacist and a silent but frozen white accomplice is a very thin line.  White silence is violent and it is being complicit in the systems that were designed to lift you higher while lessening the rest of us.

Frankly, I am tired of talking and wondering how to nudge people to the ultimate goal of destroying white supremacy and feeling like all my work has been for naught. Perhaps I am indeed spitting in the wind. I am tired.

But I don’t have the luxury of giving up the fight, because it is my freedom and safety on the line; my children and grandchild’s well-being and very lives as stake.

I need to see more white people actively in the fight. It’s the kind of thing that might lessen my weariness. Something that might give me and other people of color real hope. Don’t stand by the sidelines while those of us who are the system’s greatest victims are ground down by it.
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The soul of the nation

Today’s post is written by regular BGIM contributor Teddy Burrage, a Portland, Maine, native and local activist and organizer. When he’s not writing or working, you can usually find him exploring Maine’s vast interior and coastline.
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The events that took place in Charlottesville and the days after laid bare the soul of the United States. No matter how hard this nation tries, we cannot rid ourselves of the seemingly everlasting scourge of white supremacy. Early movements for civil rights sought to change our institutions in favor of more equitable policies and that tradition continues today through the efforts of those who advocate for criminal justice reform, for example. But even though it’s been proven possible to effect change in institutions, the notion of white supremacy persists in the attitudes of many white people—whether they are stanch white nationalists or oblivious liberals.

Recently, the president of the United States compared the two sides who clashed at the Charlottesville rally, making a moral equivalence between white supremacists and anti-racists. And even though his assessment rightly offended many people, in some ways it is representative of national tradition. Our country has a rich history of contemplating the humanity of Black people as matter of acceptable public discourse.

In 1787 after a contentious debate, it was decided that that Black slaves were three-fifths a person. Seventy-four years later, the nation entered civil war over the humanity of slaves. The following decades were defined by battles against the KKK, a fight for voting rights, and tensions associated with a segregated South. Today, the nation grapples with the morality of mass incarceration and the extrajudicial killings of Black people. The worthiness of Black lives has always been up for debate in the United States. What is unique about the modern era is the ever-present idea that we are a post-racial society.

There is a perception that George Wallace was the last segregationist to exist, that Martin Luther King Jr. healed all the nation’s racist attitudes, and that Lyndon Johnson rid our institutions of racism and discrimination. Many believe that these acts of social sorcery ushered in an era in which our racist past was no longer relevant.

A brief exercise in critical thought exposes how absurd these assumptions are. But nevertheless, such perceptions serve as a point of departure for many debates surrounding race in America today.

Most Americans are familiar with the images of the Birmingham Campaign in 1963 when non-violent Black protesters were blasted with fire hoses and attacked by German shepherds. Similarly, images of the sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter continue to be emblematic of the Civil Rights Movement. But somehow, despite these historic scenes, people believe that they were just an isolated moments in time.

But where are those people now who dowsed Anne Moody in condiments at the lunch counter or the cops who released attack dogs on Black men, women, and children? Were those people, and their community of like minds, suddenly washed over with feelings of compassion and equality with a swipe Lyndon Johnson pen? The events that took place in Charlottesville prove that is unlikely.

It cannot be underestimated the amount of people who carry the torch of hate and bigotry into the 21st century. Many people look at Donald Trump and say that he is the creator of these attitudes. But that is an error in thinking. Donald Trump is just a purveyor of hate looking to capitalize on an already abundant resource. He now serves as an umbrella under which cowards can hide from the rains of reality.

Even though these white nationalists, neo-Nazis, and white supremacists tend to align with the political right, white liberals and moderates, too, have some ownership to take when it comes to dismantling racist notions in their own backyards. Simply announcing one’s allegiance to a certain political affiliation or ideology doesn’t automatically make them immune to being part of the problem. Of course liberals do not thrust their hands out into a Nazi salute; oftentimes, though, they meet communities of color with only lip service, apathy, and silence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his Letter from Birmingham Jail:

“First, I must confess that over the last 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 the 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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Just as feelings of hate and ignorance have been inherited by people on the right, apathetic and blasé attitudes have been handed-down to the white liberals and moderates who stand to the left of them. Colorblind-ism is likely the most pervasive viewpoint that liberals hold which serves to invalidate and undermine Black folks and their experiences. (For more information on the problem with saying you don’t see race, see here.)

Racism is a system and depends on many different moving parts. Right wing extremism may represent the pistons that drive the engine, but ineffectual and shallow support from liberals serves as lubrication. It all works together.

Even though we have a long history of deliberating whether Black people are deserving of respect and humanity, it does not mean that we need to further that tradition. Though our nation has gone through even harsher social and political unrest, the level of regression we are facing now is unparalleled. Emboldened white supremacists who now feel safe to slither out of the shadows have been legitimized by the so-called Leader of the Free World.

In these uncertain times, it is important for people who are committed to justice to review what Karl Popper called the Paradox of Tolerance. The philosopher theorized in 1945 that societies could be tolerant to a fault. Liberalism says that tolerance is an unbreakable virtue but Popper said this was a misstep in thinking. He said that there is one thing that we should not be tolerant of and that is intolerance itself.

“Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.   In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Even though the theory is an exercise in reading comprehension, the concept is quite simple: be tolerant to all people but reject those who hold intolerant ideologies such as white supremacy.

So many people talk about what they would have done if they were there during the Civil Rights Movement. Well, that opportunity has presented itself again and this era will be defined by who stands up for justice and humanity.
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If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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