When it comes to the idea
of White Fragility, I believe that it arises in people who fear that discussing
racism will lead to personal accusations. For those who have been taught that
racism is about prejudice, the conversation thus becomes one of one party
attempting to escape Judgment, and the other party winds up having to rhetorically close off escape routes, instead of both parties discussing what is happening and what needs to be done.
It all feels very
Christian, in a way, this desperation for absolution and redemption. As if one
could say for certain if they were inherently a Good Person or a Bad Person, and thus feel
satisfied forever! And by the wayside falls the work of atonement, which is the
actual work that needs to be done here -- there are injuries to make up for and
collective behavior that must change.
How much that devolves to
the level of the individual is an open question. But trying to resolve matters
of racism by starting from the level of the individual works poorly, and I am
disappointed by how much online anti-racism rhetoric focuses on making
accusations at that level, while neglecting the fact that this business all started as a
tool to uphold early Capitalism.
As I often say, the
system is not built out of prejudice. It is built out of the instinct to treat
people as pawns for the sake of making money, so that a small subculture can
continue the wealth competition that exists between its members. It tends to be impersonal. It's just business.
And it cannot be
addressed simply by getting everyone to treat each other nice. There are still
legal and social systems in place where someone has the authority to treat a
mass of people like pawns, or like nothing at all, without prejudice entering
the equation -- indeed they may have no idea that they are affecting many
people at once! But if they are told so, the answer remains the same: "we
have to keep making a profit." From the person pushing the actual buttons
the answer remains the same: "If I don't do this I get fired and maybe I
don't get re-hired anywhere else."
Questions of power and
authority remain open when they should have been closed long ago. By this means
has the prosperity of American cities been destroyed, with prosperous
neighborhoods smashed for the sake of highways and poor neighborhoods red-lined
into perpetual poverty. Was that out of prejudice or profit? If asked of
Robert Moses the answer is "yes" but I don't know what the answer is
for my own city.
Whatever the case, I know
that profit is the primary motivator. Even those politicians who appear to be
going out of their way to inflict racial injustice are doing so for the sake of
maintaining an underclass that they can pay as little as possible. The point of
inflicting misery is to keep a mass of people subservient.
In that light, saying
"I don't hate X people" is simplistic enough to nearly be a lie. Hatred is a major factor, but not the primary problem. The primary
problem is when someone thinks they're so much more important than everyone else
that they can boss everyone around like a bunch of programmable robots, and then they write all the
laws to let them do that, and suddenly you have aristocracy.
Perhaps this all comes
from an attempt of certain people to maintain themselves as an aristocratic
class. They were the grandchildren of the English aristocrats that came over
from southern England; they had lifestyles to maintain, which meant they had
debts to pay, and they needed to maintain a mass of servants and farmers
because they really didn't know how to do any of the basic survival chores --
they didn't know to cook, how to wash their clothing, how to grow their food,
nothing. Aristocrats are spoiled from birth into being helpless as adults. If
such people lose their servants, they are utterly lost unless someone teaches
them the things they are missing.
Instead of making that
leap, these people decided to simply do what they had been doing, even if it
meant the misery of millions. There one can see how personal habits play a
role. The fact that these people were in a position to let their personal
habits affect the lives of millions is the long-standing problem of
Yet even then, the
personal failure of these people is indifference for the sake of greed and
fear; hatred only comes into play when someone dares threaten aristocratic dominance.
Which is why I wonder about what we see in America now -- there remains a great mass of people who express racism as open hatred, who will support a racist candidate as long as he is effective in hurting people, who will gladly bandy slurs about for the sake of anger and spite -- there used to be more such people but they still exist, and from a distance they still look like a voting bloc, one unmotivated by the quest for profit and even willing to injure their own prospects for the sake of harming their neighbors that they despise. How does such a mind arise?
I believe that these people are motivated by the idea of white people being America's aristocratic class. After the colonial slave codes deliberately fostered such an idea, it was upheld by white people, especially of the southern colonies, for the sake of being able to Lord over people and territory as they saw fit. As this idea has been carried forward on later concepts like "The American Dream" and "Manifest Destiny" and "American Exceptionalism" and the like, anyone who threatened this class status was a dangerous enemy, even if all they were doing was farming their own land. Thus the northern anti-black codes of the 1830s and the post-1865 purging of black people from the midwest were a direct reaction to the idea of non-whites becoming citizens, which for the people of that era looked like it would upset the whole applecart; for certain people of our era it still does.
Yet even that was reactionary, for the sake of upholding status. It was not a simplistic malice arising from differences in appearance, as grade-school social studies classes and comic books would have us believe. If certain people are willing to call down fire upon their own position, it is because they wish to uphold the idea of race and the supremacy of one race, for the sake of feeling like they are a part of something powerful. They may be perfectly nice in the moment and then bring out the N-Word as soon as the door is closed. I would not be surprised if the loudest expressions of racial hatred come from the poorest people because they see White Supremacy as the only chance to have any power in their lives, and they build networks of mutual trust on that basis.
Yet this bloc is smaller than it was, for the remainder of the country has moved on from overt expressions of White Supremacy and even from overt expressions of prejudice, and maintains a racist capitalism for the sake of profit instead of aristocracy. For such people, their chief sin is apathy, not wrath.
For example, the current plague has very many people saying that we have to re-open the economy, regardless of how many grunt workers die for that sake. They say sacrifices must be made and imply that they will not be among those who sacrifice. They would spend lives for the sake of money. Or for the sake of a haircut, as we have seen with the protests against quarantine. It is not that these people hate their employees; it is that they do not care about them at all. And if the majority of those employees are not white, they do not question that phenomenon. Nor do the large employers bother to protect their workers from the plague if it would cut into profits.
Word on the street is that this push for re-opening is all for the sake of strike-breaking, because employees currently have the time and money to organize strikes. So as for for you, if you ask where you all fit into this, consider how much a labor union can scare a business executive. If you see yourself as a small
player, nothing but an ant compared to a giant, well, ants do not work alone.
They depend upon each other. One ant cannot stop the giant but millions can,
So it goes with humanity.
And amidst the collective work to end racism, for each individual, the critical
questions are not of Judgment but of trust. Do the members of an organization
trust each other? If not, where does distrust arise from, and how can trust be
earned? These questions must be answered, lest distrust lead to discord, and
discord lead to dissolution. I often think that the downfall of the Black
Panther party was in the moment when they decided to purge their ranks for fear
of infiltration by their enemies. They divided themselves in the face of their
enemy, and made it clear that they were vulnerable to being manipulated into
Do not make the same
mistake. Trust is mission-critical here, as it is in most parts of anyone's
life. The sort of people who try to change society so that they can do whatever
they want without facing the consequences of breaking trust are the sort of
people who try to gather power by using the rest of us as pawns. They will strike hard at any threat to their power, even if it is just people asking politely. If a people would attack the foundations of this power, they must stand together if they would stand fast.
So when it comes to White
Fragility, I say: What matter redemption, if it is self-centered? What do I
care how good you are, or believe yourself to be? I need to know if you have my back as I have yours. If you believe you are a good person, you are less likely to be held up by doubt in critical moments, yet seeking moral purity is a waste of time. Better to be worthy of trust.
If that is settled, then
let Heaven handle judgment. Leave prayer for private moments. There is work to
be done now.