Saturday, March 25, 2017

Bloody, But Unbowed

Emory Douglas/2016 (by permission)

It's taken me a while to catch my breath. That one-two punch last November was a doozy and though I've been meeting my responsibilities (which are many), my psyche went down for the count and has been lying on the canvas in the ring ever since, trying to figure out if I can make it to the locker room on these jelly legs or do I need to jump in a cab and head straight for the border. There's something to be said for living to fight another day.

I've been lying still with my eyes closed, as it were, reminding myself that this is not new news. White Supremacy. the patriarchy, capitalism, and a cold-blooded commitment to power held by a handful of old White men combined with an almost stunning lack of consciousness in the mass public over the past 250 years has delivered us to the present like an express train to hell. And for the last fifty years of that period, I've been watching it all unfold like a Grade B movie. Yet -- no matter how you've trained -- a well-placed upper cut that catches you off-guard can rock your world, even if you're the better fighter.

Still, as I often tell my students, it's not what happens. It's what happens after that. Watcha gonna do?

So here I am, still in Louisiana, still teaching, still going through the motions, but tuned in to my peripheral vision like I'm walking through a war zone with a target on my back and an unloaded assault rifle over my shoulder. My jokes now drip with gallows humor. I am trying -- unsuccessfully -- not to use curse words in the classroom (the administration does not find this charming). And I've started doing yoga twice a week in an attempt to keep from alienating everyone around me. I will no doubt need friends before this is over.

Nevertheless, I do not feel centered. I have no plan. I am leaving the country four times this year (twice to Cuba). Yet I feel no sense of impending relief. After all, kiddies, this is a global disaster, whatever illusions some of us may have. (It mesmerizes me that so many in the U.S. think a "Democrat" in the oval office would make it all better while most of the rest of us imagine that going somewhere else would make us safe. Gimme a break.)

I know I'm running a risk here by hitting the keyboard while my brain is still limp with scattered randomness, but I'm dancing as fast as I can, I assure you (and I'm taking salsa lessons, so I would know). The bottom line is, I keep thinking of things I want to tell you when I'm not in a position to do so. So I better prime the pump if I don't want to run babbling into the street with my hair on fire some night. Maybe we should just consider this a drive-by blog post so neither of us is disappointed.

One thought that keeps looping around the track for me lately is about how the skin tone issue became a thing in the first place. I know how it got started. Europe needed a ton of money to industrialize in the 1600s, so they organized a lynching party made up of the law, "science," and religion to steal the land and other resources from Africa, the Islands, and the Americas. They made so much money, they decided not to quit. And in the process, they stripped Africans of their tribal identities and labeled them all after the Niger River in West Africa ("niger" -- pronounced nee'-zhur -- being Portuguese for "black").

A hundred years later, when European indentured servants and Africans in the new world banded together to displace the Europeans who held both groups in a reduced status (check out Bacon's Rebellion, if you don't believe me), the Power Elite took refuge in a ship in the harbor and sat there until they figured out how to respond. What they did first was to officially legislate the position of Africans to slavery "in perpetuity" (forever). Then they made a point of reminding the indentured Europeans that, even if it took fifteen or twenty years, eventually, they would be citizens, but that if they "forgot" their status as "better" than the Africans, they would be made to suffer for it.

To stipulate a clear separation between the two groups in the law, the Africans were referred to as "Black" and the European workers were referred to as "White." And that's when the fun began.

Socializing people as members of socially-constructed "races" to internalize the idea of "White" superiority and then underscoring this arrangement using brute force kept "race" relations more or less stable for some time. But, when it became abundantly clear that the vast majority of "White" workers (especially in the southern states) were not a lick better off financially than many "Black" workers, the Power Elite were forced to again dip into their bag of tricks. This time, they came up with "badges" to hand out to uneducated, unappreciated, and sometimes unemployed "White" men who desperately needed to feel important if they were not to (again) begin making trouble for the Elite.

The badges conferred on these good ole boys a special status as "slave patrollers," with the freedom to do whatever they deemed necessary to monitor, catch, or "discipline" Africans -- whether they were held in bondage or not. And two centuries later, not too much has changed, except that now the patrollers have lasers and stun grenades and tear gas and tanks in addition to the dogs and guns they started out with.

So if skin tone is only a marker arbitrarily chosen to divide the population in the best interests economically of the 1% on top, how did we get so invested in its supposed legitimacy? There are "Black" people lighter than some "White" people. There are "Black" people with naturally straight hair and "White" people with naturally kinky hair (which does not include Rachel Dolezal, of course). The idea that this means "Black" people are "mixed," but that "White" people"White" is...well...goofy, at best. And all the rest of it ("lazy," "ugly," "ignorant," "violent," etc.) is just constituted of add-ons to rationalize and justify keeping the power structure in place.

Using this kind of reasoning, Trump (you remember him, right?) could declare that only orange people with embarrassed hair could be President (which wouldn't even be as ridiculous as some of the things he's come up with). All he would have to do is gather up his billionaire buddies and follow the blueprint I've outlined above and in no time at all, we'd all think Trump's version of reality is natural and God-ordained.

I guess.

1 comment:

veganelder said...

Thank you for writing this.

In your essay you asked: "So if skin tone is only a marker arbitrarily chosen to divide the population in the best interests economically of the 1% on top, how did we get so invested in its supposed legitimacy?" The question regarding the persistence of the delusion, I suspect, has yet to be effectively answered. I wonder if part of the problem isn't tied up with the process that the longer we cling to a lie, the more difficult is the renunciation of it. I dunno. If you're not familiar with Jacqueline Battaloria's book: Birth of a White Naiton, you might find it interesting. Link: