Yes, the title is a had a click-bait twist, but then again, white supremacists are on some level about harnessing attention span of folks in order to spread their message to the more vulnerable members of the populous: disenchanted white millennials.
Last weekend saw a violent turn of events when in Charlottesville, Virginia demonstrations between white supremacists and counter protesters surrounding the issue of removing the Confederate General Lee statue in one of the city’s parks. An individual has been arrested after plowing into a group of counter protesters with a vehicle, injuring 20 and killing one person. Now the fallout from this has been very interesting politically, but in the grand scheme of things, it is more of the same.
For me, the core issue here is the dangers of privilege in how prejudice is fueled. If one examines all groups in majority, men (sexism), whites (ethnocentrism) able bodied (ableism), almost anyone (ageism), cisgender (gender identity) people, there is always people in the privileged group who believe their rights are under siege. These are the folks who fight to preserve their way of life in the face of change. When analysis is done for the groups just listed, while the root causes are different, that one constant of being blind to privilege is the same.
“Why is there no international men’s day?” “Why no White History month?” The answers are essentially the same. Firstly, some scholars argue that if the rules and mores of the privileged group are held as the aspired norm, then they don’t need special acknowledgement. Secondly, whenever people in the privileged group propose these questions, it’s usually a backhanded attempt to demean further the position of the minority group in question.
Fear is one of those universally understood motivators, and yet the source of the fear has different meaning for others. Fear in the case of an oppressed group is rooted in experiencing oppression and the prospect of a continuous experience of oppression with no end in sight. Fear in the privileged group means a loss of a way of life, especially an accustomed level of easy access to certain societal elements if all members of society are truly made equal. See, the thing about America from the forefathers which survives is this sense of privileges – we don’t want to be controlled so we formed our own nation and kicked out the British.
But the truth of those senses of privileges don’t translate to everyone equally. At the time of the US Constitution being written, the dominant minority group – blacks – were codified in that fabled document as 3/5 human. Hard to really get to true diversity with that sort of starting point, right?
The response of the current president of the United States of America on this issue has been interesting, to say the least. Many people have labelled it as him playing to his core electoral votes. Some have even stated his candidacy and presidency as he courted these white supremacist groups as a sign of emboldened for their mainstream return. One perspective that stood out for me was hearing a NY Times interview where the journalist has observed that on an issue as tricky as this the current president isn’t comfortable in using his trademark belligerent approach.
That struck me because it could be a potentially accurate microcosm of contemporary American society. With all the strides made with regards to diversity, people still are uncomfortable addressing these issues head on. Old wounds of racism still exist, including old habits and feelings within and across all groups.
And they should be, because it is difficult work to undo centuries of damage to oppressed groups.
For me, it is that fear again that rears its ugly head – the fear of the unknown that still gives the white supremacists a space to operate in 2017. Some have noted that the faces of the various groups in the US and in Europe are young white men, instead of older hard liners. It’s not surprising, really. In a shifting world, when the path to access for the privileged has started to change, those who cannot fully access it will seek to protect their access.
Still, history in the imperial, especially in America has shown that the middle class was used as a buffer between privileged elites and oppressed poor. So what truly drives the conversation: race or economic access?
The funny part about fear is that it’s irrational and parts of it aren’t justified. History has shown how humans handle prolonged oppression in violent means or true unity. While a violent response should be rightfully feared, history also has shown that the easier path forward is to bring such issues to the surface and to address them directly but respectfully.
We know how and why the first response doesn’t address these issues, so what is holding us back on the second choice?