Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The look of hate is in our eyes


This is what white privilege looks like.

In GQ magazine, documentarian C. J. Hunt says the "video of this part-time Nazi, this junior secessionist, is a perfect portrait of the very white privilege the so-called 'alt-right' decries as liberal fiction."

I cannot disagree. When you're a little chickenshit Nazi who gets separated from his volk in a big, bad race riot, gets chased, then caught by a bunch of anti-fascist counterdemonstrators but gets to walk away alive -- walk away unmolested in any way except for the debasement he has visited upon himself -- because he can strip off his "uniform" and beg for mercy, saying he's not a real white supremacist . . . that's some serious white privilege.

It also is proof positive that Donald Trump's "alt-left" holds all kinds of moral high ground over the "very fine" Nazis our catastrophe-in-chief assures us he knows all about. The Nazis, you see -- the ones who are so tough en masse but turn into sniveling little cowards when alone and cornered -- would not have had mercy on someone who couldn't "pass" by taking off a white polo shirt.

Don't believe me, watch this.
 

I AM someone who thinks, as a rule, "identity politics" is unhelpful in holding this diverse and troubled country together. I also think it's a losing political proposition unless, of course, you are someone as evil and as shameless as Donald Trump, who managed to identify enough of the dispossessed,  the angrily conservative, the hypocritically religious and the blatantly white and fascist to cobble together a barely winning coalition.

But I also say this as a middle-aged white Southerner who's lived in the Midwest for more than half my life. The parts of my identity that I can't strip off like a polo shirt are not likely to get me killed.

Not if I stumble across a Nazi rally, and not if I get pulled over by an Omaha cop.


"White privilege isn’t just an easy bank loan or the cumulative effects of discriminatory housing policy," Hunt, the documentary filmmaker, said in his GQ article.
It's also the privilege to disappear. The privilege to terrorize a community and return to your regular life with the ease of peeling off a polo shirt. The privilege to come to someone else’s town, invoke the symbols and slogans used to terrorize Jews, African-Americans, and countless other races in history’s darkest chapters, and pretend it’s simply your way of showing ethnic pride. It’s the privilege to engage in terror “for fun,” and the privilege to walk away. For most of my life, I've thought of racism as the vestiges of a dying generation. It's far more terrifying to behold a sea of young people for whom white supremacy is just a rec-league sport.
YOU DON'T have to surrender to the relative tribalism of identity politics to admit what is as plain as day, yet as invisible as mountain air to your average white Trump voter: If people aren't looking at you funny . . . or following you around as you shop for fear you'll steal something . . . or blowing your brains out during a traffic stop . . . or trying to make it as difficult as possible for you to vote . . . or assuming that anything you've ever achieved had to be at their expense . . . or beating the crap out of you in a parking garage because of the color of your skin, you're probably not endangered, threatened or have that much cause to feel aggrieved.

And when you see those things actually happening to folks of color, they probably are . . . and have cause to. Be aggrieved, that is. 

To recognize the bleeding obvious today, all one needs is just a bit of empathy, a quality that also happens to be in exceedingly short supply and, when acquired, usually is applied highly selectively.

The standard American conceit is that we're better than this. Obviously, we're not. Maybe we've backslidden in recent years; maybe we never were.
Alton Sterling protest, 2016 / Reuters

WHAT KEEPS me up every night is that I see this country becoming more and more like the Louisiana I knew as a child and a teenager. That's not a good thing. That's a racist, hateful thing.

Surely, it's one of two things -- that we have profoundly regressed as a people, or that we've dropped a societal façade so convincing that it caused us to become somnambulant.

To the great detriment of my mental health, I sometimes read the comments on Facebook pages for various Louisiana media outlets, generally on stories having to do with race or Confederate statues . . . or protests against Trump. If someone, like myself, is perverse enough to read that crap, it's reasonable he's going to be alarmed. It's bad out there . . . or on there, as the case may be -- even accounting for the propensity of nuts and those full of resentment to number among the most constant commenters.

On a Baton Rouge TV station's Facebook post about Monday's protest in Durham, N.C., where leftist protesters tore down a Confederate memorial, there were at least three "kill them all" comments, several more calling them "animals" (contemporary Southern replacement for the N-word), hundreds of demands to lock them all up, several commenters eager for the commencement of civil hostilities . . . and at least one fellow as sure as his 1861 ancestors that the filthy lib'ruls would surrender as soon as the first shot was fired.

Because that's exactly what happened after Fort Sumter, right?

MY SLEEPLESS NIGHTS bring me to another rumination about identity and "white privilege."


We all know what Trump did Saturday. What he reluctantly -- and unconvincingly -- said Monday. How the Trump Train came off the tracks on Tuesday and the president angrily threw his true colors in the face of the assembled White House press corps, revealing himself to be a Nazi-sympathizer. (Really, there's just no other way to put it.)

The coastal media elites seem to think that's the end of him, then.

New Orleans, 1960
Those of us still enough in touch with "flyover country," particularly the Deep South, know better. In the American South, as objectively awful as Trump's words are -- and as awful as he is -- if the 2020 presidential election were tomorrow, he'd probably win in a cakewalk. It would be reasonable for you to ask, at this juncture, "What the f***?"

The eff is pretty much this: Large swaths of the United States are now fully fascist in every way but name. And the Deep South always has been.


When I was growing up, having been born toward the end of Jim Crow (1961) and having lived nowhere else but Baton Rouge until early 1983, I didn't realize that, because I knew nothing else. None of us did -- at least none of us white folk.

I went to legally segregated public schools until 1970. Yes, 1970. In 1970, neighborhood schools was a desegregation plan. White people still lost their shit. Very Trumpian, actually.


"Degenerate Music" exhibit catalog
Between something like 1963 and 1970, desegregation was a "freedom of choice" plan for blacks to go to all-white schools in their attendance district, starting with 12th grade and adding a grade to the plan every year. For an elementary kid like I was, the biggest threat one's parent could make against your misbehaving self would be to "send you to the nigger school."

I imagine parents are still making that threat today -- education is still that segregated there. Only now, starting when the feds ordered busing in 1981, whites have almost totally abandoned the public schools; they're 90 percent nonwhite. When I graduated in 1979, they were roughly 67 percent white.

Likewise, Baton Rouge itself has been largely abandoned by whites. A city that was more than 60 percent white in the early '80s now is majority minority. What was a unified parish (county) school district has turned into four school districts, as suburban cities broke away and formed their own. Unincorporated suburbs in the southern part of East Baton Rouge Parish want to incorporate as a new city so they can form a new (mostly white) school district. This, of course, would gut Baton Rouge's tax base. A couple of years ago, St. George activists fell short after a terrible and bitter battle that got worldwide news coverage.


Yet, they will not go away. The battle likely will resume as soon as electoral law allows.

Someone could argue that, in parts of the United States, we're fighting a civil war right now, just without the shooting (so far).

IN MY HOMETOWN,  there is white privilege. It is deeply institutionalized in law and in custom. Like a white polo shirt, my people -- white Southern people -- could take it off. But they will not. Is that, broadly defined, not the heart of fascism?

Was not the antebellum South, with its brutality, master-race theorizing and chattel slavery, not a spiritual progenitor of Nazism? Did not the postwar Jim Crow South, -- that of ritualized brutality, culturally internalized racist beliefs, de jure segregation and government-enforced second-class citizenship for blacks -- provide a legal blueprint, if not the legal blueprint, for Nazi Germany's Nuremberg Laws of 1935?

That's exactly what a Yale law professor argues.

From the introduction to James Q. Whitman's book, Hitler's American Model:

Moreover, the ironic truth is that when Nazis rejected the American example, it was sometimes because they thought that American practices were overly harsh: for Nazis of the early 1930s, even radical ones, American race law sometimes looked too racist.
PRIVILEGE. Fascism by the name "Americanism" -- or "Southern heritage" . . . or any other damn thing but what it was. That's the all-American world in which I was reared, and which exists even today, in pockets, from sea to shining sea, and almost unbroken from Virginia to Texas.

Yet we are shocked, shocked there are Nazis among us. That white supremacy once again is ascendant.

Yet we wonder how the hell an amoral, racist -- and dangerous -- buffoon like Donald John Trump became the 45th president of the United States.


To me, the issue in this country isn't whether the United States will go fascist; the issue is whether a) the South ever will QUIT being fascist, or b) the rest of the country will become fascist, just like the former Confederate states.

The answer to that question, only God, through His tears, can see.

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