The way we move in the world is so often largely invisible to ourselves. We are unaware that what we take for granted could be so foreign to someone else. “How have you never heard of this show?”, “How have you never eaten this food?”, “What do you mean; mayonnaise is a white people thing?”.
It can be fun, and funny even, to discover what we thought was normal was really just unique to us, or to our culture. But when your culture is the one that continually ushers in devastating epochs in your nation’s history, it might be a good idea to discover how everyone else sees you moving in the world.
I started off the year reading Black Boy by Richard Wright, and while the writing was compelling, the story gutting, and the emotional trauma was relatable, what has stayed with me is how powerful whiteness was, and still is, and how much damage it can do. The story is 100 years old, yet it still feels relevant. Whiteness has always consumed blackness. What is happening today is just the latest and most visibly obvious example. As Wright tells his story, you realize just how thoroughly white supremacy consumed an entire people and a culture. It had the power to ruin lives and assume the ignorance of people. It made thieves out of honest men and liars of the honestly curious.
There is a line towards the beginning of the book that is devastating in its irony.
“I knew that Negroes had never been allowed to catch the full spirit of Western civilization, that they lived somehow in it but not of it.”
White Christians know that phrasing. It is the mainstay of white conservative Christianity. To be in it but not of it. In the world but not of the world. In the world, where they must live, work, be educated, and engage the culture, but not of the world, so it happens on their terms. You try and work for Christian companies, you hire Christian services for your home repairs, you become educated in Christian schools, and you create your own culture of entertainment that revolves around Jesus, even as it rakes in the money. And oh yeah, you do all of this in a highly segregated manner and you justify your segregation with whatever the current historical trend is. Slavery, fears of immigration, integration, abortion, school choice, whatever. Whiteness has never been short of excuses to justify its domination of American society. Even as they claim isolation from the world, white Christians manage to be in charge of it and exclude others from it.
“What was it that made the hate of whites for blacks so steady, seemingly so woven into the texture of things?”
We are standing on the brink of seeing another piece of American fabric being created. Anti-blackness, anti-immigrant, anti-woman and so much more is being woven anew into the texture of things. Made in the USA it says on the tag. There’s no doubt about that.
“I feel that America’s past is too shallow, her national character too superficially optimistic, her very morality too suffused with color hate for her to accomplish so vast and complex a task…Therefore if, within the confines of its present culture, the nation ever seeks to purge itself of its color hate, it will find itself at war with itself, convulsed by a spasm of emotional and moral confusion…our America is frightened of fact, of history, of processes, of necessity…it salves its conscience with a self-draped cloak of righteousness.”
Today is a hard day. A sad day. One in which we are seeing one of our smartest Presidents being replaced with probably the most ignorant, unintelligent man the country could find. We are going to see, yet again, the vision of white supremacy undoing so many fought for freedoms for minorities. We are watching whiteness literally consume a black legacy. Possibilities for an entire generation are at risk.
And what should be a devastating literal come-to-Jesus moment for a particularly powerful demographic has instead turned into a wall of obstinance and pride. This disaster was handed to us on a faux-gold plated platter by the group of people who are supposedly so devoted to not being of this world. If your true home is in heaven, then why are you so hell-bent on making it miserable for everyone else here on earth?
The dreams and values of the white church, of the white voters, and the white administration are not universal. They are not normal and they do nothing to humanize people or help them fulfill their true potential. Their willful ignorance and resistance to history will not spare them from the effects of their decisions. As Wright says, we are all going down the same drain.
Whiteness takes it for granted that it deserves power. These people take it for granted that they can shape and mold the texture of this nation into one that prioritizes hate and fear.
But that is not normal and it is not guaranteed. The way forward may be difficult, but it is not impossible, and resistance to consuming whiteness is not new. We will make it become obvious to them that the white way of doing things is not the only way of doing things, and it is not even the best way of doing things. Oppression will assert itself as normal and good over these next few years.
“Perhaps, I thought, out of my tortured feelings I could fling a spark into this darkness. I would try, not because I wanted to but because I felt that I had to if I were to live at all.”
We can, we must, and we will be the resistance.