Picking out a path
(Photo credit: Pax Ahimsa Gethen, Wikimedia Commons.)
After Puerto Rico, after Las Vegas. this is the question which confronts us: How do we move forward?
A deeper question, which is more fraught with peril: Can we move forward?
For an insight into the second question, a tweet:
Take a good look at that. Households which owned guns went for Donald Trump. Those who didn't went for Hillary Clinton.
This is the most startling example of the divide facing us. It would be quite safe to say that we live in two different nations, whose values are not just opposed, but foreign to each other.
Can a country which is seems to be mired in animus and paranoia come to accommodation with a country which seems to be hurtling past it economically, socially, even, dare I say it, spiritually?
Ta-Nehisi Coates had this to say:
A deeper plunge into what Mr. Coates said:
White people seem to have decided that it is Ta-Nehisi Coates’s job to teach us all there is to know about racism in America. And once he’s finished, we would also like for him to make us feel better, to absolve us of our guilt and tell us that things will get better. Which is a lot to put on a single person, however brilliant — to say nothing of the fact that, as Coates pointed out on The Late Show on Monday night, it’s not actually his job.
“You’ve had a hard time in some interviews expressing a sense of hope in this country,” Colbert said toward the end of the interview. “Do you have any hope tonight for the people out there, about how we could be a better country, we could have better race relations, we could have better politics?”
“No,” Coates said, to scattered laughter. “But I’m not the person you should go to for that. You should go to your pastor. Your pastor provides you hope. Your friends provide you hope.”
“I’m not asking you to make shit up,” Colbert interjected. “I’m asking if you personally see any evidence for change in America.”
“But I would have to make shit up to actually answer that question in a satisfying way,” Coates explained.
What about the coming demographic change to America, Colbert asked. White people will soon be a numerical minority in America: Won’t things change then?
“Your question presumes that there is a static definition of whiteness,” Coates said. “And that this is the first time that there’s been a demographic change.” The Irish, he argues, weren’t always considered white; neither were the Italians or the Jews. America, by implication, is perfectly happy to change the definition of whiteness if it means the country can remain a majority-white nation.
Mr. Coates is not wrong in this. This is a more robust explication of the idea that white supremacy morphs. The Irish weren't white; then they were. Italians weren't white; then they were. Whiteness morphs as the original WASPs seek to protect their privilege by co-opting those they disdained. The KKK of the 1920s would have lynched a white Catholic as easily as they would have an black Baptist. Recently, a Catholic priest revealed his past membership in the Klan.
Mr. Coates' position is also a position which we've adumbrated on this blog: It's not up to people of color to fix racism. White supremacy won't be defeated by people of color. If white people won't do it, it won't be done.
Don't expect magic Negroes or Latinos to lead white people to a land of tolerance and amity. This is not work for them. This is work for every white person who voted for Donald Trump, or every white person who has a family member who voted for Trump, or every white person who voted for a 3rd party or stayed home. There is a solution to white supremacy: it is its defeat at every ballot, from local selectmen to President. But it can't be done by people of color. It has to be done by white people, and those who might be co-opted into white privilege. (I'm looking at my fellow Cubans.) White supremacy is the original sin of this country. Like original sin it needs to be wiped away in a new baptism, to reconcile the country with its foundational promise.
What's the way forward? I'm not as despairing as Mr. Coates. The fact that a large plurality of people don't vote gives me hope. Reach them, get them to the polls, and they're likely to favor liberal politics to the politics of hate and division.
Many white people are beyond redemption. They have to be sidelined, and prevented from doing harm. But as the reaction to Charleston showed, there are people of goodwill of all races who do not want to sink to the dystopia towards which we seem to be headed. Those are the people we have to mobilize and turn into a tsunami of a political coalition. Policy is formed by those who win. We have to make sure we're the winners.
I've been in a dark place for the past few days. I've despaired. But one has to go through darkness occasionally to see the light. The world is not crafted by the meek, but by the bold. We have to be as bold as our convictions, that all men and women are created equal, that no one has pride of place because of birth or race or gender. Now is not the time to curl up into a ball and give up. Now is a time to fight for victory.
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