Monday, May 27, 2019

Why I Continue to Insist That It's About Racism, Misogyny, Xenophobia, and Homophobia: A Footnote to My Recent Response to Responses

It's certainly true that every society or nation is different, and what applies to one won't necessarily apply to another. But I'm pointing out that there's a wave of manufactured right-wing rage across societies today, and asking why that wave is roiling society after society. It's entirely unhelpful to respond to such a sounding by saying, "Ah, but they're all different from each other, and you're not seeing the difference." This is to ask us to see only trees and pretend a forest is not growing there.

Why did many thoughtful African-American commentators try — once again — to tell the rest of us Americans after Trump was elected to stop being so naively surprised when ugly, toxic racism surges among us all over again? Why did one African-American commentator after another seek to tell us that we're deluded about our actual historical record and who we are if we imagine that Trump and the dark energies he's channeling are an anomaly, an unprecedented surprise, in our culture? And that we've done ourselves no service in refusing persistently to listen to the testimony of African Americans about who we are as a nation and what we're capable of doing….

To ask about how "we" (as in, many of us Americans) have shut out the testimony of African-American citizens — and still do so — is to ask about racism and its toxic effects not only in the American South or America as a whole (the American slave traders who benefitted most from the slave trade tended to be New Englanders: see, De Wolf family of Rhode Island). There's increasing willingness in some quarters in England and Scotland, for instance, to recognize how largely those nations benefitted from the practice of slavery in the U.S. and Caribbean — and increasing willingness to reach the same recognition in some quarters in Europe, too. If Edward Baptist's magisterial history of American slavery The Half Has Never Been Told should have taught us anything at all, it should have taught us that the slave system over which Americans went to war in the 19th century was a global economic enterprise in which many people in many places enriched themselves.

There were not so many "good" people in the sordid era of American slavery and its tentacles everywhere as we'd like to imagine there were — not so many "good" and "innocent" nations. It's really not helpful to keep pretending that the evil of the slave system was confined to a clearly recognizable, discrete group of "bad" people and that "we" have had no complicity in all of this.

The point of asking questions like this is not to indict everyone in the world, to say that the whole world is a massa damnata. It's to point out that it takes only a critical mass of people in many places — people riding a global wave that links group to group and nation to nation (the New Zealand mass murderer cited Trump in his online manifesto explaining why he murdered many people praying in a mosque) — with many complicit, silent "good" people or "good" people who unmask themselves as fellow travellers: it takes only a critical mass to turn the world very dark all over again.

And it helps to stick our heads into the sand today, about all of this, just as little as it helped for "good" people to do the same in Nazi Germany or the American South as churches were blown up during the Civil Rights movement and unarmed civil rights marchers had dogs set on them and fire hoses aimed at them.

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