In the well-meaning and surprisingly banal book, White Fragility by Robin Di’Angelo, there is a discussion around ‘White fragility’ in talking about racism. I don’t think the term fragility does it justice, it’s a little more like short-fused, nasty, vicious and mean. However, I do admit White Short-fused Nasty, Vicious and Mean Snappiness does not make for a catchy title—but how about The White Rabid Defense Reflex? Or more to the point, nod to JP Sartre: White Racial Nausea. Either way it seriously understates the larger issue in which this fragility must be seen.
In reading the book, I came across a disturbing quote from Robin’s introduction about how America was founded: “Yet the nation began with the attempted genocide of Indigenous people and the theft of their land.” I dare say this quote is itself an example of what I don’t like about White ‘Fragility.’ Fragility hardly accounts for the petulant, barbaric and cruel greed of White America. In my lifetime, the forces of overt White Supremacy have hardly ever been greater. It currently controls the White House, the Supreme Court and and holds the legislature captive. What checks and balances are there on that? Overt White Supremacy doesn’t even recognize freedom of religion as it will viciously gun down and burn down all it doesn’t like—including churches of which we have sad but plentiful evidence.
As if Overt White Supremacy isn’t enough, there is the pervasive Covert White Supremacy putting its stamp all over everything White America touches. And every White person participates in Covert White Supremacy, in something come to be called ‘White privilege.’ The Constitution’s Second amendment’s current interpretation cannot be seen as anything else than a continual support for white supremacy infrastructure. Just look at the NRA. The right to protect yourself? Only with guns never civil rights, assistance to the underprivileged or any kind of mercy to anyone: shoot first ask questions later (if at all) should be NRA slogan.
If you delude yourself other wise about this ubiquity of White Supremacy, just look at the history of indigenous people of America. There should a lesson for all: a reckoning to the Whites and a warning to the Blacks. There you will see what White American supremacy is truly capable of: anything.
What white people did to the indigenous people of America is perhaps the most revolting act of barbarism—not of the 19th Century or the 20th—but I dare say unprecedented in human history (though I must claim ignorance of Canadian and Australian history which have also used settler colonialism to steal land from its indigenous population. Everyone hates comparisons, especially with the Nazi card, but what the Nazi’s did was miniscule compared to what American whites have done. Think about that. Think about the revulsion you feel at the mere mention of Adolph Hitler and now multiply that and look in the mirror. My guess is you don’t feel the same revulsion, let alone worse.
The Nazi’s attempted a genocide and did not succeed, the European Jewish people, the Yiddish culture, social democrats, LGBT, communists, etc. survive to this day, even in Germany. We can still read yiddish literature. We can still read Karl Marx. Magnus Hirschfeld’s ground breaking works are also not obliterated. None of this is true of the societies, peoples, nations, cultures, languages that White people have obliterated off the map. What better example is there than the state of Indiana. Ever see Indians there? Associate indigenous people with Indiana? Tribes used to live there. In fact quite a few: Potawatomi, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Delaware, Winnebago, Wea, Wyandotte, Ottawa, Chippewa, Menominee, Fox, Sauk, Creek and Miami according to Indiana’s own governmental website. Today: no Indians. No Indians in indiana. No Native American reservations in Indiana. What happened to them all? The Great Removal. The forced march of indigenous people from their land regardless of human cost so White people can settle there. In researching this, I came across a beautiful example of Covert White Supremacy. Here is a description of the Indian Removal Act of 1830:
The Indian Removal Act was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, authorizing the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders.
First, there were no unsettled lands, these were lands owned by someone else. Secondly, the effect of the law removed indigenous Americans in a huge area including substantial lands east of the Mississippi—even lands that were already ‘settled’ (aka owned) by Whites. Whites have a history of a pretty loose concept of ownership and what you can own. Those are the very concepts enslaving the Whites now.
If there is any question of the existential threat posed to the Black community by Whites, or anyone else who gets in their way, let the spectre of the murdered millions of Native Americans, let the tortured communities forced marched starving to death across the American west testify how far this can go. America’s name for its particular brand of Nazism went by some pretty nice sounding names such as Manifest Destiny. This was not attempted genocide. This was genocide. But really not. Genocide does not dignify what America had brought about. As far as I know there is no word for what was done. The United State of America committed a Genocide 10x. Actually it’s more. There are countless number of Native American tribes that are extinct. The colonization of America was the most gut wrenching act of brutality ever perpetrated by mankind. There is nothing I know of on such a scale in human endeavors.
Being able to see thing in this light is not easy. Two things helped. First an excellent lecture on White Supremacy by Jeffrey Robinson of the ACLU and the Trone Center for Justice and Equality. A link to the lecture is in the related links section.
Secondly, there is an excellent book by Jeffrey Ostler entitled, Surviving Genocide: Native Nations and the United States from the American Revolution to Bleeding Kansas, which is volume one of an exhaustive study of the Native American tragedy. Mr. Ostler, who was part of a previous volume by alike minded scholars entitled Why You Can’t Teach United States History Without American Indians, quoting the New York Review of Books, this volume “addressed critical omissions in writings about the Plains Indian wars, [but] gave little hint that [Ostler] was piecing together this grand synthesis. But Juliana Barr’s opening chapter to that collection laid out the geopolitical premise of Surviving Genocide:
At the time of European invasion, there was no part of North America that was not claimed and ruled by sovereign Indian regimes. The Europeans whose descendants would create the United States did not come to an unsettled wilderness; they grafted their colonies and settlements onto long-existent Indian homelands that constituted the entire continent.”
Now, this is not new information for me. I have known this all along since I was a teenager, thanks to my civil rights minded mother. But the quote above gives a lurid backdrop for the story to follow by Mr. Ostler and the book is unrepentant in its cogent in your face but erudite account of the genocides that were perpetrated on the Native Americans by White America. For even with that knowledge imparted on me by my mother, I must also mention my father’s favorite writer was Louis Lamour, and loved to watch western movies on television. The American coexistence of an oblique recognition of genocide with the overflowing self-aggrandizement and moral relativism of the American western literature and movies created a mythology that allows White supremacy not just to be sublimated but glorified and celebrated. It obscured for me what should have been plain and clear.
According to Ostler, in 1492, the estimated indigenous population of North America was something upwards of 13 million. Ostler reports in the early 1900’s that figure was 270,000. This does not represent a slaughter of 12.7 million people but generations of 13 million people. and many cultures, languages, and peoples. I dare say the actual number could go as high as 100 million.
This poses a much larger and more humiliating reckoning awaiting White America. There is no part of American history in the first five hundred years and beyond, not tainted with some account of the Civilisation-cide of indeigenous people. From Plymouth Rock to the 49ers to the present day reservation system which resemble concentration camps when compared with the rich origins of indigenous civilizations.
Was there anything White America did not take away from the indigenous population? Life, land, culture, even belittling their very name by calling them collectively American Indians and everything they owned American Indian. The name itself an insult to them, to real Indians and a dehumanization of them both.
Whites should consider ourselves lucky that we are in a position to offer Black Americans reparations, restitutions and remedies. Because in the scope of American actions to the indigenous population we have nothing to offer. Nothing of value anyway. We can only offer glorified concentration camps where Native Americans get a modicum of autonomy, unless they are economically in our way, recall the Keystone pipeline. I recall driving on the island of Maui—absolutely beautiful place until you get to a rugged desert area which is called, with straight face sarcasm and insulting irony, the native homeland.
So let White America be on notice: your history is one of unforgiving bigotry and greed. Reaching out a hand to Black community has to cost you it has to undo that greed, or it is literally worthless. But if there is one thing Whites hate to give, and that’s their money or resources, for it is the basis of all their power. It is funny how Whites project their worst characteristics on Jews. And of course Jews are discriminated against. And Jews are increasingly the target of Overt White Supremacy. I can even say my father had an employment application ripped up when a hiring manager found out he was Jewish. Nevertheless, he still had access to White privilege. Not enough to be a billionaire, but enough to get a well paying hardworking job as a construction electrician, whose union membership did not reflect the racial diversity of where we lived, in Detroit, Michigan.
So let the Black community be on notice. In the coming years there will be many attempts at mollification dressed up in all sort of fancy names and sloganed-laws that mean opposite of what they purport. Keep your eyes on what really matters. For already, I am getting all sorts of emails from White America of all sorts: companies, politicians, and celebrities and these emails are all full of mea-culpas that are not worth the paper they are written on—oh wait it’s not even paper, that would require a resource, instead it’s an email. Not worth the email it’s written on, has an even more degrading sound to it.
I am also member of groups where Whites are taking all sort of nonsensical initiatives to cosmetically make changes that assuage White guilt but completely irrelevant, extremely low priority, or at least unimportant to the Black community. These initiatives are diffusing attention to what really matters: Black lives are being lost in roughly two ways: directly by murder and indirectly through lives and talents wasted for a lack of access to resources (education, opportunity, community assistance, etc.). Anything that does not mention this is a sure fire path to some concentration camp, a free Negro State in the heart of Death Valley with an all you can eat buffet that’s empty of anything nutritious. Everyone White and Black: keep your eyes on the prize and let’s learn from the American indigenous population just how cruel and heartless Whites are capable of. Jim Crow laws? Some scattered massacres? Lynchings? Look at the indigenous population of America to realize you ain’t seen nothing yet. Consequently, the reckoning can not happen fast enough while there is still time.
(Okay, it’s 2,000 words on racism, I think that’s all I can handle today.)