White Supremacy is Dying
This originally appeared in my Broke-Ass City column for the SF Examiner in February. Considering the success of yesterday’s elections I figured it was perfect to repost.
When someone is terminally ill, dying from cancer or some other horrible disease, he or she often has a brief period right before the end, where they have a sort of bounce-back. In hospice care, it’s called “rallying.” The sick person has a few days in which they find new energy and optimism and feel like they might actually be getting better. And then, shortly after this rally, they die.
Right now, white supremacy in the United States is having its final rally moment. This president, his racist cabinet members and their ardent supporters don’t realize it, but this isn’t America becoming great again — it’s their version of America having its big, last and final breath. Good riddance. Hopefully, moving forward, we can finally arrive at a United States that lives up to the promises it has made to itself.
Since the “discovery” of the New World, white supremacy has been holding all Americans — including white people — back. In “A People’s History of the United States,” Howard Zinn writes about how white indentured servants and black slaves worked side by side and even revolted together against white landowners. But once those white indentured servants became free, the white landowners realized the best way to retain their power was to convince the poor white people that they had the same interests. The easiest way to do that was to instill in them that, even though they might be poor, at least they were better than those who weren’t white. Poor white people have been doing rich white people’s dirty work ever since. Those at the top figured out that if they kept poor people squabbling over melanin, they wouldn’t band together and tear down the rich.
Those in power have used this wedge so masterfully that they’ve been able to scare poor and middle-class white folks into voting against their own interests over and over again. In modern times, we’ve seen this in the way the right has convinced them to consent to, among other things: financial deregulation (the free market ain’t so free when those in power shape it with lobbyists — just look at what Uber and Airbnb have done with City Hall in San Francisco), breaking up unions (organized labor was stopping jobs from going overseas, where factory owners could make record profits) and privatize education, health care and prisons (keeping folks uneducated leads to more sick people and more prisoners, which allows for more profits).
They were able to achieve all this by assuring poor and middle-class whites that when people of color struggled for equal treatment, it could only come at the expense of working white people. It’s easy to cause disunion when you’ve persuaded one group that another group is coming for their livelihoods.
White supremacy is more than just burning crosses and racial slurs. It’s part of the DNA of our country and has been used since the beginning to assure that only a handful of people stay obscenely wealthy while the rest of us scramble for their scraps. But our movement, our resistance, has the opportunity to change all that.
The rapidly shifting demographics of this country alone show that white supremacy is unsustainable for much longer. The ascendance of both Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald show that the American people are tired of the financial tyranny that white supremacy supports. While Donald’s message was all a lie — he’s part of the system he claims to want to pull down — Bernie’s wasn’t. More and more people are realizing that health care and education should be rights, and that prisons shouldn’t be for profit and that we need to take drastic steps to save our ecosystem.
This is white supremacy’s last rally, it’s last bounce back. But that’s not to say this will be easy. That’s not to say we can just check out and, in four years from now, everything will be hunky-dory. There is a lot of work to do, including but not limited to: protesting, donating money, putting our bodies on the line, getting arrested, demanding police accountability and making sure our leaders dump their corporate ties and pull left toward the good and righteous side of populism.
If we do these things — and much, much more — we will be victorious. There are far more of us than there are of them. They just don’t know it yet.