It is in our hearts –one’s sense of superiority exists within. We are all and each capable of hate and bigotry.
It is considered the appropriate and necessary response to say that there is no room for it “here” – that we will not tolerate, in this case, white supremacy – here. Except here is exactly where it exists; here in our country, in our cities, in our communities, laws, structures, churches, homes, hearts and mind. The thread of a people’s sense of supremacy (power to dominate or defeat) has been woven into the fabric of this colonialist nation from the very beginning of what has come to be known as the United States of America.
The terror attack (terrorism = calculated use of violence, or the threat of violence, against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature) enacted in Charlottesville, VA is par for the course of a nation overwhelmingly invested in preserving the status quo. The embodiment of hate and fascism by white supremacists yesterday (Saturday, August 12, 2017) was an organized, well-strategized demonstration of a people increasingly emboldened by the big and small eruptions of white supremacy that have occurred this past year within our nation’s laws and among its leaders. The fact that we have such leadership in the first place is due on the fact that they are representative of a strand of superiority that already exists among us.
I say “us” because the capacity for this kind of self-preserving bigotry comes from within the human heart and exists in us all – we just happen to be dealing with a particular strand of it. But goddess, let us not think that we don’t have it in us, because if we refuse to acknowledge the capacity within ourselves, we risk not seeing it when it rears its ugly head in our hearts and mind.
But – staying specific to the context at hand – white supremacy was woven into the thread of this nation from the very start. Kelly Brown Douglas writes how it is the case that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were taken in by the reporting of 1st ce Roman historian Tacitus’ description of a Germanic tribe who successfully “fended off Rome’s empire-building agenda” (Stand Your Ground, 5). This tribe, “free from all taint of intermarriages” – “a distinct human race, like none but themselves” (read, exceptional), with “fierce blue eyes, red hair, and huge frames” (read, white), and “good [moral] habits” and an “instinctive love for freedom” (read, superior), captured Jefferson and Franklin’s imagination and effectively set the stage for their embraced of the myth that morality and freedom flowed through Anglo-Saxon veins in particular (Stand Your Ground, 5). This myth embedded the idea of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism in the United States from the start and helped shape white U.S.-ian identity.
That the truth of this history is the case does not mean, however, that we cannot liberate ourselves of the status quo of white supremacy; but it does means that we must collectively choose otherwise. Together we can work to change the pattern our national tapestry today takes.
Supremacy is inherently violent – it posits some humans as superior to others and enacts that violence in varied implicit and explicit forms. All that we saw yesterday in Charlottesville was one very visible manifestation, but it exists within and all around us all the time; but so do other possibilities as well – see the Poor People’s Campaign for just one relevant example.
As a collective of people who participate in the day to day life of this country, those of us who live in the United States day in and day out, must continually choose the ethics, morals, and values we wish to enact in the world in thought, word, and deed. We must find those comrades in the struggle with whom we can strategize toward a more truly democratic nation. Just as white supremacists can plan and organize hateful, violent attacks, those of us invested in justice-making, human-dignifying living can plan and organize demonstrations, actions, and practices of a different kind. And we must. Many of us already do, of course, but the work is continuous.
And so again, let us each continue to ask ourselves, what is my part in this struggle? And then let us get out and do it. Find our friends and co-workers en la lucha and continue the good work with renewed resolve. We owe it to ourselves and one another to enact and embody a more just and beautiful way of living and relating – to make it real for one another in word and deed, in our context, today so that the capacity which exits within us all to think we deserve (or are) better than others is kept at bay. It exists, but it need not rein us, we have so much more beauty we can bring to the world instead.
Do you have resources, information, or activism that you can direct us to and share? Please add it to the comments below.
If you want to read more about Kelly Brown Douglas’ work I reference above, Stand your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, you can find her book here, listen to her talk about it here, and read about it here.
Also, I recommend to you my friend, Carolyn Helsel’s recent essay on whiteness and discovering the racism history of her home state, “Growing up in Texas: A Spiritual Autobiorgraphy,” it represents the deep work that many of us need to do. I wrote a reflection essay in response, “To Be Comrades en la Lucha, which you can find in the same issue of Insights: The Faculty Journal of Austin Seminary, Spring 2017. You can find both essays here: https://issuu.com/austinseminary/docs/spring_2017_insights_i
Xochitl Alvizo, loves all things feminist, womanist, and mujerista. She often finds herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, and works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and what we do, down to the smallest thing, matters; it makes a difference for good or for ill. She teaches in the area of Women and Religion, and the Philosophy of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality, at California State University, Northridge.