In 1494 the Roman Catholic Church sanctioned the plunder of dark-skinned people by Europeans with the treaty of Tordesillas. With pen and paper they named millions of people property as they sought to build Europe from a muddy backwater, to a gilded kingdom. This act of heartless greed laid the foundation for the modern western hemisphere and set in motion a history with which we vie today.
In the late 18th century the colonists inhabiting the eastern seaboard of what would later become the United States of America realized they were sitting on literal gold mines. They rebelled against their mother countries. The more monied of them became political leaders and with the wealth they created via kidnapped people of African descent they mounted a successful insurrection. They minted a new nation that ensured their property rights with a constitution. In that constitution were many ideas fundamental to the maintenance of their social order. The right to assemble. The right to own (many) guns. The rights and obligation of all (white) citizens to police and own the black body (Article IV. Section II).
Everything seemed in place for their republic built on slavery and violence to last through the ages. But the authors of the constitution made a critical error in their text. The phrase “all men are created equal” was, even then, a stunning hypocrisy. It is also the Achille’s heel of white supremacy because it approaches truth.
It should read “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all people are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. The right to self determination, the right to assemble peacefully, the right to happiness and succor, the right to cultivate their land and physical spaces, the right to representation in free and fair elections and the right to determine the fate of their own physical person.”
Even the actual text of the constitution contains points of light that were meant to usher in a new era of citizen-led government. On paper it all sounds great. Unless you create a caste system designed to pit one population against another for the exploitation and subjugation of their bodies. That dichotomy has been central to the American character before and ever since.
This is why white Americans can watch a video of police shooting a man in front of his child in the midst of a civil conversation (Philando Castille) and excuse it. Because that is what was intended from the start. When a cop can crush a man’s neck for nine minutes without a hint of consternation in his expression (George Floyd) the cop is doing what he is compelled to do by the constitution.
If being nice was all we needed, Oprah Winfrey would have fixed this shit in the 90s.
In all these cases the anti-black response is to slander the dead man in question. We’ve all heard the “no angel” argument. It goes like this: a video surfaces in which a man with his hands in the air is shot dead or choked to death or beaten to near death by police unprovoked (as if being provoked is an excuse for a “professional” cop to do harm).
Right thinking people see the video and react with outrage to a murder.
“Conservative” (i.e., racist) radio, fox news and the racist internet go insane, incredulous that anyone would dare question police violence against a black body. “He was no angel” is their argument, as they dig up anything they can to prove that this dead black body was not extraordinary and therefore deserving of summary execution at the hands of someone paid to protect him.
After all, the only black bodies that are exempted from violence are the utterly remarkable ones and then only if they have not upset the self-perception of whites at any point in their life.
This nonsense is paper thin and seen easily for what it is … if you bother to look. But these phony outrages and anti-black demonizations are an exit door marked “whites only.” It gets used a lot.
Like …. a lot.
Millions of whites are happy to walk through and escape the uncomfortable truth of state violence. No matter how obvious a murder is caught on tape. They can continue enjoying the spoils of America’s anti-black plunder so long as they look away from the contradiction of a country founded for the wealthy on a bedrock principle of liberty it did not practice. Crime is a favorite lever of that door. Nurtured by an anti-black media all too happy to further the narrative of animalistic, criminally inclined blackness that has been part and parcel of America’s racial rhetoric since before the Civil War.
Still others are adept at convincing themselves that because they are “nice” to people and can point to a few examples of successful blacks that there is no contradiction at all. “If we all just X in our personal lives then everything will be fine.”
But eradicating anti-blackness only starts with personal attitudes. If being nice was all we needed Oprah Winfrey would have fixed this shit in the 90s. Prejudice is for sure an acute symptom of the disease but it is also easily countered.
If you look around your office and see nothing but white skin, your hiring managers have made a choice whether they know it or not.
Don’t think “blacks” are hard-working: Barack Obama. Think the negro mind is too weak to understand scientific concepts: Neil Degrasse Tyson. Think there is no such thing as police violence: here is footage of cops beating women in front of their children.
The long work of destroying anti-blackness isn’t just the work of changing white perceptions about black people, it is the work of changing the self-perception of whites. That perception is rooted in the fiction of America as a place where people get what they deserve and the economic and racial order is a byproduct of the natural order. It is rooted in the hateful fictions of western expansion and rugged, good natured, cowboys — men who beat native children to death with Winchester rifle butts. It is rooted in the willful mischaracterization of an America that “beat the Nazis” because it was the right thing to do — many of those same men came home and enforced the bloody terrorism of America’s apartheid. The suburbs that now sprawl throughout the land grew out of white flight and were kept white through redlining. You probably live in one right now.
Don’t get it twisted. Inequality and violence were engineered and intended from the start and the struggle we see today has always been. Anti-blackness is not a side effect, it is the disease.
So what can you do? There are numerous lists of books for white Americans who want to learn how they can join the fight ethically. (I’m not going to list them here. Do your own damn Google search.) But reading alone won’t do the trick. The question “am I racist” alone (though you should, of course, be asking that) won’t do the trick either. It will be harder than that.
Think about the people in your circle. Many of your friends are more anti-black than you want to believe. (Hints: they’re the ones making racist jokes during football games; they collect too many guns; they believe offensive conspiracy theories — always about people of a different shade or culture; they like to mock black people almost exclusively). Be honest about who they are and try to turn them around. If you can’t, fuck it, move on.
If you look around your office and see nothing but white skin, your hiring managers have made a choice whether they know it or not. It’s time to make another choice. One that can only be made deliberately.
Hire black. Black museum curators, black copywriters, black photographers, black literary agents, black foremen, black screenwriters (not just for shows about black suffering — seriously, if anyone from Netflix is reading this you need new voices in your sci-fi writers room post haste), black accountants, black caterers, black producers, black account executives, black designers, black directors and so on.
Stop calling the police on black people who aren’t hurting you or anyone else. Mind your own damn business.
Black people have borne the brunt of white greed for 500 years. That greed was aided and abetted by the church, it became culture in the “new” world and it has poisoned nearly every society on earth since. Anti-blackness paralyzes our nation’s government, it burns cities to the ground. It afflicts millions with disease and addiction and incarcerates millions. We are so inured to its attendant violence and hypocrisies that we lose sight of its abominable destruction. We play politics with it. We entertain ourselves with its perversions. We excuse the gross profiteering that has motivated this horror. Stop.
Destroy anti-blackness, save the world.