It’s hard to hold on to a scepter when it is lubricated. No matter how hard you squeeze, it continues to slip from your fingers; no raising of the voice, entreaties to the beyond, historical references or inherited privilege will keep one’s hand on the rudder or help the power stay at home.
Such are the straights of white men in the United States in 2009. With the minority population of the United States becoming the majority, the tide of equality and justice is turning. A multiracial coalition elected a biracial president to preside over the United States of America. Since power and justice are never willingly shared or granted by the powerful, racial animus has begun to seep (once again) into public discourse in frighteningly obvious and increasingly desperate ways. Over the course of the last month, we have seen:
- a white man eject a group of black children from a swimming pool in Philadelphia;
- a white man accuse a Puerto Rican nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States of being racist (when that’s the reason he was denied the federal bench) because she acknowledges her heritage and the role race and gender have played in her life;
- a white man go on television and cheerlead that she was not attacked enough for being Puerto Rican, and that affirmative action discriminates against him;
- white firefighters vindicated by the SCOTUS when the discriminatory test they passed was validated; (a NY judge recently ruled differently in a different case)
- a white police officer arrest arguably one of the most widely known and accomplished black men in the United States in his own home because he had the temerity to assert his right to be there;
- nine white men introduce legislation into the Legislature of the United States requiring presidential candidates to provide proof of citizenship before they run in a veiled reference to the ludicrous notion that the first black POTUS isn’t a citizen of the United States;
- another white man in the same house arguing that if federally funded abortion were available fifty years ago, the President’s white married mother would have had a “free abortion” because of financial incentive (he assumed she was an unwed, single mom);
- the same white man arguing that the only black man sitting on the Supreme Court of the United States would have been aborted for the same reason;
- the State of California issue an official apology to American citizens of Chinese descent for discriminatory laws passed over the last century, i.e. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882
Race is no longer the third rail of American politics. It can’t be, with a black man as POTUS. His presence, as demonstrated by the overloud and uncomfortable laughter at his press conference on Wednesday evening by the predominantly white press corps when he stated that if he tried to force his way into [his home] the White House, “I’d get shot,” forces the blind eye to see that we are not (and should not be) a colorblind nation. We are not post-racial because we have never dealt legitimately on a national level with race.
Just as candidate Obama claimed that in some places, people who had suffered through generations of economic neglect “cling to their guns and religion, to their antipathy of people foreign to them” to explain their plight, so too are these white men clinging to their white privilege and inherited station, to their unspoken benefits and fantastic position, by blaming affirmative action and racial minorities. From Indian wars to enslaved Africans, from Chinese exclusion laws to statutes forbidding interracial marriage, from the KKK to affirmative action, from Emmett Till to Jeff Sessions, race has been the tiller and the sail of “conservative politics” in the United States. The maintenance of the status quo has always rested on the back and shoulders of the oppressed and discriminated populations of this country. And the numbers of white people who continue to cling to this standard is increasingly vocal, even as it is numerically dwindling. You have only to watch Alexandra Pelosi’s “Right America: Feeling Wronged” to hear and see them.
On a national level, though, it remains okay for representatives from predominantly white districts and regions to spout off their racist affirmations of their own superiority. On a commercial level, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan are getting paid dragging their anger and dismay through the dirt to see what clings. The arrest of Professor Gates and the subsequent anger of the white establishment at President Obama’s characterization of the police officers as acting stupidly are both indications that the work of the (rasicst) founding fathers is not done, and the conversation amongst people of conscience (white, black, brown, red, yellow, etc.) not to mention the daily work of education and preparation must continue.
Perhaps many of us were lulled into comfort by the election of the first African American President of the United States. Let us then, return to the posture and postulation of Frederick Douglass, “Agitate. Agitate. Agitate.” Unlike Pat Buchanan, I am clear that this country was built by millions of men and women, black and white and brown and yellow and red. And it is our responsibility to continue to build it, to reach toward its ultimate potential. Those confused and scared people who “want their country back”, that white, christian, uncomplicated and racially stratified utopia are living in a fantasy – that country never existed.
Jeff Sessions and Jon Kyl, Pat Buchanan and Rush Limbaugh, Anne Coulter and Sean Hannity, James Crowley and the rest will learn and understand that when the scepter has shattered on the floor.