The eighties are known for big hair, highly questionable fashion, and an ill-fated movie called Soul Man where a white guy pretends he’s black to secure a scholarship to law school (sigh).
The movie was a failure and for many reasons. However, the idea of a white person wanting to be a minority in America is antithetical to the way many whites respond to this prospect. Some white children might enjoy sampling cultures for entertainment. However, those inclinations quickly fade in moments when the realities of privilege better serve their interests.
Deep down many white Americans nurse a resounding fear of becoming a minority and that fear is driving people to commission Nazism, fascism, and hatred to ward off their perceived diminishing status. The paranoid fear of “white genocide” has been stoked by right-wing media outlets and has radicalized “reasonable” white people across the country.
Educator Jane Elliott once asked a white audience how many of them wanted to be treated the way blacks are treated in American society:
“I want every white person who would be happy to be treated the way this society in general treats our black citizens, if you as a white person would be happy to receive the same treatment, please stand up.”
Not one person stood, to which she added:
“You know what’s happening. You know you don’t want it for you. I want to know why you’re so willing to accept it or to allow it happen for others?”
This captures the phenomena of Donald Trump’s political career and why so many white Americans have become radicalized in their support of him, choosing a woefully inept trust fund baby and accused sexual predator as their savior.
The fear of being treated the way minorities are treated is a thought so disagreeable to many whites that they have chosen to suspend their own sense of morality, reason, and decency in an effort to avoid becoming a minority. They are aware of what it means to be a minority and are desperately fighting to avoid the lack of privilege and consideration that comes with it.
Someone who has grown accustomed to privilege might feel a sense of loss in no longer having their wants, needs, and inclinations considered above others. However, it is important to note that it is not an actual loss, but a leveling. That is, an illegitimate advantage that has been enjoyed is now threatened, not one’s actual rights. And so, the cries of injustice in the face of this leveling can be likened to a spoiled child reacting to finally being told, “no.”
Rather than fighting to hold onto privilege and its inherent injustice, why not focus on making real the values of American society? Is it because deep down, radicalized whites prefer a society rigged in their favor? Do some whites feel unable to compete in an ever diversifying society and therefore support a stacked deck as a means of bolstering a sense of security and superiority?
The desire to establish a sense of security for one’s self, family, and community are reasonable. The idea that this security can and should be built on the backs of others is a delusional house of cards. Not only can it not be sustained without unyielding violence, but it also requires denial of ours and others’ inherent dignity and what activist Bree Newsome describes as a permanent class of have-nots.
How exactly does one embrace decency and morality while advocating through action or silence the oppression and destruction of others?
The birth of our nation and its cries for freedom while simultaneously enslaving and murdering Africans and Native Americans is often used to justify violence towards perceived ‘others.’ Indeed, America’s greatest legacy is perhaps its hypocrisy. However, we have a choice at this juncture in our history.
We are living in this moment and can choose to make real the promise of America instead of perpetuating hypocrisy and violence. This requires courage over fear. It requires a profound belief in equality and justice, and not the mere use of those words as a punchline for a radicalized agenda. It requires unflinching honesty about our past, but is a lot easier to square with our sense of morality and decency than the continued oppression and destruction of others.
Shara Smith is co-publisher of Grit Post. She focuses on politics, economics, and social justice issues. Follow her on Twitter @writershara.