The Work of Cynical Reason in Western Racial Politics
Picture this: someone of color is killed, justice is delayed, muddled, or flat-out denied, and then a fruitless conversation on ‘racism’ begins. In this conversation, some seem to think race goes away when we don’t talk about it and want to redefine racism as the discussion of race itself. They say “the real racists are those who always assume it has to do with race”. But what is the itthat we keep talking about? It is the inexplicable act of civilian violence, police brutality, and the failure of the justice system to fulfill its own promised processes. And yes, it keeps happening.
What’s even more troubling is how we talk about it when it happens. Our ‘national conversation’ has embedded in it the racial thinking that underlies our society’s psychosis. If you really want to know how bigoted people can be in America and how many still believe in white supremacy just look at the comment section under a video, blog post, or article about race or racism. Or just look at what black actors in leading roles can do to surprised fans in America.
The problem is that the West has traumatized itself with its wholesale brutal domination of nonwhites and now suffers self-imposed post-traumatic stress. We craft imaginary truths about our ‘noble’ intentions, we misremember our brutal histories to flatter ourselves, and we intentionally misunderstand things that are going on today so that we can repeat the first two in the future when todays injustice become the past.
Manifest Destiny; American Slavery; the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade; the Scramble for Africa; worldwide European Imperialism; Jim Crow; South African Apartheid; Australian ‘White’s Only’ policy and Aboriginal genocide; London Riots; David Starkey’s comments about blacks destroying British culture; Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood Speech; the recent shooting in France and the political response; Norwegian shooter, Andrew Breivek; Trayvon Martin shooting; some people call it ‘Race Relations’, others call it racism or racial governance, others don’t call it anything because they think if we stop talking about it all, it won’t happen. All of this stuff is it. Is it a coincidence that it happens wherever people consider themselves ‘white’?
When Looking in the Mirror Is Too Much – PTSD and Persistent Psychosis
We know we live in a racist, white dominated space; but many don’t think that is a problem; they don’t think that racism is a particular order and structure of power that privileges some and underprivileges others, or do not understand that racism being far-reaching and societal actually means anything. The problem is we think that racism is just a set of opinions about other people; but ideas can do a whole lot when a set of opinions or ideas is the mind controlling a structured body of power. These ideas are the mind that commands society to shoot non-white youth time after time after time. But America can’t look in the mirror, because we’re traumatized, so we have a set of tricks to help us cope, to help repress the reality of racial domination, leaving it to repeat itself.
Whether it’s Trayvon Martin, Ramarley Graham, Robbie Tolan, Amadou Diallo, Ousmane Zonga, Rodney King, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G (the list really does go on and on and on…), our debriefings demonstrate the expansive, subtle racism at the core of our national psychology. Our talking about racism without saying anything is the means of our psychosis; our psychotic coping mechanism really keeps racism’s secret, that it is a widespread reality which is bound to repeat itself; all of us help keep this secret.
This is the work of cynical reason in the West’s racial politics – as Peter Sloterdijk might outline it – that we know what is and has been going on but we intentionally do an intricate dance around it in our memories and in our discourses because if we admit it collectively and internally, deeply, our humanities might kick in and make us give up the power we unjustly maintain. So we know we benefit from domination, but we unknow it, or reknow it as something else, so we can keep doing it and sleep at night.
Forming A Collective Psychosis – A Disorder of National Personality
The reality that George Zimmerman admitted to shooting a boy that he stalked with a deadly weapon and was not even charged, first there was shock and then there was the question we are taught to ask by society: what race is he? He’s white, we’re told, and then “He’s not white! He’s hispanic!”
Two things are fundamentally wrong with this reaction: 1.) White Americans who are interested in preserving sociopolitical whiteness can now complain that “people who assume that white people are racist are racist” so as to neutralize any discussion of whiteness as a non-ethnic, non-cultural distinction of political power and 2.) if someone isn’t white, but actually Hispanic, it’s OK for him or her to kill non-whites because our society is comfortable and OK with that.
This discussion of Zimmerman’s race mutes the important point that anyone can perform and preserve white domination – because domination doesn’t have anything to do with having European heritage or culture. When Barack Obama was running around arguing about oil prices, commenting on the shootings in France, expressing solidarity with our colonial cousins, intentionally ignoring the Trayvon Martin case and any other ‘racial issue’, he was preserving and ‘performing whiteness’ as a power role to fit into his role as president, a role which has been dominated by whiteness figuratively until his face came into the picture. Now we realize he’s still beholden to the structure of power.
White domination has nothing to do with white folks or people of European heritage, it has to do with countries who have a history of suppressing non-white people within their borders and around the world; it’s when people, identifying with a race, say “this country is ours”; it’s when people hear racism being discussed and white supremacy being criticized and get angry and defensive; it’s when we think non-white immigration is a problem but think that white immigration doesn’t exist; it’s when a black candidate is made to look “un-American” after he’s been elected; white domination is when minimally descriptive criminal descriptions refer to “African American males” consistently because the victim apparently only saw race and not height, weight, facial hair or anything else that is obvious and 8 different, totally unrelated black men end up detained for the same crime.
White domination is the new delusional White Victim Complex wherein some white folks reimagine themselves as being under attack in “our own country” by a growing presence of minorities, by increasing black progress and success, and feel as though criticizing white domination and racism is to criticize them personally – this is just another form of ‘the guilty conscience’.
It is when white people become incensed about affirmative action (flawed though it is) but not about the affirmative action that wealthy people get, that legacy applicants get, or the fact that schools never represent the national demographic proportions – yet they claim to champion equality, because they belong wherever they apply.
White domination is when wildly unjust and fatal tragedies happen to non-whites and not to white people, when non-whites get more years in prison for the same crimes, and when violence against non-whites is not quite so shocking; white domination is when it’s normal or acceptable just to be white – when non-whites are not just demographic minority as a group, but when each non-white individual is ‘a minority’. This has nothing to do with white individuals, this has to do with a society committed to apply a sense of belonging to whiteness, a political structure committed to endowing whiteness with power, and a collective psychology committed to ignoring racism everyday.
When brutality is directed senselessly at a non-white people, religious others, or against society itself in the name of ‘white supremacy’ we look for a card-carrying white supremacist – that’s how George Zimmerman got away. We look for a white supremacist because we don’t want to look at ourselves as a nation as the potential culprit behind the trauma.
It’s common for us to employ a psychological trick that I call The Hitler Trick. Whenever someone does something horrific, we paint them as a monster so we can disconnect from them, maintain our innocence as a society, and ultimately sleep at night. History re-dictated Adolf Hitler as a monster, when in actuality Hitler was quite normal – in fact he was the most normal man in Germany. He drew in massive crowds to hear him speak, he was popularly elected, and worst of all, the rest of the world appeased him for years!
We could not live with ourselves after we had to look at what we tolerated in the aftermath of the Holocaust and so we repainted Hitler as a beast, nonhuman almost, so we could once again look in the mirror and smile. In 2011 Norway, when Anders Breivek shot up a camp of children to wake his country up to the supposed impending doom it is to suffer at the hands of Muslim immigrants, they tried to prove in court that he was crazy, which was later proven to be untrue, after which many racist political organizations disavowed him even though he claimed connection with them.
Think just recently to Rush Limbaugh’s debacle. He shocked us with socially inappropriate language and unnecessarily aggressive comments against an innocent civilian, but instead of realizing that this was a man with millions of viewers, sponsors, and has been verbally abusing people for years, we make him seem like a madman who is just losing it.
In France, after the Toulouse shootings, everyone breathed a sigh of relief to find out that they were right to assume it had to be a Muslim man. After that the paleoconservative rhetoric began about the incompatibility of Muslims with European society. No one talked about how crazy he may or may not be, because in a racist society, finding out someone is a Muslim who commits an act of violence is apparently as good as finding out they are deranged.
Now we try to make George Zimmerman look especially racist, abnormally violent, or particularly crazy, but the truth is, George Zimmerman was accepted by his neighborhood to watch over them and even endorsed by some. His father was a even a judge, who may have helped clear his son’s three past arrests (his mother was the court clerk.) The society that finds it acceptable for someone to stalk a teenager with a gun, call the police to report a ‘suspicious 7 year old African American male’, and pay little attention to the fact that this stuff is not uncommon, is crazy, brutal, and violent. Sure, George Zimmerman said “they always get away” and out of the almost 50 times he called 911 to report suspicious activity it was a black male, one of whom he described as 7-9 years old. But this is a problem of societal brutality and racism.
This is not being discussed because someone thought it was okay to stalk a black teenager with a gun and shoot him, this is being discussed because the police did not so much as test George Zimmerman or take him in for questioning, because they tested the dead body for drugs, because the media is now smearing Trayvon Martin’s name in a way which is irrelevant to the fact that he has a right to pass through the street and does not have to tell a neighborhood watch captain a damned thing.
This is because an entire microcosm, a very, very, very normal and typical microcosm of our society, thought that this was okay and because of the very common nature of events like this, our society thinks this is okay.
I often cite James Baldwin when he said “your invention reveals you”. This is why we do the dance we do to avoid dealing with our nation’s complicity in brutal racial domination. The problem appears in how we discuss brutality, violence, racial prejudice, hatred. We remove the individual from society in our minds, we remove the case from the normal course of events, we debate whether the victim deserved in our had it coming and we never ask “did the culprit have the right at all? Would they have that right if the victim was white?”
We blame it on the hoodie instead of blaming the society that makes non-white + hoodie = dead. Who doesn’t wear hoodies? We try to say that it isn’t tragic because he’s black but because it happened at all, but honestly, would it happen if Trayvon was white?
We will do absolutely anything, point the finger anywhere as a society, so we don’t have to point the finger at the mirror, so we don’t have to stare our conscience in the eye, so we don’t have to change the way things work, the way we talk about race as a colonial talisman, hand-me-down of domination, so we don’t have to change the way we think about our power and privilege.
When a shockingly brutal situation catches the public’s attention, one of the biggest lies spread to disavow society’s fault in producing and socializing the culprit is that “it appears that he acted alone”. He never acts alone. We are all products and reflections of our society and it’s about time we lose sleep over these tragedies.
You see, it’s all well and good to say “We Are Trayvon Martin” and to feel solidarity and express empathy and even fear, but when we can, as a nation, admit that “We killed Trayvon Martin” as a society, as a nation, as a generation in a racial legacy, we’ll transform our hearts and minds and not just our laws or our appearances.
We shouldn’t trample on free speech or [completely] take away our rights to bear arms or punish people for having different opinions – quite the opposite, we need to start an open honest dialogue so that truth can stand a chance in this stale and dishonest conversation that’s been on loop. After all, such is collective life: no one is alone brutal or hateful, we are.
Here at Northwestern a group of students who are committed to making a difference in this American society and starting an honest, open conversation are having a march and a vigil for justice at The Rock, this Wednesday at 6:30.
If you care about justice, care about the future of America, or care about what your being in this society means be there. You don’t have to have a crazy political view (I don’t), you don’t have to be a particular color, you don’t even have to think Trayvon Martin was a great person (we really don’t know) – none of that matters… we just want the justice system to work and to promote general welfare, justice, and the common defense. Be there.