So today I ran across this article about the issue of white supremacy in America, pointing out that it isn’t just the KKK and cross-burning. I totally agree; white supremacy is a system, or a system within a system. The fact that people only associate it with skinheads or klansmen perpetuates this system. It’s easy to point out and condemn overt racism while feeling so enlightened. In fact given my expertise in the field, I would say that what we commonly think of as white supremacy, i.e. Neo-Nazis, KKK, etc., would not exist were it not for the real white supremacy in our culture which sustains these groups. Most people in these movements are merely taking certain assumptions, cultural memes, or concepts which are accepted in mainstream society, and taking them to what they believe are logical conclusions. If our society challenged, refuted, and discarded those assumptions, the real system of white supremacy would be subverted and you wouldn’t see so many extremists out there.
This article, I quickly learned however, is a lesson in how not to define and attack white supremacy. It’s quite short, so I can confine my arguments to a couple paragraphs which are essentially the meat of the article.
White supremacy isn’t just a cross burnt on a lawn; it’s the fact that I can remember reading exactly two books by black authors in all of high school and possibly none before that. I read exactly one book that was translated from Spanish into English for school, yet two translated from Old or Middle English to modern English.
Yup, that’s what the author meant by white supremacy- books. It’s not the common assumption, which goes against well-established statistical data, that your average drug dealer is likely to be black or Latino when in fact they are more likely to be white. It’s not the distorted, inaccurate portrayal of affirmative action, which breeds resentment at the idea that minorities get hand outs. It’s not the assumption, accepted even by liberal media outlets, that our county had or still has a problem with welfare when in fact our welfare system has never been particularly generous, especially since the reform of 1996, and even prior to that it was a tiny part of the federal budget. It’s not the way white-owned record producers deliberately shaped the hip-hop genre into what amounts to a modern minstrel show, all so as to please mainstream hip-hops biggest market share which consists of white, suburban youth. No, friends, it’s because of books. But I say it goes deeper.
Notice how those “white” English books are juxtaposed with a book translated from Spanish. The assumption that Spanish means Latino and that Latino means “brown people” is itself a manifestation of white supremacy. Spanish is just as much a European language as English, Spanish people are Europeans, and Latin American people whether Hispanic or Portuguese speaking come in all ethnic groups and shades of color. Did the author ever consider that the community of Japanese Brazilians, who first started arriving in the country around 1908, is actually bigger than the Japanese American community? Brazil has a population of 10 million Arabs or people of Arab descent, while Argentina has 3 million. And speaking of Arabs, if asked to imagine the world’s richest man, do you immediately picture the “white” Bill Gates, or do you correctly picture the Lebanese-Mexican Carlos Slim? Projecting our national ideas about “race” onto the rest of the world is a form of white supremacy.
Getting back to the article, let me explain exactly why the implied solution to this problem will fail. When confronted with this problem, guess what school administrators will do. They’ll scramble to “diversify” their reading lists, and I guarantee you it will include books about slavery, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, etc. Furious back-patting will then ensue, but the end result will have no effect. Students will read these new books and will conclude that it sure is a good thing we ended slavery and fixed racism a long time ago. At the same time, conservative pundits and parents will throw a shit-fit about how these books were chosen for the sake of political correctness. The meme about minorities being given special privilege will be trotted out. Remember the line of Derek’s father in American History X, where he rhetorically asks why schools want to replace “great books” with “black books.” That’s the kind of thing that builds white supremacy and certainly doesn’t further understanding. But let me get back to this in a moment.
The author follows the previously-quoted passage with this:
When your well meaning, liberal, white teachers who value equality simultaneously demonstrate that it’s more important to read Beowulf than to ever consider something from the perspective of a black author living in America, that is undeniably, even if wholly unintentionally, white supremacy.
First of all, I’m not sure that anyone is demonstrating this at all. Second, I believe there are very different reasons to read a book like Beowulf; it is an example of an epic poem, specifically one written in Old English. Something tells me the author probably wouldn’t be upset if the example for epic poetry were the Persian Shahnameh, but then again that was written in an Indo-European language by people who were as much “white” as the Anglo-Saxons who wrote Beowulf. Actually I can see how reading Beowulf can actually harm and subvert white supremacy. Make those white kids attempt to read the poem in the original Old English. Make them understand that were they to be transported back to Saxon Britain, the only similarities they would share with the locals would be superficial and skin deep, while the differences would make life among them virtually untenable. When you teach this concept and white kids realize that they can fit in better in a nearby black American neighborhood than a Saxon village in the 6th century, you have done something to subvert white supremacy.
That last point drives home the fact that it is in the history class, and not English literature, that you destroy white supremacist notions. That is where you can teach the true legacy of American chattel slavery. That’s where you can teach about the deliberate sabotage and terror campaign against Reconstruction, the deliberate campaign to imprison and re-subjugate the black population in the post Civil War South. Often times we hear people say that history classes should include more stories about black or Latino Americans, or be generally less Eurocentric. I’m inclined to agree, but I have a much better idea. Stop teaching, or at least stop implying that Greek or Roman history is “white” history. Stop associating Europe with this late-17th century idea of a “white” race which in our time grew to encompass all Europeans. In the Roman empire, a citizen was a citizen regardless of color or nationality. The Romans stationed African archers in Britain and at least two Roman emperors are believed to have been what we’d consider today to be “black.” And yet that is absolutely pointless because even if they were, they’d share nothing of significance in common with the black American students in that class. Likewise, the white students have nothing in common with Julius Caesar. By all means, let’s teach more European history. Let’s teach how this continent spent centuries slaughtering each other, and how this continued in the Balkans during the 1990’s and it continues today in Ukraine. Let’s teach people about how there were many centuries during which the idea of a single, unified nationality known as “the French” was basically a fiction. Let’s tell them how the United States is older than both Italy and Germany, and how the former is still riddled with differences between regions. The problem isn’t that we’re not teaching enough “non-white” history to balance out the “white” history; the problem is that we are tacitly accepting the idea that European history is “white.”
Perhaps instead of identifying “black” heroes from African history, it would be far better to teach white kids the truth, namely that they have fuck all in common with Archimedes or Copernicus. After all, the accomplishments of people who look like you, or even members of your specific nationality, are not your accomplishments. It would be best not to teach your average black American pupil shouldn’t claim credit for the work of George Washington Carver, but far more importantly someone needs to teach the white kids to stop taking credit for the work of Nikola Tesla or Thomas Edison. It’s fucking 2014 and our supposedly enlightened “progressives” still can’t see anything wrong with the concept of “These people look like you, ergo they’re your people.” Please, somebody launch a Kickstarter to send these dipshits to the Donbas. “Hey, Russians and Ukrainians! Stop fighting! You’re all white people! And you have privilege!” See how that works out. In short, try to stop teaching “white history” and “POC history” and instead teach actual history. Real history will do far more to break down white supremacy than switching up the reading list in English class.
To conclude I want to come back to the author’s idea about solving this problem by reading more literature by black or otherwise “non-white” authors. This seems to be a major problem with social justice warrior types. Everything revolves around pop culture and art. So many of them are “pop culture” critics, or they simply spend most of their time explaining why the latest blockbuster film is literally Hitler. These are the people who think that the Bechdel Test is a brilliant device, and that if only more films were written to pass it we might have a less misogynistic society. Gee let’s put that to the test real quick, shall we? Sally and Jenny are two devoted, evangelical Christian housewives who believe in being submissive vessels for their husbands’ numerous children. During the film these two named female characters routinely talk to each other about cooking, shopping for shoes, and child-rearing. PASSES THE BECHDEL TEST WITH FLYING COLORS! GET ME A PRODUCER NOW!
Alas, adding more black authors to the required reading list and writing films to pass a simple test don’t actually subvert white supremacy or patriarchy, but they sure are easy. They let you wash your hands of responsibility and feel like you did your part, just like when you share a progressive Upworthy video. But actually teaching high school students, white or not, the true history of the black man in America? Well that’s hard. That will upset the conservative power structure and the media. You’re liable to take major flak in America just for publicly praising the Union’s victory. Best fucking war the US Army ever fought but we’re expected to get all somber and call it a horrible, shameful tragedy. Now you want to teach these people’s kids that slavery actually didn’t end with the Civil War? You want them to know that de facto slavery actually continued into the 1930’s? Are you prepared to talk about the economic measures and institutional racism which prevented black Americans from receiving the same benefits white veterans claimed after WWII, the benefits which created America’s post-war “middle class?” That’s definitely going to get some flak.
On second thought that sounds too hard, too controversial. Better just add Roots to the required reading list and that will solve the problem. It’s not like anyone’s ever thought of that, or tried it before.