The thing about extremism is it gives us someone to point to who isn’t us. Who can be an “other,” and be set apart. Someone or set of someones on which to place all the attention and blame. The danger in that is that it can throw us off the real problem, the present and persisting danger.
There is a meme going around with the photos of the torch-holders that I’ve been dropping into conversations. It shows two of the same photo, on one the torch-holders have extreme labels. like “terrorist,” “racist,” “hatemonger,” etc. On the second photo the torch holders are labeled as everyday people like “loan officer,” “guidance counselor,” “future prosecutor,” etc.
The violence and hatred happening at the rallies is ugly to watch, hard to process (for some) and a hot mess. The day to day manifestation of people who actively and passively subscribe to the beliefs highlighted at these rallies is where the deeper damage is done.
People like loan officers, guidance counselors, nurses, teachers, etc. are “gatekeepers” of sorts. They can make accessing the daily needs for life easy, and they can make accessing those basics hard. Their instincts, beliefs and biases impact who gets treated with more compassion, who gets the benefit of the doubt, who gets told about or encouraged to go after opportunities, who gets invited to the event, etc. Just taking those additive examples one can see how this matters. Add the negative possibilities — who gets told they aren’t capable, who gets told they aren’t in as much pain as they say they are and therefore denied treatment, who is routinely not given the benefit of the doubt — and you can understand how trauma happens, how frustration builds, how self-esteem plummets, how biases and prejudices become self-fulfilling prophecies.
That is the poison plaguing our culture, our country, my city. It’s been going on for so long (hundreds of years) that many don’t see it, can’t sense it. The mechanisms set up to perpetuate it are designed so well that it does not take a conspiracy theory, malice or even intention — much less a rally — to keep it going. It thrives on silence, inaction, complacency, lack of knowledge and lack of understanding. Doing nothing, learning nothing, considering nothing new is the number 1 way to keep the inequities, injustices, divisiveness, segregation and trauma going strong.
As reactions to the rallies unfold, I see many people using the words “White Supremacy” for the the first time. The pitfall is to see that phrase as one of extremism, to only equate it to these rallies and to the dudes holding those Target tiki torches. It has been helpful for me to learn about the difference between White People and the ideology of the Supremacy of Whiteness (said another way, White Supremacy). The idea was born when we described what legally made a US Citizens as “free white persons.” When we made laws allowing the government to take away land from people or categorize people as property based on their non-Whiteness. We have spent enough time making laws about who gets and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out based on skin color, religion and gender that it is an undeniable part of our cultural identity. There is only one group that has never had a law made denying them something or categorizing them specifically based on their skin color and gender. This is what sets up the idea that Whiteness is the bees knees, the ultimate ticket, in some way, supreme. This is why Whiteness was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court multiple times as people with non-white skin or non-Christian religion sought to attain the legal category of White.
We can’t just hit reset, we can’t just start over, we can’t just call it even because we have to undo what was done. That starts with recognizing what was done and the realities of its reverberation today. The depth of the ideology we upheld/hold by law.
These torch-bearers are a problem, but not the problem. There is a very real, present and persistent danger. While it is described with words that we’ve been socialized to hear as “extreme,” (White Supremacy) the ideology (the idea that Whiteness is the ideal and somehow superior) that some ascribe only to the extreme actions of these rally-ers is basic, daily, silent, real and crippling our society’s ability to function. It is not an outlier, it is currently the predominant engine driving our culture and it is everywhere.
It is de facto segregated schools and neighborhoods.
It is the disparity in sentencing between cocaine and crack.
It is the reaction to the opioid crisis versus the reaction to the crack epidemic.
It is the prison and the non-profit industrial complex.
It’s traumatizing to people of all colors (yes, even White people), it’s expensive, it’s divisive and it stunts our growth.
“…equity, with the emergence of a new racial and ethnic majority — long a matter of social justice and morality — is now also an economic imperative by describing the components of an equity-driven growth model and acknowledging that a true social movement is needed to achieve equity.” — Policy Link [read as much research as you can stand illustrating this realty]
We cannot sustain the hate but more importantly we cannot sustain the momentum of the ideology baked into our culture. As long as it’s “them” or “those people” and as long as they are “extreme” outliers to be shamed and condemned we continue to sustain it. We each and all along the continuum must be open to how our daily actions or lack of actions do more damage than a mob of tiki-holders ever has and ever will.