Mwatabu S Okantah
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
“… most white Americans have been taught to see
themselves as individuals, not as members of a privileged
group, so they are shaken and angered when blacks deal
with them as part of a group, not as individuals. To many
whites, this seems a kind of ethical violation. To many
blacks, it seems merely realistic. It marks a fundamental
difference in perception about the way the world works,
with blacks more inclined than whites to recognize the
broad forces that determine a group’s position in society.”
--David K. Shipler
This story is old, but it always presents new plot twists. The Asian communities in America are now learning the same lesson that Americans of African descent have known for years. It can be unsafe living in America. This is not to suggest that all Americans are dangerous. Choosing to be invisible or being tolerated as honorary white people only works until the right button is pushed. MAGA Trump knew how to push that button. He unleashed the pent-up white fury that has always existed just below the surface calm; anger that can be traced back to the days of indentured servitude. Yet, it is not the fanatics that pose the greatest threat. It is the always shocked, “I am not a racist” good people that have always seen the naked face of the problem but who have historically chosen to look away from it. They have deluded themselves into believing it is not their problem.
White supremacy is a socio-spiritual dis-ease that continues to prevent this nation from achieving the promise of its lofty rhetoric. The current racial reckoning has extended its deadly grasp. Asians—from China, from Korea, from Viet Nam, from Philippines, from India—now find themselves being targeted in ways that must remind WWII generation Japanese Americans of their experiences during that period. Many of their sons were fighting against Japan as soldiers in the American military when their family property was confiscated, when they were forced into detainment camps and when their rights as citizens were trampled. A new generation of so-called people of color are being jolted out of their false sense of security and finding out they are nothing more than another vulnerable group of non-white "those people."
The ever-present specter of race in the United States is always acted out inside the drama of black and white. The always perilous life-dance between the people who identify themselves as white and the people they designated as black, defines the social status of all the other marginalized groups and/or classes of people in relation to mainstream American society. It seems the black experience provides the activist template for all of America’s unwanted and dispossessed. The awakening comes with the realization they are being treated with the same contempt black people have been enduring in this country since 1619. They learn to confront the nature of their oppression and to comprehend the true nature of this society, when their experiences begin to intersect with American black reality.
Americans find it very difficult to acknowledge the fact that Europeans and peoples of European descent have introduced and have imposed their radioactive notions of race and racial differences on a world that has always been racially diverse or that Europeans colonized the planet and created empires through the lens of their own distorted self-image in response to their reality as the true genetic racial minority. They fashioned an historical narrative that justifies their naked aggression in the name of Christianity and sanitizes their greed in the language of civilization building. The English Founding Fathers created this society as a white settler nation out of this global expansion of Europeans outside of Europe. They called it, “Manifest Destiny.”
In his book, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, Andrew Hacker writes, “Since Europeans first embarked on explorations, they have been bemused by the ‘savages’ they encountered in new lands. In almost all cases, these ‘primitive peoples’ were seen as inferior to those who ‘discovered’ them. On the whole, the presumption was that these natives could never attain to a stage where they might emulate European achievements.” He goes on to offer this revealing observation, “Indeed, there is reason to believe that most white Americans still share Thomas Jefferson’s belief that in terms of evolution and genetics theirs is the most developed race.”
A man who conducted a long-term sexual relationship that produced six children with his slave Sally Hemings, Jefferson also feared this nation would inevitably fall victim to such glaring and sinister contradictions. Whiteness, the mythology of it, is so pervasive and has become so embedded in the very fabric of this society that most white people are simply not conscious of it. They live inside a way of life so thoroughly shaped by it that it appears normal. Seeing it would undoubtedly force them to see themselves in a new and painful reflective light. They do not think it strange when Asians or Africans introduce themselves with European names. They are surprised when people they classify as “aliens” speak “good English.” They often resent it when “those people” speak their own languages in public. They begrudge the aliens that manage to prosper in spite of the obstacles placed in front of them.
The descendants of the indigenous people that discovered the strange looking creatures at sites the English would rename Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, now call themselves “Indians” and “Native Americans,” while they live out of sight on reservations where they struggle to reclaim cultural identities Americans ruthlessly attempted to eradicate. The descendants of the kidnapped and enslaved Africans now exist in occupied communities patrolled by state sanctioned blue uniformed overseers, while we still wander in flight from dreams of freedom turned into nightmares and debate with yet another generation that believes “nigger” is a Proper Name. And now “the Asians,” caught in the vise-grip of racist stereotypes—all Asians DO NOT look alike—and their own American Dream aspirations. They are awakening to their struggle to claim a space in this country where their lives matter!
I began this commentary with the quote from David Shipler’s, A Country of Strangers: Blacks and Whites in America and I referred to the insights of Andrew Hacker because I think they present a much-needed critical look into the real issue. A genuine breakthrough to understanding both the origins and the toll of white supremacy on the real quality of life in any white society is possible only if enough white people dare to see the negative impact that living in a social system based on “white privilege” has had on their spiritual, psychological and material development. If racism is truly a public health crisis, what is that declaration really saying about the societies that Europeans and peoples of European descent have created? If we are truly opposing systemic racism or those "broad forces that determine" how "the world works," are we not calling out the systems that white people have forced in place?
Will the United States continue on the destructive path of divisive politricks, denial and willful blindness, or will this nation finally open its eyes to see and open its ears to listen to the chorus of voices shouting from the wilderness? Yes, white Americans are individuals but the fact they have prospered as a group should no longer be open to debate. The ethnic, religious and class divisions that exist within white societies do not negate but only complicate this truth; that white Americans will no longer be the majority population in the United States is the inevitable reality of the not-too-distant future. Are enough Americans willing to view themselves and their society through the perceptions of those peoples they have always looked upon as non-white? Indeed, Black lives, Red lives, Brown lives, Yellow lives and White lives do matter. There is only one race: the forever ugly, the forever beautiful, the forever diverse human race.