Letter: Anatomy of racism

By now, everyone has heard about the resignation of the highest-elected education official in Madera County, longtime Madera County School Board Member Sarah Wilkins.

Kudos to County Superintendent of Schools Ceci Massetti and others who immediately condemned Wilkins’ post on Facebook, and a salute to the young lady who purportedly collected over 1,000 signatures calling for Wilkins’ ouster.

(Having stepped down, one would hope that Wilkins will use the free time to bone up on some history — Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and/or James Loewen’s “Lies my Teacher Told Me” would be a good start.)

Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “Better to remain silent and thought a (fool) than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” is most appropriate here. While the post was the usual far-right-wing trope, the depiction of the Confederate flag and imploring followers to eschew political correctness left no doubt that this was a clarion call to whites that they are under siege and losing the race war.

Let’s be clear, there is no romanticizing the “Lost Cause — invoking the Confederacy is anti-American. Its history of attempted secession was nothing less than treason and incitement of violence was outright sedition.

What’s race got to do with it? Everything. It is the dominant frame for most vital societal issues. Even when race and racism are avoided in polite conversations, the meta message of race is omnipresent. So why this visceral hatred and spate of vituperous attacks now?

Truth-telling: The call for white identity politics is not pure happenstance. Black Lives Matter protests touched a raw nerve.

Race is a social construct which historical genealogy dates back to the inception of American slavery. Before then, societal stratification was based on economic and social status. Race and color were of no import. Slave masters employed the concept for the first time to sow divisions between African slaves and white indentured servants who previously freely lived together, intermingled, intermarried, etc. To further drive a wedge between these communities, poor whites were recruited for newly formed slave patrols (which has since morphed into our modern-day police force). While we all remember the story of Pocahontas and John Smith, there’s the untold story of her trip with her husband to England. Pocahontas was feted like royalty by the king and queen of England because of her lineage as a tribal princess — her husband, an Anglo commoner, not so much.

For the past 400 years, whiteness inherits a claim to entitlement, an extant status that is bred into their DNA. Part and parcel of this belief system is that the sole role of government is to protect and further their interests and well-being. Further, what good is race superiority if it doesn’t confer the power to exclude others? White identity is a politics of resentment. Thus, they reflexively reject any attempts by other groups to attain equal treatment viewing any such efforts as threatening their god-ordained rights and privileges. They bond over their hate for and exploitation and dehumanization of other groups, so much so that they continuously vote against their own interest to preserve the status quo. This self-alienation and self-victimization reflect a sorry state of affairs.

“Proud to be white” nee white power” feigns a plea for social justice, conveniently dispensing the historical critique of racism. It is a disingenuous and shameless appropriation and cooptation of an African American ideological and political protest and movement. It’s cynical and singular intent is to deny, dismiss, distract from, dilute and minimize the impact and legitimacy of a national network — building power to bring justice, freedom and an end to police violence against African Americans.

Detractors bristle at the notion of highlighting the precariousness of black lives in America, countering with the straw man fallacy, “All Lives Matter.” No argument with the latter as a matter of principle. We are talking about the undeniable fact that more African Americans are stopped, arrested, indicted, tried, convicted, incarcerated, given longer sentences, less favorable probation and parole terms and conditions, and killed by cops. African Americans have been part of America since its founding. This country’s ascendance as a world economic power was built on the labor, blood and lives of African Americans. At the outbreak of the Civil War, 59 percent of all U.S. export was cotton. Lest one mistakenly thinks it only benefited the South, it also mightily fueled the economic growth in industries, banks, railroads, etc., of the North. Cotton remained king in this country until 1920. When Americans beam about our power and prosperity, we proudly declare that we are a nation built by immigrants. African Americans were our first immigrants albeit enslaved. Yet they rank at the bottom of every social and economic indicators in this country. They even suffer a higher rate of exposure, infection, lack of health care and death caused by COVID-19.

All Americans should be beyond appalled by these stark and persistent racial disparities. African Americans, nod to Native Americans, were the vanguards of the Civil Rights fight that spawned every progressive rights movement in the last half of the 20th century.

No group benefited more than white women. Come to think of it, Ms. Wilkins (who hails from the period when “America was great” for some and not for most) owes a debt of gratitude to black movements as do we all bar none.

The issue of race makes people uneasy and defensive. Thus, we often hear: “I don’t see color,” “I have friends who are African-American or have family members that are minorities, I “judge by the content of character and not the color of skin,” and (my favorite) “My family came to this country after the Civil War, we have nothing to do with slavery.” As a country, where we come from and where we are now are part of the American experience that as citizens we can’t escape or back away from. This discussion is not about accusing anyone of being a racist but rather to say that all of y’all have a duty to end racism.

At its best, America remains the latest iteration of the human revolution providing refuge and hope for people from all corners of the world who brought with them ideas, concepts, context and imagination of a new world and reality. Our proudest achievements have come from the interaction of all this humanity from distant shores who were committed to hopes, possibilities and dreams for creating change. We have the intrinsic need to care and feel compassion for and connect with others. We also have the enormous capacity for mutuality, interdependence and collective action. Why not work together to create the long overdue reality of equity, justice and inclusion in this country. It is the American way of believing, feeling, thinking, and being. Welcome to the human race and Black Lives Matter!

— Baldwin Moy,

Madera

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