“History proves that the white man is a devil”

The public career and life of Malcolm X are fraught with contradictions and controversy—often complicated by the Nation of Islam and its discredited leader Elijah Muhammad.

Malcolm X’s infamy—as it contrasts with the idealizing and misrepresentation of Martin Luther King Jr. as a passive radical—lies often in his sloganized “By any means necessary” and “History proves that the white man is a devil.”

While Malcolm X himself confronted some of his more controversial and confrontational stances, in 2016, the U.S. is faced with the prescience in what seemed to be hyperbole and racial anger; however, there is much to consider about the evil capacity often behind the face of white men.

Living just across the highways from my neighborhood, Todd Kohlhepp has confessed to vicious murders after police found a woman chained in a storage container for two months.

Kohlhepp represents to a disturbing degree the classic profile of serial killers and sex offenders, central of which is being a white male.

At the University of Wisconsin:

The 20-year-old student, Alec Cook, has been arrested and appeared in court on Thursday, charged with 15 crimes against five women, including sexual assault, strangulation and false imprisonment. His modus operandi, according to police and prosecutors, was to befriend fellow students and eventually entrap and viciously attack them, while keeping notebooks detailing his alleged targets.

Kohlhepp and Cook, white males of relative affluence, are no outliers. Yet, political leaders and the media persist in characterizing for the U.S. public much different images of who to fear: Mexicans, black males, Muslims.

Daily violence—including sexual aggression and assault—is a real threat in a way nearly opposite of these political and media messages; each of us should fear people who look like us, and family, friends, and acquaintances deserve nearly equal scrutiny.

Political race-baiters and the mainstream media rarely stray from the black-on-black crime message, but also always fail to add a key fact: crime is almost entirely intra-racial as the white-on-white crime rate (86%) is nearly identical to the black-on-black crime rate (94%).

Malcolm X’s rhetoric may still seem inflammatory, but James Baldwin’s more measured charges confront the same racial masking and tension:

White Americans find it as difficult as white people elsewhere do to divest themselves of the notion that they are in possession of some intrinsic value that black people need, or want. And this assumption—which, for example, makes the solution to the Negro problem depend on the speed with which Negroes accept and adopt white standards—is revealed in all kinds of striking ways, from Bobby Kennedy’s assurance that a Negro can become President in forty years to the unfortunate tone of warm congratulation with which so many liberals address their Negro equals. It is the Negro, of course, who is presumed to have become equal—an achievement that not only proves the comforting fact that perseverance has no color but also overwhelmingly corroborates the white man’s sense of his own value.

White men control the political and media narratives, and thus, white males are bathed in the compassionate light of the white male gaze of power—everyone else becomes the feared Other.

The hatred spewed by Donald Trump is not solely what should be feared in this context, but that he personifies and speaks to “the white man’s sense of his own value” that seeks to erase that Other, as Astra Taylor reported from a Trump rally in North Carolina:

A few months ago Trump had rallied in Wilmington, North Carolina, the site of America’s only and largely forgotten coup. In 1898, in the waning days of Reconstruction, rioting white supremacists overthrew a multiracial progressive “fusion” government, deposing democratically elected leaders of both races and killing black citizens mercilessly. After that, populism in North Carolina, as in the South more broadly, was a white affair. At his rally near the site of that historic, shocking savagery, Trump suggested “the Second Amendment people” do something about Hillary.

The Trump narrative is essentially racist, and almost entirely false, Jason Stanley explains:

The chief authoritarian values are law and order. In Trump’s value system, nonwhites and non-Christians are the chief threats to law and order. Trump knows that reality does not call for a value-system like his; violent crime is at almost historic lows in the United States. Trump is thundering about a crime wave of historic proportions, because he is an authoritarian using his speech to define a simple reality that legitimates his value system, leading voters to adopt it. Its strength is that it conveys his power to define reality. Its weakness is that it obviously contradicts it.

And thus, Trump has public support from the KKK and Nazi groups for a reason; and that support is distinct from public support for any of the other presidential candidates, none of which draw hate groups into the light.

In A Dialogue between James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni, Baldwin argues, “The reason people think it’s important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black”:

It’s not the world that was my oppressor, because what the world does to you, if the world does it to you long enough and effectively enough, you begin to do to yourself. You become a collaborator, an accomplice of your own murderers, because you believe the same things they do. They think it’s important to be white and you think it’s important to be white; they think it’s a shame to be black and you think it’s a shame to be black. And you have no corroboration around you of any other sense of life.

Yes, we must be vigilant about the white gaze and the male gaze, both of which, as Baldwin witnessed, corrupt the agent and object of that gaze, but we must be as vigilant about the white male accusatory finger designed to keep everyone else’s gaze somewhere other than where the most power, and too often, the most evil reside.

Hu(man)s Choose Violence

In season 4 of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I recognized an allusion to John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Last night, during the first episode of season 7, however, my literary response was much more generalized and visceral—William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.

The series adaptation of the comic book has wondered into George R.R. Martin territory in which the primary reason to watch is to determine which major character dies; and last night, viewers experienced the sort of gratuitous violence pornography that the show seems unable to resist. As  harkened in 2012: “The ubiquitous horror and violence of the zombie genre just makes the violence present in our own lives hypervisible”; although Rick Grimes seems to have chosen the lower road anticipated by Oyola.

Dystopian science fiction, what zombie narratives are, tends to render a future world that has come full circle to the earliest consequences of being human—having both an oversized intellect and the ever-present and never-ending need to survive, even if that survival depended on taking the lives of others, possibly even innocent others.

Primitive humans and humans in dystopian futures grapple with the ethics of survival.

But to be frank, watching two popular and engaging characters have their heads battered into bloody pulps by a barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat—to have the dark humor of that being called a “vampire bat”—this episode paled in comparison to the anxiety and disappointment I feel about the actual world in which we live here in the U.S.

America has a litany of fatal flaws, one of which is our belief in human choice that has been idealized into a fetish.

Politicians, the media, and the average citizen call for choice as the magic elixir to cure any and all ills.

Despite the numerous lessons of literature and art, despite the daily lessons of being a sentient human.

With our amazing oversized brains, we have created in the U.S. a world in which we mostly do not have to fear a wild animal stalking us or a rival clan set on raping and pillaging our village.

Or at least among the privileged.

The cynical version is that we have the capacity to make this true for everyone—but we choose not to.

But there is an even uglier choice that we make. The choice of violence.

To return to Oyola’s investigation of the comic book, Grimes has repeatedly created the situations in which characters die because of his choices—choices that force him to step into his own quagmire as the White Knight. It is a perverse cycle with which the AMC series seems to have become nearly solely obsessed.

With two heads battered into the dirt and Rick poised to chop off his own son’s arm, the viewer is wrestled once again into Rick’s manufactured hell within a zombie apocalypse hell.

As I tensed wondering how long the camera would be lingering on the hacked off arm, I realized that this episode paled in comparison to Trump’s rise and the unleashed venom of his supporters.

We are a people who still justify violence toward women and children, sexual and psychological violence as well as pure brute force.

We are a people who will shout about being pro life while pretending that our smart bombs don’t erase innocent children, women, and men over there at an alarming rate.

We are a people who are shocked—I mean shocked—that men conditioned to be violent are violent in their daily lives.

The human condition in 2016 is much more upsetting than the slow and nearly cartoonish death of Glenn beside his dear pregnant Maggie.

The cartoonish Trump and the uglier streak of humanity he attracts, emboldens, and represents—that is where there is real terror, real disappointment in who humans are and what humans are willing to endure.

The Waking Dead as a TV series seems, ironically, to be near the opposite of the zombie narrative; it is a thing that cannot long live.

And some other series with promise will fill its void, and soon flounder, sputter, slip through the fingers of popular demand.

But the actual real world—not the reality show version that kept Trump on life support before his turn as clown-politician—is no passing phase of pop culture.

Yes, hu(man)ns have choice, and we have made that choice violence.

“To Dismantle Systems of Violence”

The geographical coincidence of my birth often leaves me disappointed and embarrassed—mortified.

I am a son of the South, more specifically South Carolina. And while my birthplace and current home are in the Upstate and nearly as far from Charleston, SC, as one can be and remain in the state, the massacre, the racist terrorism now known as #AMEShooting left me yesterday certain that words were destined to be inadequate.

So when I read Sally Kohn on Twitter, I was compelled to respond:

While tone-deaf and insincere political rhetoric neither starts nor ends with Nikki Haley, Mark Sanford, or Lindsey Graham in SC or across the U.S., there is a certain inexcusable arrogant nastiness I hear when these so-called leaders speak.

Why? Because I am from here, and as a white male Southerner, I know what white people say when only white people are around, what men say when only men are around, what straight people say when only straight people are around.

I have done it. I bear witness to it daily.

I live among the Bible thumping “heritage is not hate” crowd that knows next to nothing about either religious charity or the scarred history to which they cling like a decaying corpse.

I have also witnessed a nation morn heinous violence followed by President Obama making a plea for “all our children”—only to witness also how nothing changed because the real American value is not being a Christian nation or protecting the land of the free but a commitment to unadulterated violence and hatred symbolized by the insult to human decency known as the right to bear arms.

As I was wrestling with the futility of words, I read Nicole Nguyen’s Education Scholars: Challenging Racial Injustice Begins With Us, in which she offers a powerful challenge:

As public transit riders shuffled on and off the train, I began to understand that we cannot solve complex social problems like institutional racism within the prototypical ivory tower as armchair critics. Our scholarship cannot merely inform our own ideas and advance our own careers. If we are to train future teachers, principals, and education researchers, we must recognize how schools perpetuate and disrupt systems of inequality, nourish the critical consciousness of our students, model antiracist and decolonizing pedagogies, and build the tool kits necessary for creating more-democratic schools.

If we are to counter the oppressive systems of inequality that brutalize youths, we cannot do it alone. We must marshal the intellect of all those who board the train, young people in particular. We do not need university solutions to public problems.

Nguyen’s words should be read in full, but she concludes with a clear “mission of colleges of education: to serve as political allies of the young people in our communities to dismantle systems of violence.”

I humbly add this is the mission of every denizen of a place called “free,” called “just.”

I also read Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now, pausing at his “Cowardice, too, is heritage.”

Violence through the barrel of a gun, violence spat in a racial slur, violence flapping in the breeze on statehouse grounds—these are all cowardice.

As is the paralysis that follows that violence each time.

Because not taking action seems to be a heritage that unites every region of this country.