In a press briefing today, Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested that ESPN should consider fire firing Jamele Hill. Why would the White House get embroiled in a scandal with an ESPN reporter? Hill is an African American woman who tweeted:
Donald Trump is a white supremacist who has largely surrounded himself w/ other white supremacists.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 11, 2017
When asked about the tweet, Sanders replied, “I think that’s one of the more outrageous comments that anyone could make, and certainly something that I think is a fireable offense by ESPN.”
There’s a revealing irony in this statement. I’m sure that Donald Trump and Sarah Huckabee Sanders do not think they are involved in white supremacy. I’m sure that they are not card carrying members of any white supremacist group. But I’m also sure that they are unconsciously guided by white supremacy.
First, let’s talk about supremacy. Merriam-Webster defines supremacy as “supreme authority or power.” Donald Trump’s White House is guided by the desire for supremacy. Can you blame them, though? The U.S. President labeled as the most powerful person on the planet. They absorb the power. Some of them are more capable of handling the seductive nature of power more than others. Trump has been seduced by power throughout his adult life. That’s not so much a criticism on my part. He has told us as much. The way that Trump maintains power is by overtly seeking revenge. He has repeatedly told us that the best way to keep power is to pay back anyone who slights you. “Get even with people,” Trump has said. “If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe that.”
Now let’s talk about “whiteness.” In the United States, “whiteness” was constructed during the first few waves of European immigrants. Those immigrants often had a difficult time in the new country, in part because they weren’t Anglo-Saxon. In other words, they weren’t “white enough,” which meant they didn’t hold Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. So these immigrants were often scapegoated by white people who held supremacy.
Historians tell us that these European immigrants “quickly learned that the worst thing one could be in the Promised land was ‘colored,’ and they distanced themselves as best they could from this pariah population.”*What is this thing we call “white supremacy”? In part, it is white people of various backgrounds seeking power by uniting against people of color.
Which brings us back to Jemele Hill comments on Twitter. Sanders’ response proved Hill’s point. It was a response of white supremacy, firmly in line with the tragic American practice of white people uniting against a black body.
Hill is not just a sports reporter for ESPN; she’s also expected to provide cultural commentary. Her point was not outrageous. Many social commentators are making similar comments. During the presidential campaign, there was a “horde of neo-nazis, klansmen, and other extremist leaders endorsing Donald Trump.” Trump appealed “to nativism, bigotry, and bitter discontent” and he equivocates whenever he’s asked to denounce white supremacy. Many in the media make similar comments as Jemele Hill.
Unfortunately, it’s a tragic irony of American history that the Trump administration can deny involvement in white supremacy while suggesting a black woman be fired. Black bodies continue to carry with them one of the essential signs of the scapegoat in American culture. Black people have always been “othered” by white supremacy. Jemele Hill just got “othered” by a bunch of white people who united against her. Hill’s comments revealed the truth about white supremacy. And white supremacy acted as it always does. With the power of revenge.
Hill struck a nerve with the Trump administration. To quote Shakespeare, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” The more Sanders vehemently denied the charge of white supremacy, the more she proved Hills point.
Now, President Trump and his aides could do some self-reflection following this experience. If they do, they might begin to realize that they were unwittingly seduced by white supremacy. And the next time this opportunity comes along, instead of seeking revenge, they could simply talk about their policies to dismantle the white supremacy and racism that continues to infect the United States.
Let’s hope those policies are coming.
*See Kelly Brown Douglas, Stand Your Ground, 35.
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