I recently saw an article that was published and became very popular last summer, which proclaimed that people ought to “tend to their own monsters,” convert their own hearts and care for their own families rather than taking to the street to protest racism and white supremacy. The article also said that people who are more left-leaning should “worry about Antifa” rather than racism; that white supremacy is only for non-racist conservative-leaning people to fight.
It’s not that I don’t see where the author was coming from. But I can’t agree with her conclusions. The fact is, if you’re an American, white supremacy is your own monster. It’s my monster too. Racism is every American’s monster. Whether you are one of the many people who benefit from white supremacy, one of the many victims of it, or just a person who doesn’t care whether your neighbor is a victim, we are all in a culture that is the natural home and breeding ground of that particular monster. It’s ours whether we like it or not.
If you live in America, you live in a country where race-based chattel slavery was the law of the land for the vast majority of its recorded history. The first slaves were brought here in 1501. Slavery was legal in the United States from the adoption of our Constitution until 1865, and this was justified by promulgating the notion that black people were not humans but a species of ape. That’s 364 years during which black people weren’t regarded as human in our culture. Black people did not have their right to vote recognized by the Constitution until the fifteenth amendment was adopted 1870– but six years later in 1876, the Supreme Court began invalidating the Enforcement Acts which punished voter intimidation and allowing voting restrictions that were used in practice to stop black people from exercising the rights they had on paper. And that’s just voting. The Jim Crow laws which treated black people as second-class citizens all over the American South were passed beginning in the 1870s and were not overturned until 1965. And, as you’ve likely already been told, it was during the Civil Rights movement when black people were fighting to be treated as equals that most of those notorious Confederate statues were erected, many with “White Supremacy” carved right into the pedestal in case people didn’t get the point.
That’s just our country’s history of racism against black people. When you have the time, look up what those in political power did to Native Americans; then, when your stomach settles, you can start to study internment camps and what immigrants of every ethnicity who would all be considered “White” nowadays did to one another. Racism is as American as apple pie. It is a part of our culture. We see it in our art, our literature, our films; in the slang terms we use, in our fashions, our advertisements and our Halloween costumes. If you happen to be a part of the group of races that are currently considered white, you benefit from this culture and it gives you a certain amount of privilege whether you want it to or not. If you’re not, you often suffer because of it. That’s not a popular thing to bring up. I’ll surely get told that I’m being no fun and politically correct. But it’s true nonetheless. If you are an American, your culture is steeped in white supremacy.
The difference between a white American like me who’s just sure she couldn’t be a racist and one of the Tiki-torch bearing white supremacists from Charlottesville is not nearly as wide as we’d like to pretend. We all belong to the same culture; we are part of the same history, and we ought to all examine ourselves, our speech and our personal prejudices no matter where we stand on the political spectrum and no matter how sure we are that we aren’t racists. Racism is our monster. White supremacism is our monster. It’s a monster we’ve inherited from our past, it’s a monster we feed and harbor in unconscious ways every day, and it is our business to fight it. It’s our business to fight it publicly, loudly, forcefully, wherever it rears its head, as well as privately with self-reflection and in our own homes. The white supremacists of the Charlottesville riots are American monsters. They’re everyone’s business.
Now, at this point, the people who have already typed up a comment that I’m politically correct and a self-loathing white person are starting another paragraph to tell me I don’t know my history. Many of those white supremacists were wearing swastikas, carrying swastika flags, shouting “Seig Heil” and “blood and soil” and other Nazi chants. They were giving one another stiff-armed Nazi salutes. Nazis aren’t American. Nazism came from Germany. Everyone knows that. Surely this isn’t an American monster.
Except that it is. The Nazis didn’t appear in a vacuum; they got their ideas from other places. The Nazis exterminated all those Jews, Roma, Slavic peoples, disabled and mentally ill people, in an attempt to protect the genetics of the races they considered superior. And why did they do that?
They were inspired by the American Eugenics movement. You can look it up; this isn’t conspiracy theory but verified history. Nazis got their inspiration from the American efforts to purge people considered inferior from the gene pool through eugenics. The Nazis took eugenics to its logical conclusion, but the ideas were all ours. The eugenics movement was funded by such famous Americans as the Carnegies, the Rockefellers and J. H. Kellogg. The American Breeders’ Association was founded in 1906 with the mission statement to “investigate and report on heredity in the human race, and emphasize the value of superior blood and the menace to society of inferior blood.” Laws restricting marriage for eugenic reasons began to be passed in the United States in 1896; the first forced sterilization law in the world was passed in Indiana in 1907. The eugenics movement was clamoring for euthanasia in this country right up into the 1930s. It should be no surprise to see neo-Nazis marching at an American white supremacist rally, because in a very real way, Americans invented Nazis. The only things Germany added were the crematoriums.
Racism and white supremacy are America’s monsters. It doesn’t matter if you’re liberal or conservative; if you are American, they permeate your life and they belong to you. The United States welcomed them from the beginning; they fed them and made them a part of our culture. They are a part of you and me.
We all have to fight racism, because, like it or not, racism is ours.
(image via Pixabay)