Eric Liu wrote a compelling article in this month’s issue of the Atlantic. Liu’s article addressed the question: is the culture war over? Lou’s answer was that despite the recent public debates about flags, police brutality, Black lives, transgenderism, gun laws, and religion what really is happening is something this country has needed to do for decades. It is something that so many have longed for but couldn’t dain to dream. It is the dismantling of white supremacy.
…much of this angst can be interpreted as part of a noisy but inexorable endgame: the end of white supremacy…Americanness and whiteness are fitfully, achingly, but finally becoming delinked – and like it or not, over the course of this generation, Americans are all going to have to learn a new way to be American.
– Eric Liu, What Every American Should Know, The Atlantic
I must admit Liu’s words hit me with the kind of shock that a teenager might experiencing after receiving evidence that Santa might be real. I believed that it could happen but I hadn’t fly considered that it is actually happening. If Liu is right then there are so many things to consider. So many decisions to be made. A battle strategy must devised in the light of this. If this is the beginning of the end of white supremacy then that changes everything.
Imagine that this is true; that this decades-long war is about to give way to something else. The question arises: What? What is the story of “us” when “us” is no longer by default “white.” The answer, of course, will depend on how aware Americans are od what they are, of wha their culture already (and always) has been. And awareness demands a new kind of mirror.
– Eric Liu, What Every American Should Know
The End of White Supremacy
Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is perhaps the end of the beginning.
-Sir Winston Churchill
I always think it is important to note that at the foundation of America – the signing of the declaration of the independence – white supremacy did not exist. The words of the declaration of independence (1776) makes little consideration about the separation of races. It is for this reason that I can say that the foundation of America has no connection to white supremacy. At its inception America was meant to be the land of the free the home of the brave. America itself was, then, representative of the power of the people and how the courage to stand up against oppression and the tyranny of government could bring liberty. However, it wasn’t long after that the beginnings of white supremacy began to form. This was with the drafting of the United States Constitution (1886). A century later when the south, seeking to protect itself from any possibly retribution from slavery while maintaining its stronghold, insisted that the Constitution include language that acknowledged slaves as 3/5 of a person, therefore, eliminating them from citizenship and personhood and differentiating them from indentured servants – knowing, of course, that endentured servants, though treated no better than slaves, were white and slaves were not. This is the beginning of white supremacy. And I’ll be damned if it didn’t begin in the best of places for having one of the governing documents of the country that to this day has never been altered (only amended) firmly rooted white supremacy in American culture.
I make that point to illustrate that there is a place in the history of America to which we could return that would not include white supremacy and all those wrong turns that have led to the cultural battle and racial tensions that we currently experience. Philosophically there is a place in American history that was morally just. The problem as Liu suggests is that for at least half of the lifespan of America, white supremacy has existed and exerted itself – through legislative and institutional means. So it is difficult to even conceive of a time when American and white were not synonymous. When “us” didn’t by default refer to white and “them” was everybody else despite the fact that we pretend that this is not true. There is a point, though deep into our past, that in our redefining of American culture, where we can begin such work without having to start from scratch or completely destroying everything that we have known to be American.
In truth the concepts and principles that we currently hold are American. They have their foundation in that declaration made 2 centuries ago. The problem is that we ( when I say we I mean white America) allowed it to be perverted by fear and a lust for domination. And at every opportunity thereafter to acknowledge and possibly rectify those mistakes, it was instead chosen to deny, conceal, and cover in propaganda the idea that we were upholding those American ideals despite everything to the contrary.
It is my belief that a what we must do is exercise those founding principles of the demons of white supremacy that possess it. Removing the ulterior motives of sustaining white as dominant from the ways in which those principles govern our country and culture would leave us with a cultural belief that could be adopted by all Americans without the sacrifice of their individual ethnicities and cultures.
In the refashioning of America without white supremacy we will find that the greater national culture can co-exist with the various cultural heritages of the individuals that live within it. This is not an anti-American sentiment because, again, remember that at its creation America was a country comprised of different cultures. The colonists were British, the Native Americans were Native American, The African were African and so on. All of these people coming to America and bringing their ethnic cultural backgrounds made impressions upon the country that are obvious throughout American culture. There is a reason that when you are in the south there isn’t much cultural distinction between Black and White people: they eat the same, they have the same sentiments etc. The same way that in the north cultures like Caribbean, Italian, and Greek, Black have had prevalent influences from the music to the food. In fact American culture and what it means to be American is not something separate from the variety of culture backgrounds of its citizens; it is the culmination of those cultural backgrounds unified under the umbrella of the founding principles of the country. That is complex, I know, but it is also what will make America great, respectable and unique once again.
The ending of white supremacy will be a difficult sojourn for all of white America – yes even those who do not support white supremacy. The loss of privilege – often unacknowledged or recognized – will bring a strange and bitter taste to their lives. The uncertainty of what will be thereafter will be scary. James Baldwin said:
Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able, without bitterness or self-pity, to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free — he has set himself free — for higher dreams, for greater privileges.
– James Baldwin, Nobody Knows My Name: More Notes of a Native Son
The ending of white supremacy and the redefining of Americanness are phases of the same evolutionary process of the country. The birthing of a new America is a journey not a destination. In order to reach the end both of those phases must be passed through. They are undeniably linked and a commitment to one is a commitment to the other. Marianne Williamson says “growth is messy.” So we should expect that this will not be pretty. It will not be clean. It will not be peaceful. For anyone who has ever witnessed can attest to the fact that birth is a violent and destructive process. Pushing forth life is medically acknowledged as a brush with death. The strain that a woman undergoes in childbirth takes her body to the brink in order to pull forth the life of her child. The same will be our process. We will have to go to the brink of our own destruction in order to pull for the new America. That is why we see such violence and turmoil now. As the differences of individuality grind against one another in order to smooth us out for a life together we will experience all manners of pain. However, just like any mother, we will have to go bravely into that delivery room with one goal: not returning without the child. The new America is coming and we can either resolve to survive the labor pangs and see this through to the end or have it rip through us and leave our corpse in its wake.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man