The divide and conquer trope at the heart of the U.S. empire’s moral rot is race.
Race is the biologically imaginary distinction between humans based on melanin i.e. skin color.
The fact that white supremacy was first enforced against indigenous people in the Caribbean and North American continent gets muddied by the ideology of Christianity’s Doctrine of Discovery where not-white = heathen.
It took 1619 and the enslavement of African people to start cementing in place a permanent underclass based on the skimpy ideology of skin color-hair texture.
White America has been sitting on a powder keg of race relations ever since, with discontent always brewing, and terrified owners desperate to keep their power over workers.
Enter white supremacy and its unearned benefit, white privilege.
When I was a young child my father pointed out that I was white but that fact didn’t make me better than anyone else, just luckier. “Many doors will be open to you that would not be if your skin were a different color,” he explained.
Some examples of what dad was talking about:
Dad used the GI bill to get a college education after discharge from the Army. Many Black GI’s did not receive this earned benefit. They also did not receive GI bill support for home ownership as millions of white veterans did.
This set up Black families in the U.S. for generational disparities in net worth. As reported by the Federal Reserve:
In the 2019 survey, White families have the highest level of both median and mean family wealth: $188,200 and $983,400, respectively. Black and Hispanic families have considerably less wealth than White families. Black families’ median and mean wealth is less than 15 percent that of White families, at $24,100 and $142,500, respectively. Hispanic families’ median and mean wealth is $36,100 and $165,500, respectively.
The 1619 Project is a collection of research-based essays on how white supremacy warped not only our hearts and souls but the actual structures of government (think electoral college). It also argues that racism hurt labor organizing. What true strength in numbers can there be if white workers don’t stand shoulder to shoulder with workers of color? How will labor stand up to capital if solidarity is rotted from within by racism?
The Project’s authors also cite the dreadful state of public transportation in this country as an effect of racist public policies based on white flight from cities to suburbs.
The horrifying state of policing likewise is a logical outgrowth of slave patrols and the notion that any white man with a gun is entitled to rob any person of color of their freedom. How many #sayhisnameDonovanLewis cases will there need to be before white people stop funding more and more violent police forces out of fear?
Police gunning down unarmed, even sleeping, Black and brown people is part of the very fabric of the U.S. Now, with cell phone cameras and bodycams for police, even white people can see the problem.
And as Chris Hedges argued recently, a low-income white person without health care, living precariously as the U.S. empire declines, clings to gun ownership as the final bulwark against humiliation.
Black majority cities like Jackson, Mississippi and Flint, Michigan go without potable water for years.
Mass incarceration for a myriad of victimless crimes (cannabis possession springs to mind) denies Black families of their parents, and Black communities of their voters. And keeps ex-cons in the prison labor force many compare to slavery, but out of the labor/ force where they would compete with white workers.
White women have played an outsized role in demonizing Black people just for existing. Emmett Till was lynched at age 14 after white adult Carolyn Bryant Donham lied about him sexually harrassing her, but a grand jury in Mississippi still failed to indict Donham for her role in Till’s death.
Media has pushed the narrative of an alleged criminal class based on melanin so relentlessly that even Black and brown people are more likely to identify what a young man of color is holding as a gun when it’s actually a cell phone or a soda can.
Liberals like 3rd grade teacher Jane Elliott could easily demonstrate the educational impacts of separate, unequal treatment based on eye color, but that did nothing to change systemic racism.
Some believe, and I’m among them, that reparations is the only thing likely to effect real progress.
It would be hard to find a more divisive issue than reparations. Unless it is the first Black president of the U.S. — a neoliberal who did almost nothing to address economic disparities by race, but allowed a lot of white people to pretend that electing him had ushered in an era of post-racism. Uh huh.