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Charlottesville attack: Americans must fight resurge in white supremacy, defeat ideas that support racism

Recently, I've taken to reading science fiction. I find it soothing, and often useful, to imagine worlds that are better than ours. I finished reading The Dispossessed by Ursula K Leguin this weekend. It's a story of a planet and a moon. On the planet, resources are hoarded while people starve. On the moon, resources and power are shared and people acknowledge a social organism that mustn’t allow one to starve while another is having a feast. The protagonist, named Shevek, is a resident of the moon colony. He makes his way to the planet in an attempt to extend his utopia and find commonalities with people who have only known force and have been bent to the will of the powerful.

Shevek gives a speech during a large demonstration on the planet. He says, "It is our suffering that brings us together. It's not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced." I wrote this in my notebook the day a white supremacist murdered Heather Heyer, an anti-fascist protester. Reflecting upon the murderous events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend, I sought to understand the force in play.

 Charlottesville attack: Americans must fight resurge in white supremacy, defeat ideas that support racism

File image of people gathered in response to the Charlottesville attack. Reuters.

In 1640, an African labourer in the Commonwealth of Virginia named John Punch attempted to escape with two workers of European ancestry. They were all captured. The two European labourers were sentenced to longer indentures. Punch, by contrast, was required to serve for the rest of his life. Many historians regard Punch as the first codified slave in the English colonies.

If we read history correctly, we should know by now that nothing comes from nothing. And the events in Charlottesville are the most recent public face of a large and old machine called 'white supremacy'.

In order to understand this type of racism, we must consider power. The narrative that has come to dominate our understanding of race is one of individual prejudice. This is what I was taught in school. Here is the causal relationship that is commonly taught and shared: from bigotry comes exploitation. From here, it follows that we must eradicate bigotry from our hearts to make the world anew.

The creation of whiteness allowed hope for one segment of an exploited class of labourers at the expense of another. With whiteness came the promise of property, including the ownership of enslaved people. This meant that whites were forced to buy into the promise of whiteness, even if it was at the expense of other groups. Whiteness could only function this way.

Chattel slavery was needed to buttress the plantation economies of the south and the mercantile interests of the north. The law served to create a distinction in the labouring class. Divide and rule, as it goes. This is where whiteness and blackness come from. Whiteness means a free person entitled to liberty and land (and at one point, people) and the many other mealy-mouthed promises of this country. Blackness is the foundation for this edifice, to be owned and exploited.

It follows that the relationship between bigotry and exploitation must be reversed. In truth, from exploitation comes bigotry. The systems that have been created to hoard and mete out resources have used race to justify these inequities.

American laws, written in the image of white supremacy, justified and encouraged the expulsion of indigenous people from their lands. These laws require mandatory minimum sentencing for crack (a poor man’s drug) but lighter sentences for cocaine (a rich man’s drug). These laws are effectively written by the CEOs who were responsible for the forced evictions of thousands of black homeowners after natural and man-made disasters. These laws mean that Nazis can rally, come to kill and maim, while the police idly stands by and Constitution-thumpers defend their right to speak freely, despite the risk to life and liberty.

Prison labour and undocumented labour are modern-day slavery, and whiteness is still used to justify the existence of an exploited class. Prejudices follow to justify what is instinctively unjust. Black has come to mean criminal, or lazy, or stupid. Black has come to mean deserving of being killed by a cop.

Shevek continues, "The bond that binds us is beyond choice. We are brothers. We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it because we have had to learn it. We know that there is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand."

When Trump was elected, the cork finally popped. Again, whiteness became something that many people could cling to when life had been made so hard and fruitless. The honey-tongued propaganda of the elites allowed people to turn away from those they shared economic circumstances with. This is largely why there is a resurgence of so-called white power in the US. It must be said that there is no equivalency between white supremacists and the people who put their bodies on the line to fight white supremacists. This is a fight between those who have been bestowed power and those who have been denied it.

It must also be said that there are many white folks in America who are willing to challenge this order, out of a sense of justice as well as a sense of mutual aid and solidarity, and Americans must never let the narrative of white supremacy dominate communities that are ready to denounce this exploitative system. People are ready to stand with one another. All Trump has done in his equivocation is confirm the interests of the American political institution, and people are ready to challenge it.

Love doesn’t trump hate. It turns to hate when forced. The bonds that bind us are not born of love but of need. We need one another like we need water. People who cannot see the suffering of other people may be aberrations, but they are aberrations made by our world. We are all responsible, beholden to the unmaking of this world and nurturing a new bloom in the manure. Heyer died confronting power. May she rest in power. Deandre Harris was almost beaten to death confronting people forged in a country which reinforced a worldview that always denied his right to live and live free. May we all stand with Deandre the next time they come to hurt us.

America must go on. This week, grief echoes from the hollers of the east, ripples through the plains, coasts on the eddies of the Mississippi river, and drifts on the mists of the bays. The Americans' consciences are awake and their eyes are wide open. It is time to refuse, refuse to admit injustice into the machinations of their minds. We must always remember to reach out a hand, to understand their history and the ways in which this mutuality is snuffed out by force, to understand that not love but brotherhood bind them, to make the world anew.

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Updated Date: Aug 20, 2017 08:22:01 IST