On the White Perspective and Racism

I have been hiding from the news. The barrage of horror stories told from across the soft fireside glow of the electronic screen was just too much for me handle in the seemingly endless and chilly night of U.S. culture and politics right now. So, I retreated from current events to the warmth of my tent and zipped myself into my sleeping bag of ignorance. But, as I was eating my beans and rice for dinner tonight, I hazily stumbled out of my tent and tripped over this video where CBS Atlanta’s Sharon Reed responds to a white viewer’s email regarding Reed’s mayoral election coverage:

The fall jolted me awake.

I want to address white people from my white person’s perspective. White people, I imagine that you don’t like being called a racist. I imagine that you probably think of yourself as a good person. You have existed in a world created by white people for white people. Media, education, and politics, in all forms for thousands of years throughout Western-European culture, has overwhelmingly been designed by white people for white people. This has created the white perspective, a perspective that has been magnified and amplified throughout history so as to appear as absolute truth – as absolute reality. The thing is though, there are other perspectives. Black men and women, latinx men and women, and other people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds, have different perspectives. They don’t experience the world as white people do.

Now more than ever these different perspectives are given a seat at the table and the opportunity to be heard in the media, education, and politics. And, I imagine this challenges the way you see yourself, white people. I imagine that it feels like reality has become tenuous and precarious. I imagine that you feel threatened at the very core of who you are and how you conceive of yourself. The first step of mourning is denial, the next step is anger. White people, your response to the death of your white perspective largely oscillates between denial and anger.

I hope that you can take the next step in the mourning process to acceptance. Accept that the white perspective is not absolute truth – it is not absolute reality. If you see yourself as a good person, then I imagine that you don’t want to hurt anyone, right? And, if a good person does unintentionally hurt someone, then they take responsibility for it, apologize, and try to make it right, right? Here’s your time white people. Step up, take responsibility, apologize, and try to make it right. No, you are not responsible for the entire system of racism and oppression. But, white peoples’ sensitivity to talking about racism makes white people willfully ignorant of what they do to perpetuate and justify racism.

Try to make it right. Seek out other perspectives. Intellectuals, professionals, activists, and every day people from a diversity of backgrounds have been writing and speaking about these issues for decades. Seek out those peoples’ voices, listen fairly and try to understand their perspectives.

I am going back into my sleeping bag now.

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Vegetarianism, Veganism, and Fruitarianism in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden – Excerpts from “Baker Farm” and “Higher Laws”

From “Baker Farm” –

“Meanwhile my host told me his story, how hard he worked “bogging” for a neighboring farmer, turning up a meadow with a spade or bog hoe at the rate of ten dollars an acre and the use of the land with manure for one year, and his little broad-faced son worked cheerfully at his father’s side the while, not knowing how poor a bargain the latter had made. I tried to help him with my experience, telling him that he was one of my nearest neighbors, and that I too, who came a-fishing here, and looked like a loafer, was getting my living like himself; that I lived in a tight, light, and clean house, which hardly cost more than the annual rent of such a ruin as his commonly amounts to; and how, if he chose, he might in a month or two build himself a palace of his own; that I did not use tea, nor coffee, nor butter, nor milk, nor fresh meat, and so did not have to work to get them; again, as I did not work hard, I did not have to eat hard, and it cost me but a trifle for my food; but as he began with tea, and coffee, and butter, and milk, and beef, he had to work hard to pay for them, and when he had worked hard he had to eat hard again to repair the waste of his system—and so it was as broad as it was long, indeed it was broader than it was long, for he was discontented and wasted his life into the bargain; and yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things. For I purposely talked to him as if he were a philosopher, or desired to be one. I should be glad if all the meadows on the earth were left in a wild state, if that were the consequence of men’s beginning to redeem themselves.”

From “Higher Laws” –

“I have found repeatedly, of late years, that I cannot fish without falling a little in self-respect. I have tried it again and again. I have skill at it, and, like many of my fellows, a certain instinct for it, which revives from time to time, but always when I have done I feel that it would have been better if I had not fished. I think that I do not mistake. It is a faint intimation, yet so are the first streaks of morning. There is unquestionably this instinct in me which belongs to the lower orders of creation; yet with every year I am less a fisherman, though without more humanity or even wisdom; at present I am no fisherman at all. But I see that if I were to live in a wilderness I should again be tempted to become a fisher and hunter in earnest. Beside, there is something essentially unclean about this diet and all flesh, and I began to see where housework commences, and whence the endeavor, which costs so much, to wear a tidy and respectable appearance each day, to keep the house sweet and free from all ill odors and sights. Having been my own butcher and scullion and cook, as well as the gentleman for whom the dishes were served up, I can speak from an unusually complete experience. The practical objection to animal food in my case was its uncleanness; and besides, when I had caught and cleaned and cooked and eaten my fish, they seemed not to have fed me essentially. It was insignificant and unnecessary, and cost more than it came to. A little bread or a few potatoes would have done as well, with less trouble and filth. Like many of my contemporaries, I had rarely for many years used animal food, or tea, or coffee, etc.; not so much because of any ill effects which I had traced to them, as because they were not agreeable to my imagination. The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food, and from much food of any kind. It is a significant fact, stated by entomologists—I find it in Kirby and Spence—that “some insects in their perfect state, though furnished with organs of feeding, make no use of them”; and they lay it down as “a general rule, that almost all insects in this state eat much less than in that of larvæ. The voracious caterpillar when transformed into a butterfly… and the gluttonous maggot when become a fly” content themselves with a drop or two of honey or some other sweet liquid. The abdomen under the wings of the butterfly still represents the larva. This is the tidbit which tempts his insectivorous fate. The gross feeder is a man in the larva state; and there are whole nations in that condition, nations without fancy or imagination, whose vast abdomens betray them.

It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offend the imagination; but this, I think, is to be fed when we feed the body; they should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you. It is not worth the while to live by rich cookery. Most men would feel shame if caught preparing with their own hands precisely such a dinner, whether of animal or vegetable food, as is every day prepared for them by others. Yet till this is otherwise we are not civilized, and, if gentlemen and ladies, are not true men and women. This certainly suggests what change is to be made. It may be vain to ask why the imagination will not be reconciled to flesh and fat. I am satisfied that it is not. Is it not a reproach that man is a carnivorous animal? True, he can and does live, in a great measure, by preying on other animals; but this is a miserable way—as any one who will go to snaring rabbits, or slaughtering lambs, may learn—and he will be regarded as a benefactor of his [human] race who shall teach man to confine himself to a more innocent and wholesome diet.”

Walden on Project Gutenberg

Henry David Thoreau – Excerpt from “The Village” in Walden

It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time. Often in a snow-storm, even by day, one will come out upon a well-known road and yet find it impossible to tell which way leads to the village. Though he knows that he has travelled it a thousand times, he cannot recognize a feature in it, but it is as strange to him as if it were a road in Siberia. By night, of course, the perplexity is infinitely greater. In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round—for a man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost—do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

One afternoon, near the end of the first summer, when I went to the village to get a shoe from the cobbler’s, I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related, I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the State which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle, at the door of its senate-house. I had gone down to the woods for other purposes. But, wherever a man goes, men will pursue and paw him with their dirty institutions, and, if they can, constrain him to belong to their desperate odd-fellow society. It is true, I might have resisted forcibly with more or less effect, might have run “amok” against society; but I preferred that society should run “amok” against me, it being the desperate party. However, I was released the next day, obtained my mended shoe, and returned to the woods in season to get my dinner of huckleberries on Fair Haven Hill. I was never molested by any person but those who represented the State. I had no lock nor bolt but for the desk which held my papers, not even a nail to put over my latch or windows. I never fastened my door night or day, though I was to be absent several days; not even when the next fall I spent a fortnight in the woods of Maine. And yet my house was more respected than if it had been surrounded by a file of soldiers. The tired rambler could rest and warm himself by my fire, the literary amuse himself with the few books on my table, or the curious, by opening my closet door, see what was left of my dinner, and what prospect I had of a supper. Yet, though many people of every class came this way to the pond, I suffered no serious inconvenience from these sources, and I never missed anything but one small book, a volume of Homer, which perhaps was improperly gilded, and this I trust a soldier of our camp has found by this time. I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown. These take place only in communities where some have got more than is sufficient while others have not enough. The Pope’s Homers would soon get properly distributed.

                      "Nec bella fuerunt,
         Faginus astabat dum scyphus ante dapes."

                         "Nor wars did men molest,
         When only beechen bowls were in request."

“You who govern public affairs, what need have you to employ punishments? Love virtue, and the people will be virtuous. The virtues of a superior man are like the wind; the virtues of a common man are like the grass—the grass, when the wind passes over it, bends.” 

Read Walden on Project Gutenberg

 

Free Speech, Terrorism, Incitement of Violence, and White Supremacy

Terrorism is defined as the use of violence to advance a political message. More specifically, “The FBI looks to the Code of Federal Regulations definition [of terrorism]: ‘The unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.'” White supremacists fit this definition.

Moreover, we have always had laws restricting speech in this country when the speech will likely cause a significant harm to others. We have laws against fraud, libel, and slander, that is, laws that restrict false statements.

But, more importantly, WE HAVE LAWS AGAINST INCITING VIOLENCE. The organization, participation, promotion, and encouragement of a riot is not protected speech. To be clear, a “riot” is legally defined as “a public disturbance involving (1) an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons, which act or acts shall constitute a clear and present danger of, or shall result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual or (2) a threat or threats of the commission of an act or acts of violence by one or more persons part of an assemblage of three or more persons having, individually or collectively, the ability of immediate execution of such threat or threats, where the performance of the threatened act or acts of violence would constitute a clear and present danger of, or would result in, damage or injury to the property of any other person or to the person of any other individual.

Now to be sure, the “the mere oral or written (1) advocacy of ideas or (2) expression of belief” is protected speech, EXCEPT when it involves the “advocacy of any act or acts of violence or assertion of the rightness of, or the right to commit, any such act or acts.

It is not a free speech issue with white supremacist groups. These are organized, assembled, groups whose “speech” is by its very nature a promotion and encouragement of violence against anyone who is not them or does not adhere to their ideologies. Their “speech”, their verbal and symbolic acts, are direct threats of violence. The facts are clear: (1) hate crimes have spiked 20% since the 2016 presidential election of a white supremacist sympathizer , (2) the majority of hate crime offenders are white, and (3) these white offenders consistently have ties to white supremacist groups. What it comes down to is that white supremacist “speech” should not be protected because it is terrorism and it incites violence.

We have a responsibility to do what we can to promote the freedom of others, so long as that freedom does not result in the harm of anyone else. Do what you can, but the simplest way to begin is to demand that white supremacist groups be legally identified as terrorist organizations.

 

 

Beyond U.S. White Supremacy

Rev. William Barber and the movement against U.S. white supremacy. Recognizing structural/systemic racism and the common social/political ground between U.S. blacks and whites; structural/systemic racism and the social/political divide between poor and working class whites and blacks.

See also:

Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality,

 

George Yancy, “Dear White America” series in The New York Times

Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”

Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Case for Reparations”

Robert Jensen, “The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege”

False “Freedom” Justifiably Denied

“At once the oppressor raises an objection: under the pretext of freedom, he says, there you go oppressing me in turn; you deprive me of my freedom. […] a freedom wills itself genuinely only by willing itself as an indefinite movement though the freedom of others; as soon as it withdraws into itself, it denies itself on behalf of some object which it prefers to itself […] [objects such as] property, the feeling of possession, capital, comfort, moral security […] We have to respect freedom only when it is intended for freedom, not when it strays, flees itself, and resigns itself. A freedom which is interested only in denying freedom must be denied. And it is not true that the recognition of the freedom of others limits my own freedom: to be free is not to have the power to do anything you like; it is to be able to surpass the given toward an open future; the existence of others as a freedom defines my situation and is even the condition of my own freedom.” – Simone de Beauvoir, The Ethics of Ambiguity, pp. 90-91