By Tommy Airey
The Confederacy is a southern thing, but white supremacy is not.
Economist Paul Krugman came out with a piece last week in The New York Times lambasting the South for its ongoing racist drama, while proclaiming “we really have become much less racist, and in general a much more tolerant society on many fronts.”
He scaffolded his arguments with two key economic studies: one that studied the massive white working class exodus away from the Democratic Party in the 70s and 80s (the Southern Strategy) and another that pegged the downsizing of the U.S. welfare state to racial discrimination. Krugman argues that, unfortunately, these forces are still very powerful in the U.S., beckoning readers to take a quick glance at the states that have denied Medicaid expansion to its residents. Surprise, surprise: almost of them are in the South.
The spirit with which Krugman writes tends towards demonizing Republicans and rednecks. Although, I obviously believe that the Republican Party has much to be desired, his rhetoric leaves too many of us white folks, in the north and the west, off the hook. White supremacy is the air we breathe all over the continent, as radical disciple Bree Newsome enunciated in her post-arrest post last week. It is a system that desperately calls for dismantling. For those with eyes to see.
Here’s how we are breathing in the air of white supremacy, 600 miles north of the old Confederacy:
When Michiganders voted for a state referendum banning emergency management (state takeover of cities), and then two weeks later, the governor and legislature overturned it by enacting virtually the same law and appointing more non-elected “leaders” to run cities and school districts with black majorities, white supremacy is alive and well.
When the state takes over the Detroit Public Schools, closes dozens of neighborhood schools, unsuccessfully experiments with various forms of charters and severely increases the debt, white supremacy is alive and well.
When suburbanites refer to “those people” in Detroit, as in “those people need to start taking care of their yards” and “those people should be paying their water bills” and “those people need to stop dealing drugs & killing each other,” white supremacy is alive and well.
When the virtually all-white suburb of Gross Pointe puts up fences or “farmers market sheds” to block Detroiters from entering their city through major streets, white supremacy is alive and well.
When 45% of black men in Detroit are either dead or in prison, overwhelmingly due to 80’s era War on Drugs policies, while it is well documented that whites buy & sell illegal drugs at the same rates, white supremacy is alive and well.
When millions of dollars of federal TARP “Hardest Hit” funds specifically allocated for “mortgage relief” (keeping residents in their homes) are shifted to “blight removal” (cleaning up the neighborhood to entice redevelopment), white supremacy is alive and well.
When white suburban residents flock to Detroit to attend professional sporting events, concerts and St. Patrick’s Day parades and then litter and piss in the street, white supremacy is alive and well.
When banks specifically target black homebuyers with predatory subprime loans, white supremacy is alive and well.
When the hometown newspaper constantly celebrity-worships wealthy white “saviors” like Dan Gilbert, Mike Ilitch, Mike Duggan and John Hantz, white supremacy is alive and well.
When housing segregation rates barely change from the 1940s to the present, despite successful court rulings and open housing advocacy and legislation, white supremacy is alive and well.
When investment banks and the insurance industry convinced Detroit’s black mayor to restructure pension obligations with risky credit default swaps and derivatives, the scheme horrifically unraveling a few years later and the mayor (involved in a sordid affair and corruption scandal) is blamed for all of it, white supremacy is alive and well.
When white residents and white-led industry fled the city for federally subsidized (GI Bill, freeways & FHA loans) suburbs and then kept black homebuyers out with a plethora of well-documented schemes, white supremacy is alive and well.
When white entrepreneurs move into select pockets of the city and use messianic language like “rebuilding Detroit” or being “part of Detroit’s comeback” or even “Detroit’s saving grace,” white supremacy is alive and well.
When a large percentage of foundations and grant monies in Detroit go to white entrepreneurs in a city with a 80% percent black population, white supremacy is alive and well.
When the city makes a decision to balance the budget of the water department largely on the backs of black Detroit residents through shut-offs, after bailing out suburban municipalities with cut-rate wholesale rates for decades, white supremacy is alive and well.
When tens of thousands of black residents buy or inherit homes, cannot afford to pay the mortgage or property taxes and then are forced to foreclose on them, white supremacy is alive and well.
When auto insurance rates in Detroit are twice what they are in the suburbs and public transportation is atrocious, white supremacy is alive and well.
When Detroit’s professional sports teams, owned and managed by wealthy white men, are given tax breaks and subsidies to build bigger stadiums downtown, white supremacy is alive and well.
When toxic industries build factories in or around minority neighborhoods, leading to skyrocketing rates of asthma and cancer in people of color, white supremacy is alive and well.
When white people, anywhere and almost everywhere, overlook any of this, out of ignorance, arrogance, indifference or guilt, white supremacy is alive and well.
When white people acknowledge it, yet do nothing to change this system, white supremacy is alive and well.
White supremacy isn’t the KKK, the neo-nazis, Donald Sterling or Dylan Roof. It is the fabric of our society, knit together by a multitude of mores and mindsets, policies and principles, handed down through the generations. This tragic, historic state-of-affairs has not be erased by the Civil Rights Movement or the Black President.
Now is the time for white people to dismantle white supremacy by cultivating the kind of robust empathy that demands something out of us, defined by Cornel West as “not simply a matter of trying to imagine what others are going through, but having the will to muster enough courage to do something about it.”
Now is the time for white people to follow Pope Francis’ challenge to cultivate a spiritual awareness that transcends narcissism and indifference: “to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
Now is the time for white people to allow this pain and suffering to ferment so intensely within us that it must come out in spoken word, as bell hooks has warned, “All our silences in the face of racist assault are acts of complicity.” We will call out white supremacy in privilege white spaces, echoing Dr. King’s own courageous vocation, as this Truth becomes “like fire shut up in our bones. And we just have to tell it.”
Now is the time for white people to take the air out of white supremacy.
From alive and well to dead on arrival.