A post-supremacy nation

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

What do you say to someone who has been told their whole essence is whiteness and power and domination, and when that no longer exists, then they feel as if they are dying? … I don't hear anyone speaking to the 45-year-old person in Appalachia who is dying at a young age, who feels like they've been eradicated because whiteness is so much smaller today than it was yesterday. Where is the theology that redefines for them what it means to be fully human? There's a spiritual crisis in white America. It's a crisis of meaning. We talk a lot about black theologies, but I want a liberating white theology. … I want a theology that begins to deepen people's understanding about their capacity to live fully human lives and to touch the goodness inside of them, rather than call upon the part of themselves that's not relational.

Ruby Sales

Civil Rights activist

Supremacy. That's what this is all about, isn't it? Charlottesville, Ferguson, the backlash against Black Lives Matter, the election of Donald Trump, the inability of so many white Southerners to finally and fully let go of the Civil War, the "state's rights" smokescreen, Neo-Nazis, the KKK, Jim Crow, the New Jim Crow, Confederate monuments and flags.

Why didn't I see this before? The term put me off. White privilege, yes, guilty as charged. But "white supremacy" was reserved for a fringe element, pathetic "losers," armed and armored, grasping desperately for some twisted approximation of self-respect. A tiny fraction of the population, not to be taken seriously. The rest of us don't have anything in common with those people, do we?

But supremacy is bigger and more pervasive. It explains a lot about who we are and how we got here.

We? I mean the white "we," of course.

"We" still see the country as "ours." We may tolerate, even accommodate, the presence of others — or not — but when all is said and done, or not done, it's our country, our "system." Whether we're fully conscious and intentional about it, too many white Americans want to hold onto being the majority. 

White Southerners have more experience with this. After the Civil War, following the abolition of slavery, they designed a system to assure dominance over black Southerners: Jim Crow laws, reinforced by the terrorism of the KKK. After Reconstruction, the North and the federal government turned a blind eye. 

That led to the Great Migration, as black Southerners moved North in large numbers to the urban centers, looking for a better way of life. Northern whites developed their own system of segregation and subjugation, characterized by white flight and inner-city ghettos, keeping the black population separate, unequal, largely invisible. Discrimination in housing, education and employment was rampant. 

With the Civil Rights Movement and the 1967 urban uprisings, African Americans asserted their rights and vented their justifiable anger. There has been progress, some upward mobility, some desegregation. But not enough integration. As Ferguson demonstrated, the subjugation simply became more subtle. White police departments, taking their lead from the wishes of the white upper classes — who demanded a reduction in black crime and didn't want to be bothered by the black underclass — nickeled and dimed low-income blacks through an onerous system of fines and incarceration. And, as we now know, by killing an inordinate number of unarmed black men, using the higher crime rates of poor neighborhoods as an excuse for "cracking down." 

The Republican Party, meanwhile, champions of "law and order," promoted a vision of an idyllic past when whites were dominant, which is at odds with the present reality for many white Americans, who feel they have lost their privileged socioeconomic status. They are struggling and looking for people to blame. So they blame blacks and Muslims and immigrants from south of our border and anyone else they can think of.

Thanks to gerrymandering, lax campaign finance laws, voter suppression efforts (not limited to the Russians), and the Electoral College overruling the popular vote, white Americans managed to "elect" Donald Trump, who exploited their fears of changing demographics and their resentment over the damage done to the middle class by economic inequality.  

You could call this white supremacy's last stand — because the demographic changes are irreversible. It's only a matter of time and white supremacists know it, which explains our deep political polarization, the anti-globalization and anti-immigrant movements. One of our two main political parties is almost entirely white and mostly male. The other is too timid to be the empowered champion of diversity that we need in order to move forward as a nation.

Congress remains mostly white and male. State legislatures are dominated by Republicans. Police departments are still mostly white and male, even when they serve majority-minority communities. 

Thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement, in the three years (this month) since Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Missouri, we are more aware of how racism has taken new forms in a white-dominant system that white Americans support, if only by our passivity and silence.

Meanwhile, the 2016 election brought the intentional white supremacy movement into the open, making it visible, and forcing us to deal with the tough, necessary work of healing our nation's racial divide.

What seems clear to me now is that we — the white "we" — are still trying to hang onto our privileged comfort zone, however well-intentioned we might think we are, even here in Oak Park, where for 50 years, we have "managed" diversity so that the community remains "stable" and doesn't give in to "white flight" like so many communities in the Chicago metropolitan area and nationwide. 

We have been successful, to a point. But what's our next step? Is Oak Park's experiment in integration only successful if we remain a white-dominant community? Will diversity remain stable if we ever become majority-minority? Those are important questions.

Nationwide, white America is indeed experiencing a spiritual crisis. The white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia and elsewhere are desperately afraid that someone else will dominate if they don't. They see the world as a system of winners and losers and they want to stay on the side of the winners. 

We need a new model. The goal is not to go from white dominance to some other dominance. The goal is to get rid of supremacy, period. The answer is not to invite "them" to "our" table. It's their table too. They're already at the table. White Americans have so much to learn from black Americans if we're willing to listen.

If we need a model, look to Canada, which is a far more diverse country and has become stronger for it. We — the many-ethnic, multiracial we — need to promote a new vision: of a post-supremacy nation. 

The first steps toward that future are happening. In Oak Park, the Community of Congregations is working to build bridges with Chicago's Austin neighborhood. And nationally, the symbols of the old Confederacy are disappearing at long last. Strange as it sounds, we can thank Michael Brown and Donald Trump (as well as the Black Lives Matter and Trump Resistance movements) for helping us take this step.

Our Racist-in-Chief has failed miserably to make America great "again," but he may yet inspire the rest of us — the all-inclusive "us" — to make America greater than it's ever been.

But only if white Americans, partnering as equals with black Americans and all other Americans, do the hard work necessary to let go of our unhealthy attachment to supremacy.

And there's no better place to start than here.  

 

Whiteness is a kind of religion, and the sin of the white liberal is to believe that racism is somebody else's problem. It keeps us from seeing how we, too, have been twisted by its lies. We can't just put that on the "rednecks." … It goes deeper than that. It's the system in which we live. … This is not just about policy; it's a problem that goes to the heart of who we are.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

Evangelical minister

Durham, North Carolina

Contact:
Email: ktrainor@wjinc.com

Reader Comments

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Adrian Ayres Fisher  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 10:41 AM

Ken Trainor, thanks for writing this thoughtful piece. It encourages readers to reflect upon and reconsider heir own experiences and possible biases. It's interesting that some people are so uncomfortable with that prospect that they lash out ad hominem-wise rather than engaging in thoughtful discussion.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 7:50 AM

Right out of the liberal playbook.

Barbara Joan  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 5:42 AM

The mainstream media and alt- left want President Trump impeached and to create total anarchy and fear in the USA and Europe--by any means necessary. Their 'Russian boogie man ranting has unraveled,, so now anyone who is not in lockstep with their agenda are labeled Nazis or white supremacists or haters.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 25th, 2017 5:27 AM

the sin of the white liberal is to believe that racism is somebody else's problem

Ray Simpson  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 9:48 PM

Congratulations Ken, you have set a new benchmark for hateful, dishonest, racist commentary! Our neighborhood has most all of the colors you pine for and we help one another, grieve together in sad times and enjoy our happy times together. The racism in our community seems to come mostly from your paper and the progressive liberal moaning and groaning. Could it be that spreading emotional depression is the the only arrow left in your quiver?

Barbara Joan  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 5:49 PM

Please don't promote your twisted nonsense anywhere!....In Europe, the Nazis were the National Socialists, and as such were allied with Marxists. Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other such "rent-a-mob" groups are also Marxists. George Soros and his allies incite violence as their greatest tool in their quest to destroy the USA and the U.S. Constitution and free people and societies everywhere.. The essence of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is that it protects free speech, especially political speech, which people may disagree with and not want to hear. In today's society, the movement is to stamp out any speech and anyone with whom the alt-left disagrees. Of course, that leaves them in total control of thought and lives?"their goal.

Jeffrey Smith from Oak Park   

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:36 PM

Clarity: Thank you, Ken *Trainor* - ; )

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:35 PM

=== here in Oak Park, where for 50 years, we have "managed" diversity ===. How's your little experiment working out?

Jeffrey Smith from Oak Park   

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:35 PM

Thank you, Ken. Now I don't have to write the One View I had in mind, because you've said it better than I ever could. Cheers, friend.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:27 PM

Naw. I'll just demand that posters here have a clue about what's actually going on. That would take care of the trolls.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:26 PM

You libs have been at it for more than 50 years. There was a typo in my last post... Malcolm X statues.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:23 PM

So what are you going to do, demand that all thealcolm X statues be torn down? In case you haven't noticed, events in the story go back more that 50 years Einstein.

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 3:10 PM

This is the nonsense I'm talking about. Malcolm X has been dead for more than 50 years.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 2:51 PM

=== Whiteness is a kind of religion, and the sin of the white liberal is to believe that racism is somebody else's problem. It keeps us from seeing how we, too, have been twisted by its lies. ~Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove=== The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro's friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political "football game" that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives. Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These "leaders" sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These "leaders" are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders. ~ Malcolm X

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 2:47 PM

=== Whiteness is a kind of religion, and the sin of the white liberal is to believe that racism is somebody else's problem. It keeps us from seeing how we, too, have been twisted by its lies. ~Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove=== The white liberal differs from the white conservative only in one way: the liberal is more deceitful than the conservative. The liberal is more hypocritical than the conservative. Both want power, but the white liberal is the one who has perfected the art of posing as the Negro's friend and benefactor; and by winning the friendship, allegiance, and support of the Negro, the white liberal is able to use the Negro as a pawn or tool in this political "football game" that is constantly raging between the white liberals and white conservatives. Politically the American Negro is nothing but a football and the white liberals control this mentally dead ball through tricks of tokenism: false promises of integration and civil rights. In this profitable game of deceiving and exploiting the political politician of the American Negro, those white liberals have the willing cooperation of the Negro civil rights leaders. These "leaders" sell out our people for just a few crumbs of token recognition and token gains. These "leaders" are satisfied with token victories and token progress because they themselves are nothing but token leaders. ~ Malcolm X

Bill Dwyer  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 2:41 PM

I really hope the GOP- not the knuckle draggers on the alt-right- but the real Republican Party, doesn't continue with this nonsense of false equivalency. Groups that are form to oppose and confront racism and fascism are NOT hate groups or intolerant. They're simply responding to hatred and intolerance- much as some try hard to paint them with the same brush as those they oppose.

Ken Stucken  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 1:32 PM

=One of our two main political parties is almost entirely white and mostly male. = The other political party was entirely white and mostly male. Why do you suppose the democrat party would no longer allow any blacks to run on their ticket?

Aaron McManus from Oak Park  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 10:56 AM

Thanks Ken for writing this - it is sorely needed. We have a lot of work to do here on integration. We had a solid push for diversity, but as a community we have always struggled with integration. It's important to remember that the push for diversity was very much driven by a desire to preserve real estate values, and that there has always been a lot of strong bias present in our town. There are still many folks here who won't go close to Austin and use coded language to describe "others" who are not like them. I'm hoping we'll be able to build more programs for social justice and sustainability that create more inclusion and equity. Thanks for writing this!

Aaron McManus from Oak Park  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 10:51 AM

Hi Barbara, No, BLM and Antifa are not hate groups, nor do they deserve to be put into the same sentence as the KKK - or even with each other. BLM is a human rights group working to lower murder rates. Antifa is committed to stopping the rise of fascism by any means necessary. The KKK advocates for genocide and has a long history of murder. Please don't promote your twisted nonsense here. Those things are not the same, and I'm sure you know that. Thanks

Barbara Joan  

Posted: August 24th, 2017 9:46 AM

Love is Love and Hate is Hate..Antifa,.BLM, KKK are just a few examples of hate groups.We cannot allow our civil rights and liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution to be destroyed by people spewing hate.and inciting violence to gain control of our country and world.

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