America's black president and its white supremacy: Neil Macdonald
Obama and Clinton have little to say about racism in America
Mention white supremacy in America the next time the conversation turns to the U.S. presidential election, and watch what happens.
Heads avert, a few eyes roll, and the conversation resumes, unruffled, after a few polite smiles.
The phrase is regarded as extreme — a gross exaggeration of problems America has, after all, tried to solve.
Why, the president of the United States himself is black, and he never uses terms like white supremacy.
Even a black leader cannot mention systemic discrimination against black Americans without nodding sympathetically to the grievances of white Americans, many of whom believe they are the victims in a politically correct world that values "diversity" over (their) merit.
The very word diversity is seen by millions of Americans as code for quotas and reverse discrimination. White conservatives talk wistfully about "colourblindness," something they seem persuaded actually exists.
So it takes guts to unblinkingly use the phrase white supremacy, the way the new generation of black activists, and prominent black academics, are routinely doing.
Prof. Eddie Glaude, dean of the department of African American and religious studies at no less an institution than Princeton University, politely offers the following definition of white supremacy in America: "The belief that white people matter more than others."
The founders, Glaude points out, were capable of jarring cognitive dissonance; even as they created a shining city on the hill with freedom and justice for all, they owned slaves.
They saw no contradiction in that. And, writes Glaude, that disjoint continues to this day.
And of course whites are disinclined to see flaws in a system that serves them so well.
"Think about it this way," he writes. "When communists declare that Stalinism wasn't really communism, or when Christians and Muslims say that the horrific things some Christians and Muslims have done in the name of their religion isn't really Christianity or Islam, what are they doing? They are protecting their ideology…"
Likewise, he says, Americans separate the pristine ideal of America from its ugly realities: "We keep treating America like we have a great blueprint and we've just strayed from it. But the fact is we've built this country true. Black folks were never meant to be full-fledged participants."
Black Americans are harassed and killed by police and imprisoned in grossly disproportionate numbers. They are much poorer, twice as unemployed, more uneducated, and lead the nation in deadly diseases.
But for many American whites, Occam's razor ceases to function where blacks are concerned.
Blacks are constantly blamed for their own suffering, and Donald Trump is trying to ride that shibboleth right to the White House.
(Yes, it is true most crime against blacks is perpetrated by blacks. And most crime against whites is perpetrated by whites. But there are no accounts of "white-on-white" crime.)
Trump took his time in repudiating the support of Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, and has been embraced by the so-called "alt-right" movement, which is reasonably described as white nationalist.
Silence from Democrats
What's remarkable, though, is the crashing silence from Democrats about the life of black people in America.
Hillary Clinton largely ignores them, concentrating instead on appealing to Republicans disaffected by Trump's loopiness.
It's politically shrewd, perhaps; a politician has to prioritize for maximum effect, and blacks have been a reliable Democratic constituency for decades.
But why, as video surfaces so regularly of police gunning down unarmed (and, in some cases, apprehended and shackled) black men, seemingly with legal impunity, are leading Democrats so mealy mouthed in response?
Glaude says Obama "sold black America the snake oil of hope and change," and he's contemptuous of the president's almost painful even-handedness in addressing violence against blacks.
"He will equate that reality with white resentment, or with the challenges that police face. And white resentment, to my mind, isn't morally or ethically equivalent to being resentful over racism. And he does it over, and over, and over again."
- The deadly consequences of carrying while black
- Protests held for man fatally shot while pointing e-cigarette
- Tulsa officer charged with manslaughter
Clinton, says Glaude, effectively does the same, carefully genuflecting to white anxiety.
"All lives matter," Clinton admonished a black congregation several months ago, using what has since become a white-resentment code phrase.
Whatever the reason, her avoidance of their issues or her coziness with white corporate America, the apathy toward her among black voters is so obvious that Barack Obama now feels obliged to fight it.
In a recent speech to black lawmakers, Obama angrily declared that if blacks simply disengage and stay home election day, and allow Hillary Clinton to lose, he will take it as a "personal insult to his legacy."
"It's panic," says Glaude, "and a kind of perverse shift of blame that it's our fault that we're not excited about this centrist-right Democrat."
But in heavily Republican states like Texas, or solidly Democratic states like California, he says, blacks should just stay home, to make it clear they're sick of choosing between white supremacy and more concealed white supremacy.
As for Obama's personal legacy, he says, "I don't give a damn about that."
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Watch Neil Macdonald's full report from The National on race in America's election campaign below.