No, America Doesn’t Need White Identity Movements

Trichardspenerhere’s a part of me that wants to have sympathy for white people who claim to want to celebrate their European heritage. Now that they are a diminishing demographic, and will soon be one among many groups in the U.S., and not the hegemony they have been in the past, why shouldn’t they, too, celebrate their culture and identity, as do blacks and other people of color?

Being a persecuted and targeted minority group for the centuries that black people have been on these shores, has given rise to groups that are defensive in nature, like the NAACP and Urban League; to HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities), that sprung up in response to white institutions of higher education being hostile or legally segregated, and mentorship groups such as National Association of Black Journalist, to which I have belonged.

So, until recently, I was feeling that constant talk about “white privilege,” etc., was overdone. What harm was there in whites celebrating their European identity, and why shouldn’t whites have such things as white studies, without being accused of being racist? Must we continue to view whites as the privileged majority even as their demographic share is shrinking?

Then came the election of Donald J. Trump.

According the New York Times, Peter Brimelow, the founder of Vdare.com, an anti-immigration website, asked the audience at the recent Alt-Right gathering in Washington, why, if Hispanics had the National Council of La Raza and Jews had the Anti-Defamation League, whites were reluctant to organize for their rights.

Why not, indeed.

Unfortunately, it seems that the whites, such as those affiliated with Richard B. Spencer’s National Policy Institute, do not feel it is enough to have an affinity group. The white “identitarians” must also despise, denigrate and discriminate against others in order to affirm their existence, it seems.

For example, Richard B. Spencer, a leader of the so-called “Alt Right” whom I have only just become familiar with, says he wants a white ethno-state. That state, he affirms, should be the United States. He has claimed that this country was built by and for Europeans. “.. America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” Spencer told his audience at its recent conference, according to The New York Times. “It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

“To be white is to be a creator, an explorer, a conqueror,” he affirmed.

He and others like him, completely dismiss the fact that this land was not uninhabited when the “undocumented” Europeans arrived. Shortly thereafter, as early as the 1600s, bondspeople were brought to these shores from Africa and Europe to Jamestown, Virginia; and there quickly emerged a system of slave-holding of African peoples.

The first Africans were brought from places like the central African nation of Cameroon, and my family, and many other black families, can trace our origins to those very early unwilling immigrants.

The Southern economy was built on the backs of generations of enslaved Africans. Spencer likes to dismiss the importance of this, telling Roland Martin’s Newsone that whites easily could have invented another method for cotton picking, so that black labor was incidental.

But we know that’s not what happened. Had slave labor not been essential to the economy of the U.S., the practice would have withered died under its own obsolescence.

It did not.

Due to the practice of white overseers and “masters” taking concubines from among the enslaved women, African Americans are, on average, 17 percent European, with some blacks being upwards of 50 percent European (think Corey Booker and Vanessa Williams).

Add to this the smaller percentage of African Americans who have Native blood running through their veins. Some of this admixture may have occurred early in the nation’s history, when there was an attempt to enslave Native Americans, as well as Africans.

So, for Richard B. Spencer, and others on the so-called “Alt-right” to make believe that the United States has always been a European country, is historically inaccurate, and in short, specious.

The culture, including the cuisine, the vernacular, the music, the sports, the scientific inventions, and scholarship, has arisen from an amalgam of people who call themselves Americans. One could hardly imagine an America without Southern cooking (soul food), jazz music, basketball, football, and fast as lightening track stars and other athletes.

But Africans didn’t only contribute to the “soft” culture of the U.S. Recently a movie was made about the black women, including one dubbed “the human computer,” that checked the computer calculations that enabled this country to soar to the moon.

The black scientist Dr. Charles Drew invented a method for extracting plasma from blood that paved the way for safe blood transfusions.

No need to list all of the ways Africans, Latinos and Native Americans have contributed to this country by means of the arts, culture, cuisine, popular vernacular and scholarship.

Truth be told, America wouldn’t be America with its Chinatowns, Preservation Hall bands, Cajun cooking, Harlem, Hip Hop and Rap, Facebook and other technologies, were it to only consist of non-Jewish whites.

Had American been a totally European nation, it wouldn’t have its swag. It wouldn’t be the country that immigrants and refugees dream of coming to.

So, I am afraid that it would be too dangerous for white identity movements to take hold without a firm resistance. Spencer has said that if African Americans and others he deems undesirable do not leave the country voluntarily, they will be removed by bloody force. That is his “dream,” he says.

Unfortunately, there is a strain in European culture and tradition that feels it must be supreme; must dominate, must vanquish.

That, Richard B. Spencer, cannot happen.

This article was originally published in my Huffington Post blog:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/no-richard-spencer-america-is-not-yours_us_583c9c2be4b04e28cf5b8a5a?

 

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Let’s Stop Calling Ourselves Minorities

A version of this post was originally published in 2014 in The Root.com

minorities3It’s hard to believe, but it has already been four years (July 2012) when babies born of parents of color in the U.S. overtook births of white babies. What this means, according to demographers, is that by the year 2040, or thereabouts, there will be no majority race in the U.S. Blacks now make up about 13 percent of the population, while those hailing from the Spanish-speaking former New World colonies make up approximately 17 percent, and growing. Asians, both south and east, Middle-easterners and the cohort of mixed or “other” are also on the rise.

So why do we insist on using the word “minority” to speak of people of color, as a synonym for nonwhite? Growing up in the 70s and 80s, “minority” became an easy shorthand; an all-inclusive way to designate those who are not Caucasian. Since historically, this country has been overwhelmingly white (as much as 70 percent and more) it made its own kind of sense, and it was also easier than saying the mouthful “people of color,” or more daunting, calling each racial/ethnic group by name.

For some time now, I have sworn off using the term at all, and have tried to persuade others that the term is one whose time has passed. With the news of the nonwhite babies becoming a majority of births three years ago, I noticed such awkward constructions in the media as “majority minority.” Talk about oxymorons!

I believe that words have power to influence our thoughts and our thoughts influence our actions. If we cling to outdated and identity-sapping self-descripters, we forever regard ourselves as powerless.

So let’s take a look at how Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines minority: It reads:

: a number or amount that is less than half of a total;

: the group that is the smaller part of a larger group;

: a group of people who are different from the larger group in a country, area, etc., in some way (such as race or religion)

That last definition is the one we are dealing with here; but think of the other definitions: minority is something that is less than half of a total. It is the smaller part of a group.

As long as we use the term as a synonym for the myriad people of color, we are, I believe consigning those people to lesser status and a smaller role, in short to powerlessness.

When you hear the word majority, on the other hand, it denotes power. The majority vote wins in elections. The majority opinion is sometimes able to silence the less popular. Speaking of the majority race makes it seem like a behemoth; something as immovable and inevitable as a mountain range.

But racial power is not inevitable; it is the result of various historical forces. What will happen when our country becomes a nation of fractured ethnic and racial groups, with no one group in the majority? Doesn’t it make sense to begin to speak of racial groups using their proper name, i.e., black, white, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latino and Latina?

Recently, I read in the New York Times that Middle-Eastern immigrants would like a designated box on the census form. Currently, they must check white or other, and many of them do not feel white, nor are they treated as if they were. You have to wonder how the white bloc of citizens is over-counted due to quirks of the census like this. Same with Hispanics. They are also able to check a box declaring their race, black, white, or a combination. However, the same article noted that Hispanics, when given the option of choosing a race, overwhelmingly check white, despite the fact that few Hispanics from the New World have a typically Caucasian phenotype. Again, the white “majority” bloc is falsely expanded.

I was watching a movie in the Fast and Furious franchise the other day, noting how diverse the cast is. There are several blacks. A few whites, both men and women. An Asian man. Several Hispanics. Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson and Vin Diesel face fight during one scene. My first thought, looking at the two men, is that I have seen the future, and the future will look a lot like them. More and more Americans are balking at the strictures of claiming one race at all: Diesel is reportedly black and white; Johnson is Polynesian and black. I am seeing more young people who belong to the nebulous “mixed-race group,” who see no reason to deny any part of their heritage.

In light of such trends, will there come a day when the census drops racial labeling altogether?

Maybe. But in the meantime, can a majority of us agree to stop using the belittling and power-robbing synonym “minority” for that blossoming, growing, expanding group of multi-racial and varied-race Americans?

 

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Breaking the Code

Obama cool black manPoor President Obama, he just can’t catch a break. Looking strained and weary, he had to interrupt his Martha’s Vineyard vacation and return to Washington because the world seemed aflame with problems both at home and abroad.

His entire second term has been characterized by Congressional gridlock and immigration woes. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took shots at his foreign policy in the media, and he’s been criticized by African Americans for not attending to problems in the inner-city, the type of which boiled over recently in Ferguson, MO.

It’s not that the president doesn’t try. Before African-American audiences, he will assume an air of familiarity that some have found patronizing. About Republicans planning a lawsuit against him, he says they should stop “hatin’ all the time.” Before his last election, he told members of the Congressional Black Caucus (reportedly switching to a preacher’s cadence) to take off their “bedroom slippers and start marching.” He even recently complimented his White House pastry chef by saying his pies were so delicious, “I don’t know what he does – whether he puts crack in them.”

What?

That was my reaction until I realized that yet again, our president was “code-switching.” Saying something has crack in it is like saying it’s crazy good. (With two teens in the house, Obama has a ready resource for the latest slang.)

In a recent piece in The Daily Beast, columnist John McWhorter argued that such relatability was requisite for the presidency today, noting that George W. Bush was often criticized for his Texan swagger.

Many groups code-switch. Italians, Jews, Puerto-Ricans, Mexicans. We all have “in-group lingo;” something that lets us feel we’re members of the inner circle.

I remember when my then-16 year old nephew, Christian, came back from vacation in California, sounding as if he’d grown up on the mean streets East Palo Alto, despite having been born and schooled (and often on the high-honor roll) in rural upstate New York. Now 24, he said, “I think code-switching is necessary to smoothly transverse through different groups. Growing up out there I did not learn what we typically consider ‘urban code.’ Coming to California was my first introduction, and I definitely wanted to speak the code at first just to fit in. I mean, I have regularly spoken in urban code for the last 8 years. But at the same time, I realized what my grandmother meant when she said that people perceive you a certain way when you look and speak a certain way. So around sophomore year of college, I realized it could be beneficial to be able to do both at any time.”

In a TED talk, spoken word poet Jamila Lyiscott riffed easily between urban, Caribbean and standard English, telling her audience she was “tri-lingual.”

Black ministers are often masters of the code-switch. My pastor, the Rev. Arnold Byrd III, a young African-American minister, can easily go from standard English on his job in sales with a major cable company, to language designed to connect with the congregation in his predominantly black church on Sundays. He says he follows the example of Jesus, who used things his listeners could understand – fishing and farming – to explain the Kingdom of Heaven. “Peter was a businessman; he owned his own fishing business. So when Jesus told Peter, ‘I will make you a fisher of men,’ Peter understood where he was coming from because he uses something Peter could relate to.”

With the news dominated again by the killing of a young, unarmed black man in Ferguson, even in the comments section of Christianity Today, we see that black and white Christians seemingly talk a different language. One can see how, if people only hung around with others who shared their views, both on and off-line, deadly misunderstandings could occur when we confront one another in real life.

This shouldn’t be so.

My pastor says that Mark 12:30-31, the famous scripture that tells us to love God with our heart soul, and mind and our neighbor as ourselves, is crucial. “In everything about me I am going to show God I love him, which means his ways trump my beliefs, my thoughts or how I perceive a thing,” he told me.

As Paul writes in Ephesians, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility … that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. (Ephesians 2:13-18 RSV)

As believers we should be masters of the ultimate “code-switch.” After all, we not only are citizens of various nations, but we are citizens of heaven. We should be conversant not only in the language dictated by our differing cultures, but in the language given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ: “Love one another as I have loved you.”

A version of this story originally appeared in Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics column in August 2014: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2014/august/code-switching-for-kingdom.html