A few days ago I posted a link to my Facebook wall with the caption that read: “A year since Eric Garner, and this is our country. It’s never easy realizing how little some people value your existence.”
The link was a Policy.Mic article showcasing pictures from a KKK rally from this past weekend. It’s disturbing to say the least. Another sobering reminder as to where the movement stands in many minds of the people who need to hear certain messages the most.
What was even more telling were the defensive responses that followed to my reactions. For a lot of white Americans, those pictures don’t represent a reality. To them, by us focusing on the racists, we are losing sight of the vision. The vision that “all lives matter,” and that “there are racists on both sides,” so “why give [The Ku Klux Klan] power by behaving like their words mean something?”
I can’t accept those responses as adequate resolutions. 30 people on the steps of the South Carolina State House screaming white power is 30 people too many who believe American pride rests in the oppression of others who history has deemed as “less than.” The concern being expressed by black Americans isn’t giving those bigots more power, because the power has always been with them.
It is a lie to believe anything otherwise. The lie rests in believing that these people are more extreme than history. The lie is told through not acknowledging that it was not those white men dancing like apes who invented the white supremacist rhetoric, but their countrymen, their ancestors, and the policies they enforced.
IN 1790, the United States Congress made it clear which lives mattered more than others:
“All free white persons who have, or shall migrate into the United States, and shall give satisfactory proof, before a magistrate, by oath, that they intend to reside therein, and shall take an oath of allegiance, and shall have resided in the United States for one whole year, shall be entitled to all the rights of citizenship.”
It is my belief that the plight of Black Americans can be best summed up to this paragraph. Black migrants were never immigrants, they were slaves. Their assimilation, in contrast to white immigrants, was to know as little as possible while being as obedient and docile as one could. The end goal set in place was never citizenship, but chains.
In 1790, the American dream meant two different things for whites and blacks. The gap remained a constant thread throughout American history. In 1890, the Black dream meant not dying at the hands of white terrorism–basic survival. In contrast, the white dream meant having better schools, public facilities, the vote and all the reassurances that come with whiteness. Every generation after, law and policy defined those dreams. From Jim Crow in the south to redlining practices in the North, there has always been two dreams. Those marching in the name of white power were told a certain dream. That dream was not their own, it was American history.
American exceptionalism embraces the pride in its heritage while disowning the dark side. We can’t embrace the rhetoric of freedom from our forefathers without looking critically at their actions as well. Yes, up until this past month, the South Carolina State House flew the rebel flag, but the White House auctioned slaves on its front lawn. Our nation’s capital building would not have been erected had it not been for the sweat of African labor. Thomas Jefferson, the father of our Declaration of Independence, was also the author behind all the black stereotypes and caricatures we have today.
Those Klan members were not exempt from that history, they were the rule. They can trace their steps to the same neighborhood as racist NBA commissioner’s, to white men shooting churches, and modern American policing. Their ideology hails from the heart of the Confederacy, everything that institution stood for, and the principle of unfailing whiteness which allowed the flag of the Confederacy to remain erect unquestioned for half a century after the Civil Rights Movement.
For 50 years until last month, South Carolina politics and the principles of the Confederacy remained synonymous–so long as that flag remained flown, or when those members tried to summon the ghosts of the good ‘ole days on the State House steps. The freedom so many synonymize with the American dream rests on the oppression of black bodies. The lie is the belief we can see people screaming white power and automatically disown them from our heritage; in the same manner to which we disowned the lives of Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin when we try to call these events isolated incidents.
I have trouble differentiating between those several dozen marching in the name of white supremacy from the words the South Carolina Governor made saying that the rebel flag represents a prideful heritage and nothing else, along with the millions of Americans who stand behind her in such sentiments. But they will continue to be told the lie, because that’s what dreams are made of.