One day last week, on my daily walk to visit the great blue heron rookery less than a mile from my house, a man drove past me – an older white man. He rolled down his window and warned me – an older white woman – to watch out for a man up ahead around the corner, who, he said, looked pretty sketchy. As I rounded the bend, I saw a very nice-looking, normal-looking young African-American man standing with his bicycle – I’m a cyclist, too! – looking quietly toward the row of heron nests in the tops of the pine trees.
We kept a COVID-19 distance, but I made a few remarks to him about the birds flying around, and as I turned to leave, wished him a good morning, a pleasantry he returned with a smile.
This happened a day before a white father and son were charged with murder in the killing of a young black man, Ahmaud Arbery – who was about the same age as the young man I encountered. The arrest came two months after the incident occurred, and only after an incriminating video was released. To me it was another case of white men hunting black men, often for the sheer sport of it, as down through history whites themselves have admitted.
I felt overwhelming sorrow and overwhelming rage at both these incidents but I tried not to feel overwhelming self-righteousness, because I believe that any white person raised in this racist society is racist to one degree or another. We express fears, we make assumptions, we forge pacts with other white people to “other” and demean those not like us. That white man who warned me assumed I would agree with him that the young man posed a danger to me. That’s what Robin DiAngelo calls “white solidarity” in her revelatory book, White Fragility. She writes, “People of color certainly experience white solidarity as a form of racism, wherein we fail to hold each other accountable, to challenge racism when we see it, or to support people of color in the struggle for racial justice.”
After I got home and screamed at that man in absentia, my next thought was wishing I had expressed my suspicion to him so I could have started a conversation about racist – or white supremacist – assumptions.
Terms are important, and DiAngelo explains the use of the term “white supremacy” to apply not just to the KKK or the “alt-right” but more generally, calling it “a descriptive and useful term to capture the all-encompassing centrality and assumed superiority of people defined and perceived as white and the practices based on this assumption.”
We have our work cut out for us in building anti-racist solidarity with other whites, acknowledging our own assumptions and not just dismissing other whites as unredeemable.
The next day a notification popped up on my iPad from Politico magazine about the global disasters that experts see on the horizon following the novel coronavirus disaster. The first one listed as a “near-term threat,” likely to affect the U.S. in the next five years, was the “globalization of white supremacy.”
Here’s a quote: “While white supremacist violence has a centuries-old history in the U.S. and overseas, the current moment particularly worries intelligence and law enforcement officials because they see violence erupting globally, empowered by social media, and lone actors referencing each other.”
To learn more about this threat, I know there are websites I could visit, but the whole enterprise is so disgusting to me, why would I bother? I guess because to be forewarned is to be forearmed.
I have no idea if that father-son duo in southern Georgia had any global connections, but the fact that they could shoot down an unarmed black man with no charges brought for two months because they claimed he looked like a burglar is chilling enough. And might the fact that it was videotaped be an indication that they intended to share their dirty deed with like-minded comrades on social media? We don’t yet know the role played by the man who filmed it. But I hope it will be their undoing.
Melina Tuhus lives in Hamden.