When something white supremacist happens at or in an institution, one of the ritual public-relations responses these days goes something like this: “This incident does not represent our values.” In some cases, such a statement is followed up with “diversity training” or the hiring of a “diversity officer” or “consultant.” And nothing changes.
Those interested in rooting out white supremacy have little influence to change this status quo, these rituals of moving on. Except, perhaps, in our smallest spheres. If we have a white supremacist relative, we can cut off contact with that person. If someone hangs nooses in a local factory or business, we can try to boycott that business. But we can’t affect the monolith of white supremacy that, among other things, guides the Supreme Court, the Presidency, the Senate, ICE, and the Border Patrol, colleges, high schools, and so on. When hearing or reading “this incident does not represent our values,” we may delete the “not.”
Deep change requires a critical mass of white Americans to actively resist white supremacy. What such a critical mass would look like, I don’t know because I’ve never seen one, neither in the nation nor in places where I’ve worked. Instead, it’s always up to the people who belong to the group targeted: African Americans, primarily, but of course not exclusively. In way, their being forced to try to do something punishes them, another “gift” from white supremacy.
The percentage of white folks in most states is dropping. I would regard that as good news, IF it meant white influence and power would drop accordingly. That’s a big IF.
In very small ways, at the very small college where I taught for 34 years, I tried to effect change. From this vantage point, the things I helped institute, such as an African American Studies Program and a standing Diversity Committee of the Faculty Senate, look very modest, no offense intended to the people who belong to these entities. Just like at almost all institutions (I’m not singling out “my” college), the fundamentals rarely change even as good things materialize. Who really runs these institutions? Even if there are persons of color or aggressively anti-white-supremacist white persons with high levels of responsibility, it’s likely that the institutions ultimately will be controlled not just by white folks but by a white mindset which, even if it projects sympathy for resisting racism, is more or less comfortable with the bedrock status quo.
This situation is why the huffing and puffing of Orwell in his famous essay looks ever more useless. “This incident does not represent our values.” This is a clear sentence. It is also a lie. There are no consequences for telling such a public-relations lie. Game over. Or rather, game continuing, and continuing.
I still choose hope over despair as much as I can because the Black folks I know and with whom I worked chose hope over despair, so, really, who am I not to follow their implicit lead?
But the wicked backlash against the elections of Barack Obama, the election of Trump, the hardening of white supremacy in government, education, and law enforcement: these suggest that, on the whole, American power has rededicated itself to white supremacy. And although person of color, and especially African Americans, are the ones most affected, the nation itself suffers. For the white supremacist goon Trump and his enablers also vitiate such things as voting rights, healthcare, environmental policy, education, and on and on. White supremacy depends upon ignorance and greed. Also on amorality, which is often badly disguised with piety. Look how many white religious leaders enthusiastically support the white supremacist Trump. Rooting out white supremacy depends upon enough white people consistently, relentlessly pushing to change institutions. But the “enough” never materializes.