A bit ago I wrote a piece called “5 Questions I Want to Ask the White Supremacists Who Vandalized the Rothko Chapel” in response to the dumping of white paint near the Broken Obelisk sculpture dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. and the distribution of flyers proclaiming “it’s okay to be white.” Most Houstonians responded with outrage at the act because Houston is a pretty good place full of pretty good people.
That said, I got a lot of mail for the article, and it was all weirdly fixated on a single idea. “How did I KNOW the people who committed the act were white supremacists?” To most of us here with functional reading comprehension the implication it was an anti-black hate crime was as clear as a spring day, but some folks just have questions, man. They want to talk about journalistic bias (spoiler: I, as a journalist, am indeed biased against bigots who desecrate irreplaceable works of art honoring a martyred civil rights leader).
The number and consistency of these responses indicated some further commentary was in order, particularly in the realm of “soft” white supremacy. That is, the kind of white supremacy that is dedicated to apologizing and enabling the concept through misdirection and challenging condemnation of racist acts. Are you one of those people?
5. Your View of White Supremacy is Comically Outdated
Here is an inarguable fact: America is a white supremacy. There is no major private or public power structure in the country where people of color make up a majority or even a percentage-appropriate amount of leadership roles. White people run America, by design, and though things have improved they are in no way equal yet.
If your view of white supremacy begins and ends with the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi skinheads, then you’re missing a very important part of the modern racial discussion. Racism may no longer be as overt as a white sheet parade (except lately when it is), but it isn’t less pervasive or institutionalized. The maintenance of the racial status quo is more subtle, and that’s why people like the Rothko vandals leave messages like “it’s okay to be white” rather than “death to blacks.” Claiming the former isn’t an act of white supremacy allegiance simply because it’s more polite than a cross burning is blurring the intent. It’s legitimizing an unfounded feeling of threat as people of color approach greater parity with Caucasians.
4. You Search for a Middle Ground That Isn’t There
If you listen to FOX News or read Breitbart then you might be tempted to believe that there is some war of extremists going on in America. On one hand are the white supremacists and other alt-right nincompoops, and on the other the dreaded antifa and military feminists or whatever. Somewhere between is surely the truth.
Except it’s not. There is no middle ground between an equal world and an unequal one. For all that a very few antifa protests have gotten out of hand, the alt-right ones have resulted in literal murder by intention. Their messages frequently contain a desire to segregate the population, and since, you know, people of color already live among us, the only way to accomplish that is death or exile. There is simply nothing remotely similar in any significant number from the antifa side. Insisting that both sides have merit is creating a political Eastern Bloc to protect the folks with tiki torches waxing nostalgic over Jim Crow. Speaking of isolated incidences…
3. You Seize on Isolated Incidences to Denounce Opposition
One of the things people sent me the most was “proof” that the Rothko vandalism was faked by the left to stir people up in the form of circumstantial evidence. It does happen. Andrew King of Schenectady, New York painted swastikas on his own home after a couple of Jewish congregations rejected him. Vincent Palmer of Daytona Beach, Florida faked a KKK-arson of his ex-girlfriend while in the middle of a custody battle. People do occasionally fake hate crimes.
That said, these incidences are not nearly as common as actual hate crimes. Hate crimes have been on the rise nationally for quite a while now, and according to law enforcement officials interviewed by the Houston Chronicle, Texas hate crimes have a significant problem of being under-reported. Dismissing racially-charged acts of vandalism in an environment where such things are ever-more common because you read about some dude in Schenectady doing it once is willfully ignoring the data. The odds of a hate crime being genuine are far better than they are of being a hoax, and acting like the two happen equally gives shields to the white supremacists.
2. You Believe That Diversity Has Gone “Too Far”
There’s a type of person who says that they are all for what the Civil Rights era activists fought for, but that modern activists have gone too far. Leaving aside the fact that those in power always think that the people seeking more rights are going “too far,” it’s important to actually sit down and dissect what this overreach actually is. At least, if you want people to stop calling you racist that is.
As I mentioned above, you can’t find a single significant power structure where American people of color have managed to go “too far.” They have no privileges not enjoyed by the general population. They make up no unfair majority of any significant power system. They don’t control most of the money. Feeling under attack and actually being under attack are two very different things, and the former is where the soft white supremacist nursing vague anxieties about a changing world lies.
1. You Spend Time Apologizing For, But Not Correcting White Supremacists
I don’t know a single fellow white person without at least one relative who just can’t stop saying the n-word. Or maybe you have other relatives not so open but who just love to slip in ideas about racial inferiority or criminal predisposition.
We don’t like to tell our families to piss off with that. No one wants to fight. However, time spent apologizing for Uncle Tim’s behavior is a resource that would be better spent trying to fix the damage institutional bigotry does to the world. Being willing to put up with that sort of stuff creates a nice safe space where bigots feel they are free to get their hate all over the rug.
You are part of the overall plan. As long as enough “reasonable” people are willing to take the hits for the white supremacists they have more energy and space to continue doing racist nonsense. In gaming terms, you’re a tank for the Horde. In more human terms, you’re a patsy. Soft white supremacism is how hardcore white supremacists convince themselves that there is a place for their hate in the mainstream, and we have to be very careful to avoid giving them that idea.