Thursday, July 28, 2011
A Reminder that Whiteness is Not Benign: Of Warnings About White, Middle Class Domestic Terrorists in the U.S. and the Norway Massacre
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has repeatedly cautioned that Right-wing Conservative extremists would be among the groups most likely to commit an act of mass violence in the United States. Their most recent warnings have come in the form of a training tape which is part of the "See Something, Say Something" program.
This production has garnered much attention as Conservatives are appalled at its seeming suggestion that the person most likely to conduct an act of domestic terrorism in the United States would be a middle class white person. In an eerie coincidence, days after the release of the video a white man in Norway committed an act of Right-wing, Christian Nationalist inspired domestic terrorism that killed 76 people. What was an apparent validation of the DHS's prophetic warnings.
Each time I sat down to write something about the Norway Massacre and the DHS report, another American right-wing bloviator would produce a stupifying mouth utterance regarding the tragedy in Norway that would give me a moment of head-shaking pause. When they keep piling on, it is hard to produce something timely, as the target keeps on moving.
I routinely listen to Right-wing talk radio in order to gather intelligence on the opposition. And as expected, their commentary on the Norway Massacre has followed a predictable script in which the responses by Beck, Levin, Savage, Cunningham, et al. are, as always, no less detached from reality. In their land of make believe, Anders Behring was a liberal, he was not a Christian, and any effort to link him to the faith is an intentional smear of the Judeo-Christian community. And funny if it were not so tragic, the Right-wing deploys the same arguments used by liberal critics of profiling in the case of racial minorities, to defend themselves against such an "injustice."
And of course, Rush Limbaugh is doing a dance where he connects all evil in the world, here being the soul searching that Norwegians are doing in the aftermath of the Anders Behrings' murder spree, to President Obama because he is "an enabler" of terrorism and an "America hater."
The reaction to the Department of Homeland Security's warnings about Right-wing violence and the "See Something, Say Something" program is powerful not because of the obvious: Given the seditious political atmosphere ginned up by the Tea Party GOP in the Age of Obama would such worries about domestic terrorism really be that unexpected or surprising?
Rather, the response by the New Right to the Department of Homeland Security's initiatives is a damning reveal of the myopia of Whiteness and Conservatism...to the degree that in the American political and social context, the two can be separated from one another.
If the very same warnings had been issued about Muslim Americans, a member of a different racial minority group, or even "liberals," the Right would have jumped to defend the report as necessary and to be heeded in a time of terror. There would hearings on the matter.
Following the logic of the Right-wing playbook, only traitors would boo hoo about racial profiling and the trampling of their Constitutional rights. If you have nothing to hide why be so fearful?
The Right's reaction to the DHS and the Norway Massacre speak to an additional pathology of Whiteness. The shock and awe by racism deniers and white victimologists, that a white person, a white middle class man especially, would ever be a priori suspect of a crime is a mirror for the gross narcissism of the White Soul. Whiteness never imagines itself as anything other than benign, kind, non-threatening, wholesome, and good. Criminals and terrorists are "those people." Whiteness sees itself as perennially decent, moral, and just.
By definition, Whiteness can never be the stuff of terrorism, threat, or violence.
As Toni Morrison so sharply argues in Playing in the Dark: Whiteness in the Literary Imagination, Whiteness and White people have been sources of terror for black and brown people, both here and around the world.
For many, the White Man is a frightening thing; he is to be run from; he brings death and destruction; the bogeyman is not some amorphous figure, historically he was a white man brandishing a gun or whip, wearing the colors of Imperial Power, the hood of the Grand Cyclops, or donning a business suit and carrying an ID for the World Bank. The White Man's Burden was never benign...regardless of how it was framed and mythologized.
Moreover, in the American experience it is verboten and anathema to call attention to the fact that the largest terrorist group in the history of the United States was the Ku Klux Klan, a civil society organization that killed thousands of African Americans and others in its one hundred plus year reign of terror. It is equally inconvenient to call to light that white people have systematically terrorized people of color (the genocide against our indigenous brothers and sisters; the slaveocracy; Jim and Jane Crow; racial pogroms in cities such as Tulsa and East St. Louis) in the pursuit of the psychological and material wages of Whiteness, and that the Racial State's reign of terror was a central feature of American democracy, and not an aberration from it.
Whiteness finds this hard if not impossible to process. Many white folks, however benign or good or otherwise socially progressive, often have a hard time accepting that White people are perceived as dangerous by many of their fellow Americans. Liberals and others may respond to such realities with cultivated guilt and shame; Conservatives respond with rage, pleading feigned victimhood, and denial.
In these matters, I am left grappling with a set of meta level questions.
Although they are an ocean apart, are the white terrorists, the McVeighs, the Tides shooter, the Hutaree militia, the Birther Tea Party 9/12 party political thugs and seditionists, part of the same collective political subconscious, an outgrowth of the same ether and spirit of an age? Is the right-wing echo chamber in the United States, with its eliminationist "commonsense" notions that liberals are a disease to be destroyed, a cousin to the echoes and chorus which fueled the Norway Massacre?
Ultimately, are Anders Behring and the white middle class domestic terrorists that the Department of Homeland Security has warned the American people about a function of the same pathological Whiteness?