Sunday, July 25, 2010

It's a White Man's World: Shirley Sherrod is caught in the white and male supremacist crosshairs, but what are we allowed to say about the crime?

 [image of USDA white boss man Tom Vilsack and Shirley Sherrod is from the NY Daily News, here]

I've been wondering what to say about this whole mess--the mess that is U.S. media, the mess that is electoral politics and political appointments, the mess that is white het male supremacy in the U.R.A. I've spent many hundreds of hours speaking in depth with many women, African American women, about this country and what it so effortlessly and intentionally does to anyone Black and female, that I've not really known what I should say about this, as I knew many women bloggers of color would be addressing this matter in all its political complexity. So, with that as a preface, I'll speak a bit about what I understand to have played out before our eyes this past week, informed as it is by those hundreds of hours of conversation, with me mostly listening.

I first came to awareness of this "story" seeing "the clip" of Shirley Sherrod delivering a deviously extracted sliver of her speech at an NAACP banquet, about how (in my words) she came to understand that not only was this country white supremacist, but that it's classism meant that poor whites has more in common with poor Blacks than with rich whites, despite what rich whites would have us all believe. Watch as poor and non-poor whites blame Mexican immigrants and poor Black and Brown people for their social ills, and you'll know that rich white men's media works well to bind the oppressed to the oppressor in ways that make sturdy solidarity and trustworthy alliance among the oppressed very difficult indeed.

Now, being a radical and all, and being fed up to here [cuts hand across the air a foot above my head] with liberalism in all forms, I was hoping, against all hope, that the media might be making the point that white supremacist racism takes its toll on people in many ways, and one of those ways is it causes one to doubt that white people are human. I grew up, a white child in a white area, hearing that the White Man is the Devil. I didn't understand until later how true that is.

When I say the White Man, this is not making a determination about the value or depth of the souls of every pale male in North America. No. It is not "bigoted" or "prejudicial" as the white conservatives and white liberals might politically correctly decry. To speak of the White Man is to speak of a governing idea, embodied in practice, that whiteness and manhood are supreme and ought reign this land forever. To speak of the White Man as the Devil is only to note the cruelty and callousness, the sadism and the condescension that comes with occupying this political location with so little owned awareness of what that means for those who do not. I mean on one level, Andrew Breitbart knows full well what being a white het male supremacist means. He's no Glenn Sacks, but between and among them there is this noxious denial of privilege and power; no matter how much media Sacks controls, he'll cast the white het man as the noble underdog in any social justice battle.

Socially and collectively we are not encouraged to speak of this, really, honestly--especially if we are of color in the U.S., and particularly if we are women of color. This means that only portions of truth about white male supremacy may be known, because as long as men and whites refuse to hear what women of color have to say, the rest of us will be ignorant as hell.

"The Devil", coming from this white Jew who doesn't believe in such things as "heaven" or "hell" other than what appears before us on Earth, is a term that stands for something; it isn't literal. The Devil isn't a wicked being, cast out of a white-male sky-god's left hand, forever cursing those who were born left-handed to be sinister (sinestra in Italian means "left"). The Devil is a way of referring to something evil that is going on. What "evil" is, may be known to us in many ways. I don't believe it is a force without social structural roots. I don't think there is evil in the wind, for example, other than the evil of a very industrialised world that is killing the planet and changing weather patterns, making rain storms, droughts, tornadoes, and hurricanes more frequent and more intense.

The wind that current concerns me is that emanating from the proverbial buttocks of white het male supremacists who choreographed a mass media assault against a very real human being named Shirley Sherrod. They did this willfully, with malice aforethought. White het men like Andrew Breitbart, the execs at Fux News, and Tom Vilsack did this. Others participated. The men at the NAACP. The U.S. president's spokespeople. Andrew got that sudden blast of foul wind blowing but it needed currents to carry it as far as it went.

The foul wind blowing across the land these days is an old breeze--it flows out of Tea Partier Andrew Breitbart, but he pre-exists him also. It is back for another go at swaying and shaping the current crop of saplings in our collective imagination, distorting reality in such a way as to make us believe the most absurd things. Things like this: Black women have revolutionary power in the U.S.

As has been noted here before, one stream of gaseous, noxious fumes emanating from WHM supremacists is the idea that the Black woman exists for everyone else uses and abuses, and ought never be in service to herself. Every African American woman I know has been systemically and chronically mistreated by Black men and other men of color, by white women, and by white men. Somewhat paradoxically, Black women are too often regarded as white men by Black men--as the ones with more power, as Black men by white women--as "the dangerous dark other", and as mammies and hos by white het men. These groups, who each in their own ways oppress Black women, confuse race as gender and gender as race in precisely the wrong ways, and as a consequence they project all the powers of their own position onto Black women.

Black men and white women can disagree about who has more institutional power in the U.S. (That rich white men have the most is beyond dispute.) The Democratic battle in early to mid 2008 between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton was experienced by me, a white male, as a socially debated sure-fire test of what you believed the lesser of two evils was: having white privilege but being a woman or having male privilege but being Black. (That there was, in fact, a Black woman running for the same office seemed utterly on many, especially the media.)

The mathematics of such calculations tends to forget that oppression isn't only additively accrued, it's exponentially experienced. So, as I understand it anyway, being a Black woman in the U.R.A. means that one doesn't "just" deal with white supremacy and male supremacy every day. It means that one also deals with the sexism that is infused in white supremacy, and the racism that is embedded in male supremacy. To be a Black woman in the U.S. is not to endure what Black men and white women endure, only. It is also its own marginalised political position, its own stigmatised structural location, with an institutionalised national identity infused and  influenced variously by the political meaning of many other things, such as class, age, and level of heteronormativity as defined and enforced by WHM supremacy.

One's own life, of course, is another matter. One's life is, at least partly, one's own, shaped by region, one's parents, upbringing, the media and events of the era, and the alchemical, spiritual combination of one's own personal characteristics, temperament, talents, and individual ways of being. As Toni Morrison said, to a white Southern man named Charlie Rose on his talk show (and I'm paraphrasing), To know I'm Black is to know nothing at all about me. To be a Black woman in white supremacy, if I've been listening closely, is to have layer upon layer of white male supremacist sordid story-telling loaded up in trucks and dumped on you daily, with little to no relief.

As some bloggers have noted*, what gets dumped is dug up from polluted ground that's been lying around all smelly and foul, for centuries now. It's not the blood of savagely massacred American Indians--through to this very hour, that fouls the ground, nor the blood of raped and lashed slaves--who exist also in this day and time. It's the blood and bodies of evil white men who controlled everything from the start of "this great nation" who in life and in death have made it their mission, an emission, as it were, to pollute the Earth with the Western capitalist societies that currently, and for some time now, ride roughshod across it, with spurs on its heels, always pounding, digging into the body of the Earth, trying to get more and more from it.

The BP oil spill disaster and what happened to Shirley Sherrod are manufactured from the same massive cloud of destruction, and its name is the White Man, a simultaneously mythic and manipulative political figure as straight as an arrow, piercing the souls of anyone who stands in his way, or who attempts to speak the truth about who he is that he projects onto everyone else: a dangerously powerful and contemptuously bigoted form of being that achieves and maintains power only through the systematic subordination and destruction of the people who he believes are not as good as him.

*See these and other posts at The Crunk Feminist Collective, That Girl Has Issues, and Race-Talk for much more detailed and careful analysis of this whole matter.

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