I’m back from a week on Lake Michigan. I promise these will be the last travel photos until the next time travel allows for photos to be taken. I’ve said it before: Lake Michigan with its 200 miles of white sand beaches and towering coastal pines is the best kept secret in the Midwest. One highlight was spending the night on the beach with a bonfire, swimming naked under a moonless, perfectly clear night sky with the amazing theatrics of the Perseid meteor shower peaking overhead. I don’t do religious moments, not even a little, but I could comfortably and confidently describe the experience as a Carl Sagan moment.
While every moment of everyday things happen to change the world, inexplicably none of those seems to have occurred while I was away. Strangely, capitalism with its racism, wars, oppressions, crises and mass delusions and hypocrisies continue unabated whether I’m railing against them or not. However, as the saying goes, “things weren’t better before, but they are getting worse.”
Therefore, I’m going to declare this summer the Summer of Zombie White Supremacy and arm myself accordingly. I knew that the ascendancy of Obama in no way denoted a turn to a ‘post-racial’ America and that race, and racial oppression, would continue to dominate US politics. I was also sure that his Presidency would see a racist backlash, but I didn’t think it would be(gin?) this viscous, this base. The brazenness in which certain elements have played the race card is a sign of their confidence, buttressed by a looming desperation. Perhaps what we are now seeing is a (dangerous) combination of desperation and confidence. The desperation that comes from seeing a certain future without you calling the shots must be terrifying to those on the sweet end of the last half-millennium of affirmative action for white guys with money. The confidence 500 years of top-dog status with which right-wing pundits and activists employ racist appeals and attacks is reconfirmed by the acquiescence of the Obama administration. At every attack the Obama administration lets the right set the terms of the debate, rather than deflecting the assaults they not only accede to them, but encourage them. Each moment emboldens the racists further. So much for electing a Democrat to block the right.
The history of the US means that racism and red-baiting are conjoined twins. In this United States class has a hue. Black folks and immigrants represent those dangerous classes whose interests lie in absolute contradiction to capitalist class power. The aspirations of racial equality tend to quickly raise larger issues of equality, including how wealth is acquired and distributed. The attack on ‘big government’ that always accompanies racist tirades is really an attack on those legal rights hard-won by previous struggles, including whatever limits (largely long gone) social movements have forced on the power of capital. Attacks on ‘big government’ are, in reality, a struggle to exclude access to public power on the part of workers, blacks folks, women and immigrants. It has nothing to do with government per se, but rather with who holds power in society. One never hears about dismantling the most pervasive and odious manifestation of ‘big government’, the Military Industrial Complex, from these folks. The National Security State? That’s just fine. Extension of unemployment benefits? Bureaucratic tyranny!
Five centuries of institutional and social racism do not go quietly into the night. Every time I see a gathering of teabaggers and/or ‘border militias’ or a picture of Jan Brewer or Joe Arpaio I am reminded that our Civil War (fast approaching its sesquicentennial) is unfinished business. More than that, I feel the violent urge to finish it once and for all. The recent discourse over repealing the Fourteenth Amendment only confirms the necessity. The 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments are just about the most important (and progressive) legal gains of that Second Revolution. That there is open conversation about overturning those gains makes me want to don a blue kepi, gather comrades, shoulder a rifled musket and steal a march on Mericopa County leaving a landscape that would make Sherman blush with shame burning in our wake.
White supremacy is not just the ideology of racism, but its practice. Racism, with its consequences and justifications, is and always has been the heartbeat, nay the soul, of American capitalism. That heartbeat pumped the blood that powered the establishment, growth and dominance of the United States. The soul of America is self-evident in its prisons, wars and disparities. Both internal demographic and cultural changes are challenging certain assumptions of the system of white power, however. Some things are, indeed, changing. It is inconceivable that white institutional control can continue in the coming decades without creating legal barriers to non-whites exercising power. This, I suggest, is the real motivation behind the talk around the 14th Amendment.
Before we get too carried away with how far we have come and how difficult it would be to reverse the legal gains of the Civil Rights movement (the economic gains by most blacks have been negligible, even now) we need only remember that most of the gains made in the Civil War period (with monumental exertion and enormous cost) were overturned in their time with the fall of Radical Reconstruction. The war was won, but the peace was lost which meant that, in many ways, so was the war. I am not, of course, predicting the wholesale reversal of the gains of the last decades. Rather, I am just observing that the struggle hasn’t yet been won. If anything, it’s still on and as urgent as ever. And if this summer is any indication the struggle still on is not the one fought 50 years ago, but the one fought 100 years before that.
The system of racial, chattel slavery was a capitalist system, fully a part of international commodity production; the genocidal conquest of what would become this country was a continental, even hemispheric, accumulation of capital – still paying handsome dividends – without which modern capitalism as a world system would have been impossible. Later imperial crusades expanded and consolidated the power of US capitalism, again accompanied by the potent poison of racism and white supremacy. From inception to now it has been white supremacy, both institutionally and culturally, that provided the bedrock self-justification of, what is in essence, a mass rape by the US ruling class and the economic system it rests on. Psychologically it is no different from the violent misogyny of the rapist, the serial rapist. Zombie like, it rises from the dead each time it is said to be buried. It stalks progress and devours possibilities. Zombie like, it refuses to die, it refuses to be killed. All past attempts have failed.
It can’t be killed by legal means or moral suasion because it is at the heart, in many ways the raison d’être, of the beast that is US capitalism and imperialism. Marx once talked about Ireland representing something far more important than interests political or even economic to Britain; rather it was Ireland’s historic and present subjugation on which the whole of the moral weight Britain’s ruling class of the day rested (or crumbled). In some ways, Britain’s Irish investment was, and continues to be, existential; the ‘United Kingdom’ and all that. Similarly, the power of the present US capitalist class (there is only so much room at the top and with very few exceptions it stays in the family, as it were), in large measure, rests or crumbles on the power of white supremacy, both in its historic interpretation and current application. What is America, past or present, without the pioneer bringing civilization to an untamed land? To mix a monster metaphor; it is well past time that a stake be driven into the heart of this zombie. To destroy white supremacy it will be necessary to ‘expropriate the expropriators’.
Comrades, look at the horizon! Arm yourselves! The zombies are coming and they are hungry for blood!