America ripped open its old wounds

I realize now that I skipped over something very important yesterday, as I try to understand the spectacle unfolding before my eyes. As I said yesterday, from a statistical perspective, none of this makes sense. The problem is that this is not an objective issue and to try to look at it in a rational manner means you’re going to be missing the point. People don’t look at pie charts or compare different peer-reviewed studies before they decide whether they should burn down a car or not. If you want to understand what’s really going on, I think this video is the best chance you’ll have at understanding it:

Generations of Pain from PublicFreakout

 

The real problem I was missing is as following: The black American community feels humiliated and stigmatized in a systematic institutionalized manner. That’s a subjective experience and you can’t really properly dispute how someone experiences the world with math or statistics. I can say “you would be better off protesting against gun violence or against income inequality, that will ultimately save more lives than protesting against police violence”, but that means I’m missing the forest for the trees.

I’m a European and so it seems inevitable that I miss a mostly unspoken social dynamic that takes place in America. Admittedly, I’m a little naive. The real issue here isn’t that George Floyd was murdered by a police officer. The real issue is that America has a trauma of Lovecraftian proportions that it simply can’t deal with. That trauma is the fact that for hundreds of years the United States had a racial hierarchy, where the presence of any single drop of African blood in your veins turned you into a second class citizen.

I tried to rationally frame a problem that fundamentally isn’t rational. American society at its core seems to have a scar that is so enormous, that every attempt by the body to heal over it merely ends up eventually resulting in another rupture. This takes place time and time again. Obama actually explained this problem quite decently in his letter about the murder of George Floyd.

The American racial trauma is also explained in a movie, The Shining. In this movie, it’s portrayed as a kind of ghost from the past, that rears its ugly head again during times of crisis and drives people towards madness. The Hotel represents the United States, built on the graveyard of Native Americans. Jack Torrance as a result of his isolation in the hotel begins having visions of the past, an era of glory for him when he was on top of the power structure and black people were subjugated.

European nations are based on the concept of an ethnic group of people who live together and need a government to represent their collective interest. The United States on the other hand, has a racial hierarchy tied into its very essence. Consider that the American constitution has a fugutive slave clause, stipulating that any slave who escapes into another state is still a slave.

As a European, looking at this seemed completely nonsensical to me. We’re busy rebuilding our nations after shutting everything down for months, while the Americans are busy burning down their country. What I missed is that America has a weak spot. Whenever something goes significantly wrong, that weak spot ruptures again and spills pus and blood all throughout the body.

Essentially, there are two things that happened in rapid succession that worked like a traumatic flashback. The first is a video everyone has seen, of a white woman in New York Central Park who was asked to put her dog on a leash by a black guy. That black guy was the epitome of middle-class bourgeois virtuosity and he was effectively humiliated by a woman who told him “if I call the cops on you your life is over”.

What added to the trouble is that this wasn’t some overweight angry white working class male with a MAGA hat. It’s a liberal bourgeois college educated white woman, the kind of woman who remains up to date with all bourgeois social posturing. This led black Americans to realize that liberal whites simply pay lip service to them. Liberal whites will follow whatever is trendy and racial equality is trendy, so they pay lip service to that. Here is Van Jones explaining this concept on national TV:

Of course Van Jones is right here. The average white trash redneck with a Confederate flag on his pickup truck is being intellectually honest to black people. He is saying: I want to be on top of the power structure. Black people look at that and think “those people are dying out, they’re one fentanyl overdose in the Walmart parking lot away from death and then we are treated just as everyone else”. It’s the idea that Oprah Winfrey stated when she insisted that “old racist white people need to die”.

But when you have the epitome of centre-left political correctness, a hip skinny liberal white woman in central park who calls the police on a black guy and pretends to be in danger when he asks her to put her dog on a leash, that causes anguish in black people. She is the perfect example of the type of people they thought they had on their side (rich liberal white women in big coastal cities with a lot of power), but it turns out they simply give them lip service. When push comes to shove and a black man embarasses a woman like this by asking her to think of the birds, the rich liberal white woman calls the cops, so that a poor conservative white man will shove his knee into your throat.

So, that video felt like a betrayal to millions of black people. Then a few days after that, with the memory still fresh in the back of their heads, they see a video of a black man being murdered in broad daylight, after someone called the cops on him for no good reason. This is a perfect storm and years of hurt that people thought they had moved beyond just suddenly resurfaces again over a period of days. Suddenly, it feels like no matter what you do you’re still a second class citizen.

That’s a subjective experience, a feeling that can’t be captured in statistics. To me, it seems that Clarence Thomas arrived at the best vision on this problem. A lot of people think that Clarence Thomas is a sell-out, but he is essentially still a political radical from the 60’s era, now dressed up like a Republican. Essentially Clarence Thomas argues that racism can’t be solved and no matter what happens, white people will always treat black people differently. It’s a problem that American society will always have to live with and the most that can be expected of white people is to be honest instead of disingenuous.

He thinks that the closest thing there is to a solution is that black Americans simply need to build their own separate institutions within American society. To do that, he wants a small government. He is also strongly against affirmative action, because he sees that as solidifying inequality. Now you become a doctor, thanks to the goodness of liberal bourgeois white people who feel sorry for you.

It’s inevitably difficult to understand other people’s trauma, whether that trauma exists at an individual level, or at the level of an ethnic group. As an example, consider people who poke fun at the microagressions phenomenon on Tumblr, where people complain about extremely casual things that they perceive as racist.

You can think to yourself “why should it bother you that someone wants to touch your hair”, but then you’re missing the fact that it’s a problem that confronts them with a subjective feeling of marginalization that they have to suppress and ignore on a daily basis.

I must admit that I don’t really see this ending well. The trauma that is interwoven at a fundamental level with American society is so enormous and so horrifying that I struggle to imagine a real recovery from this. I expect however, that in the long run, black Americans will ultimately find themselves getting along better with white conservatives than with white liberals, for a simple reason:

White conservatives are more honest about what they think and they tend to treat people more as individuals. When a white liberal woman holds up a sign that says “stop killing black men”, then she makes it clear that she first and foremost thinks of you as a black man. When a white conservative man holds up a sign that says “Stop police brutality”, he makes it clear that he first and foremost thinks of this as a violation of justice.

You can look at Trump, to see what I mean. Trump doesn’t go through painstaking lengths, to conceal the racial bias he has towards black people, so black people who look at Trump know what they’re dealing with. On the other hand, when black people look at someone like Biden or Hillary Clinton, they’re faced with someone who is very good at concealing the racial bias they have, but every once in a while they slip up. An example is when Biden said that if you don’t vote for him, you’re not black. Biden was basically taking black people for granted and I struggle to imagine that black people could look at that and think “this guy genuinely wants to represent my interest”.

It’s always a mistake when you think you can solve other people’s trauma for them. That’s what’s important to understand in this context too. We see this a lot with the black lives matter movement, where the black people involved create separate rituals for black people that young liberal white blonde women with wealthy parents are expected not to participate in.

Most working class whites in the Netherlands don’t understand why black people get upset when they dress up as Black Peter. The reason for that is because it opens up old psychological wounds. If you genuinely understand that problem, then you probably won’t feel the desire to dress up like Black Peter again. Other than accepting that there’s a trauma here that we can’t expect to properly understand, I think the most white people can do to help solve this problem is to be honest and integer.

 

2 Comments

  1. I think that you were on the right track with the last post and it was a necessary step, it was just the conclusion that was off (which you seemed to rectify here)—it’s true that this is an irrational response to the actual facts, but the point to be drawn is not that people are stupid and wrong and just need to be forced to see the truth (unless they’re too terminally stupid to ever understand it), just that the motive isn’t rational. Irrational doesn’t necessarily mean illogical or wrong, just that it isn’t coming from the front or the surface of the mind, and as you point out here, is frequently just tangentially related to the spark.

    I think it is important to demonstrate the irrationality to those willing to listen as you did previously if only to prevent as many delusions as possible, but yeah, anyone with a functioning brain knows on some level that the people out causing chaos didn’t sit in their recliner, weigh all the information, stroke their chins for a bit and then set down their pipe having decided that the sensible reaction is to loot and burn. Even still, it’s going to take someone a bit more intelligent and esoteric than most pundits and blue checkmarks to really figure out and acknowledge what the issue is and what could conceivably be done about it.

  2. I suppose I should also make an addendum to what I said previously. While I’d still maintain that many fall into one or more of the four categories that I had mentioned, I also propose a fifth: people who have to create a villain in order to do what they may well have to do.

    I started a blog discussing film among other things, and one that I have in the pipeline is a piece on Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. The theme of dualities is invoked in a number of ways which I hope to analyze–a few too many to go into in one reply, but this one is relevant enough. The motif’s most visible incarnation is delivered in the form of Joker’s iconic helmet emblazoned “BORN TO KILL” and peace sign button, which he outright states is meant to invoke the duality of man. A bumper sticker I once saw snidely remarked “Join the army–see fascinating peoples of all different cultures and kill them.” I was a little bit taken aback when, in his spot for a televised couple of interviews with soldiers, he said essentially that as his reason for enlisting, but unlike the single-minded nature of the bumper sticker with its punchline, Joker came off as very sincere in both regards. The film fairly bluntly displays the attitudes that many American soldiers had, with many of them cheering in childlike joy while blasting machine guns out of helicopters, or propping up enemy corpses as their “friends” (more like trophies), or just the casual racism that they displayed. This was made somewhat sympathetic in a scene in which a couple of characters with whom viewers grew familiar and probably started to like were gunned down by a sniper, with the rage and heartbreak displayed by the surviving characters clearly intended to resonate with the audience. However, when they reached the sniper, it turned out not to be just any crusty, contemptible gook, but a young girl terrified for her life–a girl who either had parents who loved her or whose parents had left her far too early. The soldiers were confronted with the humanity of their enemies that they had done their damndest to deny.

    The issue is, many of them had no choice; if you were conscripted to serve in Vietnam, there wasn’t much you could do. This duality, then, is a sort of necessary contradiction or paradox: unless you’re just plain ignorant, you have to understand the complexity of the situation, and the humanity of your opponent, yet in order to do what is necessary, you have to dismiss it, even to the point of self-delusion. Not every soldier marching under the flag of Nazi Germany was out to round up and kill all the Jews–plenty likely were just fucked by the circumstances faced by post-WWI Germany, and needed to provide for their families or try to unfuck their nation in order to give their children a viable future. Even still, the alternative to fighting them was to let them have their way; one may consider pacifism to be a noble pursuit, but when a willing party is present, what’s the point when the result is a world inherited by those willing to conquer by force? Thus, you’re confronted with a sort of duality, a paradox: you know that the enemy must be fought, must be killed, but how can you do that to fellow human beings? The answer is another necessary contradiction: you must dehumanize them.

    That, perhaps, to any degree, also explains the virulent anti-cop sentiment.

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