Rage Against the Narrative: How to Understand Psychic Violence and Murder
Often covered up through myths of American exceptionalism and mainstream denials, the last two years have illustrated for all to see what many communities in the US and throughout the world have experienced: falsehoods, theft and fascist, genocidal practices.
Racial Capitalism and Heteropatriarchy
Indeed, naked racial capitalism[i] and heteropatriarchy are shocking, vulgar, and repulsive; and they always have been. Such was the case in 1839 when the American Anti-Slavery Society published American Slavery as it Is: Testimony of A Thousand Witnesses, in which one thousand people spoke against the terror (and economics) that was enslavement.
A year before, an account appeared in The Emancipator, an anti-slavery publication. This anonymous narrative was later discovered to have been penned by James Matthew of Charleston. He wrote: “I was kept in the cell till next day, when they put me on the tread mill, and kept me there three days, and then back in the cell for three days. And then I was whipped and put on the tread mill again, and they did so with me for a fortnight, just as Cohen had directed. He told them to whip me twice a week till they had given me two hundred lashes. My back, when they went to whip me, would be full of scabs, and they whipped them off till I bled so that my clothes were all wet. Many a night I have laid up there in the Sugar House [work house] and scratched them off by the handful.”[ii] This is just one of many such tales published anonymously.
America has a repulsive, exploitative history with Black women in particular. While all women and queer bodies suffer under the yoke of heteropatriarchy[iii], Black women know of a particular brutality. Often silenced in popular narratives of both women’s and Black histories, Black women in the US have been routinely raped, without consequence to their abusers.
In 1944, Ms. Recy Taylor was kidnapped and gang raped after church in Abbeville, Alabama by a band of white thugs. Like many before her, speaking of her ordeal would threaten her life. Despite that, she did speak out and she and her family demanded justice. Importantly, a 31-year-old NAACP organizer by the name of Rosa Parks went to Abbeville to lead up the fight for Ms. Recy Taylor, 11 years before she refused to give up her seat to a white man on that Montgomery bus.
Similarly, Milly Riley, in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas was raped and murdered by a gang of white goons in 1914, leaving a husband and baby named Daisy alone. Too distraught to raise his daughter on his own, Daisy’s father left her to adoptive parents. It was not until Daisy was eight years old that she learned what had happened to her mother. “My life now had a secret goal – to find the men who had done this horrible thing to my mother,” she vowed. Daisy, like Recy Taylor, identified the white attackers. Both incidents happened in small towns, after all, and it was not difficult to uncover the assailants. But Daisy’s efforts, as well as Recy’s, were thwarted by racism and sexism: there were no trials nor hearings, let alone justice. Significantly, Daisy Bates went on to become the principal NAACP organizer in Arkansas, who led the effort to have nine Black children, known as the Little Rock Nine, integrate Central High School.
As James Baldwin prolifically wrote in 1962:
“White people were, and are, astounded by the Holocaust in Germany. They did not know that they could act that way. But, I very much doubt whether black people were astounded – at least, in the same way.”[iv]
But There Is Something Different About This Moment
Even paltry myths and denials coming from the ‘hallowed’ halls of the White House manage to register at some level logics of morality and shame. Today, even these two logics are under attack. Falsehoods, theft, and fascist, genocidal practices are no longer being covered up or subject to public professions of regret, they are being flaunted and are garnering popular support.
This President of the United States (POTUS) openly lies; a Mississippi Congresswomen smiled while saying she would love to attend a hanging; and even a middle class white woman’s testimony of sexual assault did not render her assailant unfit for the Supreme Court. Today’s political landscape includes brazen election fraud, brash anti-democratic “gangsta” coups in lame duck state houses, and shameless billion-dollar POTUS support for murderous US and Saudi arms dealers that have caused nearly 400,000 children to be on the brink of starvation in historical Sheba (now known as Yemen).
And yet, there seems to be nothing too horrific to sway the president’s most virulent supporters. Why? Because, according to Atlantic writer Adam Serwer, they actually take pleasure in the cruelty of others. It is as if the bully instinct, which is normally seen as inappropriate in children and intolerable in domestic abusers, has become the community-building project of a presidency. This is similar to the scores of documented public outings associated with lynching during the Jim Crow era and rightist justification of the recent deaths of two children while in US Border custody. Say their names: Jakelin Caal Maquin and Felipe Gómez Alonzo.
So, as my grandmother used to say, when white people get a cold, Black people get the flu. Today, white people have the flu and we – Black, Indigenous and people of color and the global south are suffering from the plague. As writer Kiese Laymon might say, America is showing its ass.
Neoliberalism, Crime and Intersectionality
So why this presidency, and why now? In fact, “two years after Donald Trump won the presidency, nearly every organization he has led in the past decade is under investigation.”[v] As argued on MSNBC on December 15, the Trump family organizations have long been criminal enterprises with a legacy of racism. And yet, he still won the presidency. Who are his supporters? Why are they so white, so rich, so male and so mean? And why do they need to steal elections and undermine voter turnout to win?
Because in reality, this is who they are. Many of the those in public office are rich and profess devotion to Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American author, who argued for a “hardcore brand of free-market fundamentalism called objectivism and ‘the virtue of selfishness.’”[vi] They hate the poor and the global south who they believe are expendable. As GOP Senator Grassley said of the tax bill that gave ‘relief’ to the rich, tax appropriations shouldn’t be used to help poor people waste money on women and booze. This is particularly ironic given Trump’s pay out to women with whom he has had sex.
Interestingly, while Ayn Rand was an atheist and anti-government, many of the plutocrats running the current administration and benefitting from 45’s reign, claim that it is Christian to deploy policies that deny programs for the needy.[vii] Neoliberal strategies that prioritize profits over people and the planet have become these politicians’ modi operandi.
While there is some rationale behind the white, male, rich support for this presidency, it is baffling for many that a significant number of poor whites and white women back it as well. Importantly, intersectional analysis is helpful as we try to understand this phenomenon. According to intersectionality, every person possesses various, and sometimes, contending social identities such as gender, race, class, and sexuality. Depending on a variety of historical contexts and circumstances, we may lean into one more than another, because one is empowered or because we are called to resistance by the others. For women and the poor, gender and class operate as categories of oppression, while whiteness is a classification rooted in hundreds of years of power. In other words, for those who argue that poor whites and white women voted against their interest do not fully acknowledge what George Lipsitz has called the possessive investment in whiteness. This investment in white supremacy has been shown in policies from mass enslavement of Black peoples, the Homestead Act and the GI Bill to bank loans and hiring practices to the way white people have been deputized to call the police on Black people. For the last 500 years, people living as white have benefitted socially, economically and politically from whiteness.
White nationalists understand this and are encouraging whites to blame their downward economic fortunes not on neo-liberalism or the hoarding of wealth at the top, but on a perceived loss of white centrality. Black people, people of color, migrants of color, Muslims, women, and queer folk are easy and vulnerable scapegoats. To paraphrase Monroe Bergdorf: “white privilege, doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It means your skin color isn’t one of the things making it harder.” The problem is that white people who support the 45th presidency of the US are sadly betting on whiteness to make their lives better.
Trump supporters are also overwhelmingly male, leaning into the power of patriarchy, in much the same way as those who lean into whiteness. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of Black people did not vote for Trump but there was considerable difference between Black men and Black women. According to CNN exit polls, this trend continued during the mid-term elections with up to 11 percent of Black men voting for a racist man rather than Stacey Abrams, a Black woman. The clarity of women and LGBTQI folk in recent resistance struggles has challenged many Black men who believe men should lead movements.
Intriguingly, at a recent Thanksgiving gathering, a middle-aged Black man was arguing for replicating what the “white man” does in order to better Black people’s futures. I asked, “do we really have to sink so low?” He responded, “well, you Black women went away and left the Black man behind.” I responded, “What? That’s not true. But if you feel that way, join us because we got our minds on freedom.”
Naked racial capitalism, ugly heteropatriarchy and the grimy power dynamics they unleash are sharper today under this presidency. Alongside the era of President Andrew Jackson, who led the policy of land theft under the Indian Removal Act, the Trump regime is among the foulest in US history.
Notably, the 45th POTUS has modeled himself on Andrew Jackson, hanging a portrait of him in the Oval Office. And like the tenure of Andrew Jackson, this presidency roots itself in a particular kind of racist “populism;” one in which tycoons, white nationalists and Christian fundamentalists are concurrently mobilized, armed and empowered.[viii]
Are you Ready for the Revolution?
Thankfully, there is hope. A majority of US-Americans see our current regime as undemocratic, unstable and dangerous. In fact, the reason the current GOP engages in gerrymandering and election fraud is because they are increasingly a minority. The 2018 elections saw the largest mid-term voter turnout in a century and the populace increasingly voted for women, people of color, and democratic socialists. According to The Washington Post, Democrats outvoted Republicans by more than 4 million. Georgia, for example, in spite of hundreds of thousands of people being illegally kicked off the voter rolls by the GOP Secretary of State who was also running for Governor, increased their mid-term turnout by 900,000 votes. Importantly, the optics of the new US House of Representatives is telling. The GOP is a white male party, with very few exceptions. The new Democratic Party is looking more – not without contradictions, of course – like the America in which we live.
But we can’t separate electoral victories from broader movements. Had not the fight for Black lives, DACA, and Standing Rock, unleashed our visions of struggle, the mobilization for the midterms would not have been possible nor likely. We must continue our inside/outside organizing, cross-platform coalition building, international solidarity campaigns, social justice trainings and the creation of liberated zones (sanctuary cities, green energy districts, fights for fifteen, etc.) wherever we are. We must support the ideological thrust of the Working People’s Party and press the Democratic Party to go big or go home. As Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said: “we simply don’t have any other choice. If it’s radical to propose a solution on the scale of the problem, so be it.” We got work to do. Are you ready?
Original Image: Adaptation of 1919 murder photo of Will Brown, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.
[i] Racial capitalism was first coined by Dr. Cedric Robison in the 1980s to describe the simultaneous rise of capitalism and racism. For example, colonial and slave trading companies were among the first trafficked on early stock markets in Europe. Today, new research is clearly showing that the trade in and enslavement of Africans, along with theft of indigenous land, and their necessary business subsidiaries were the primary forces upon which early American economic development was based. Racial capitalism also explains much of Western policy in the Global South throughout its history. In 2018, for example, 19 for-profit companies were paid $800 million of tax-payer’s money to detain and cage migrants, children and asylum seekers of color along the US-Mexico border.
[ii] James Matthews, “Recollections of Slavery by a Runaway Slave,” The Emancipator, August 23, September 13, September 20, October 11, October 18, 1838.
[iii] Heteropatriarchy describes the socio-political system in which heterosexual men, benefit from patriarchy or male domination over women, children, family, and non-gender conforming people. This theory helps us understand why there has never been a woman president in the US, why domestic abuse occurs at such high levels, and why rape is one of the most under reported crimes in the US.
[iv] James Baldwin, “Letter from a Region of My Mind”, The New Yorker, November 1962.
[v] David A. Fahrenthold, Matt Zapotosky and Seung Min Kim, “Mounting legal threats surround Trump as nearly every organization he has led is under investigation,” The Washington Post, December 15, 2018.
[vi] Jonathan Freedland, “The New Age of Ayn Rand: how she won over Trump and Silicon Valley,” The Guardian, April 10, 2017.
[vii] Jack Jenkins, The Strange Origins of the GOP ideology that rejects caring for the poor,” Think Progress, June 9, 2017.
Lisa Brock (aka Doc Brock) is the Academic Director and Acting Executive Director of the Arcus Center of Social Justice Leadership. Her articles on Africa and the African Diaspora have appeared in dozens of academic journals and as book chapters. Lisa is also on the editorial collective of the Radical History Review and the Board of the Davis Putter Scholarship Fund. An activist all her life, Lisa has fought for girls’ rights and Black rights in her native Cincinnati, Ohio area and against police violence and judicial misconduct in Washington D.C. She became a leader in the anti-apartheid movement in Chicago and lived in Mozambique as a Fulbright Scholar where she successfully merged her academic interest with southern African Social Justice struggles. She worked to co-found the Chicago Anti-Apartheid Movement Collection at Columbia College Chicago (CCC) and led the effort to endow an international travel scholarship at CCC. She also successfully developed study abroad programs in South Africa and Cuba. As an historian and activist, Lisa is an internationalist who views history as a way to enter contemporary discussions about race, class, gender, and global inequalities. Lisa attended Oberlin College and earned her B.A. from Howard University and her Ph.D. in African History from Northwestern University.
Thanks to the author for sending this to Portside.