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I have often been drawn to the dynamism involved in dissecting systems and structures — not in the way of grids and architecture, but more like how democracy and capitalism seem to function on varying and opaque ends of a narrow spectrum; how one really does not equal or another. Or, power dynamics. I have been fascinated with these systems, the way they function and how. Look at how they exist on multiple planes, those dynamics with their ever-evolving caste systems and hierarchical prototypes, bending folks to their whim and will. It is these structures I am most intrigued by, enamored with—not obsessively, but enough to be engaged in the dialogue about them and how they are built. But mainly, my borderline obsession with them has more to do with my Blackness and how functioning on the fringes of that Blackness taps into a much larger contextual conversation about whiteness, white culture, and what those two degrees mean to the overall conversation on structures and race and power dynamics in America.
What is white culture? Is there a white culture? The young lady who once told me I “dressed like a white boy” because I had my chino pant legs pinrolled would argue that such a thing does exist. The students who told me I sounded like a white boy whenever I used dictionary-sounding kind of words would probably also concur. The chasm that sets itself as an immovable object in these discussions almost always ties back to some level of goodness, of achievement and high morale, of distinction, of whiteness, or white culture. In theory, “white culture” is anything defined as refined, or redeemable, whatever is deemed of quality. I could make a point that white culture is really white theft, which is really white flight, which is really white supremacy; that the stealing of Black culture and native culture and of land and leaving neighborhoods when too many persons of color begin to move in; that inflating home ownership loans and denying people jobs because of their names is also white culture. But this all sounds too unfair, too constrictive, too shallow and easy.
So, then, what is it? Is it country music? The blues? Jazz? American traditions like apple pie on July Fourth? Someone once posed the question of whether whiteness can exist without being tied always to blackness; that the conversations dominating whiteness and Confederate talk and heritage talk and hate talk and Trump talk centers around not only walls and bigotry and wars on Muslims and Mexicans and Afghanistan and voting rights, but also Black people and black bodies. Many have argued that a centralized front to fight institutional racism and white supremacy cannot be fought if we do not first fight for the necessary freedoms of black folks en masse; that no true movement can evolve without having black folks at the center, involved and steering the conversation and process.
Where we are, for some, seems to defy convention — how are we, a democratized nation, still fighting right-wing supremacists and Nazi fascists, all carrying tiki torches, in 2017? How are little Black boys named Jamir Rice shot from a distance for carrying a BB gun while a woman at a Walmart can pull out an actual gun on another human customer with no death involved? How do we allow Sean Spicer on stage and laugh but also almost give an Oscar to an entirely wrong film in a case of mistaken Blackness? How do we vilify a journalist for speaking the truth but not vilify a washed-up, failing former rock star turned idiotic right-wing nutjob for insinuating a president should be murdered? Easy. Whitetopia.
America is Whitetopia. It is not some foreign fairy-tale la-la land. (Hehe, get it? I made a joke.) It is here, now and present, hand raised and gun cocked, flag waving, praising Steve Bannon and David Duke and Richard Spencer. It is a comment that starts “my brother from another mother,” but then proceeds to tell me to “chill with all the white shit.” It breathes its fervor from the malice cause when an armed terrorist walks into a black church and murders multiple members of its congregation following prayer. It starts when someone plants a bomb in a church, and dour little Black girls never get to see another Christmas because of it. It begins when members of MOVE are smoked out of their tenement and used for target practice and bombing and murder.
It is built on Fred Hampton’s assassination, on Malcolm X’s assassination, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, on John F. Kennedy’s assassination, on Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination, on Emmett Till’s remains, on Medgar Evers’ corpse, on Barack Obama’s birther witch hunt, on superpredators, on the Central Park Five, on rezoning districts to keep certain students away from certain classes when those certain students happen to be a certain shade. You will create Black Codes, enforce Jim Crow, require segregation, create backs of buses and back doors, force artists to have chitlin-circuit shows because they cannot be booked by certain venues aka white venues, push Nina Simone to insanity, call Marcus Garvey crazy, blacklist Paul Robeson.
And you will build, and build, and build, a nation a home a city a land a culture, around all the death all the dying all the War on Drugs and Tuskegee experiments and Columbus Days, and build housing projects and burn down half of the South Bronx for expressways and ask, “Why can’t you pick yourself up? Why can’t you be more like *insert ethnic group that does not have as lengthy a history of intolerance and injustice in the Americas as African-Americans here*?” And you will never be able to answer them in full, never be able to fully answer that question for them. Oppressors do not understand oppression — they will smell the smoke, but who can see the fire from so high up, standing atop the bodies that have burned to give them sight far-reaching? This is how the machine is built; this is how it still functions. Still.