Last week, a friend of mine tagged me on a Facebook post featuring an article by a Black woman who decided to move to Paris after Trump was elected. Her story resonated with me to some extent, although my decision to move came long before the tragedy of Donald Trump in the White House. His election was merely a symptom of a bigger, long-standing problem in the US.
I scrolled down to read the comments and was alarmed by the anger and judgment being hurled at this woman about her choice. One comment even stated that citizenship is not a free ride. I offered a broader perspective, citing that my own decision to leave the US was connected to issues far greater than Trump. That the system of white supremacy on which our nation was built affects every corner of society and that people of color are not and cannot be held responsible for dismantling it.
My comment was met with scrutiny of my commitment to the nation and a suggestion that I was, in fact, abandoning ship. An ironic reference considering that my own ancestors endured the middle passage in order for me to even be here.
I mulled over this person’s words–abandoning ship, lack of commitment, free ride–and was struck by the author’s arrogance and unwillingness to consider the tenor of those words.
There is something very uncomfortable about a white woman accusing two Black women who have chosen to live in a different country and culture of getting a “free ride” on our citizenship. Her position was that we were obligated to fight against the Trump machine and that to not fight is to abandon ship. Beyond voting, what exactly is our obligation to a democracy whose foundation is one of persistent exclusion and injustice?
The notion of white superiority is completely pathological and yet, it sits at the root of every major institution that defines the United States. It is an idea that is embedded in the country’s DNA and for those who do not benefit from it, the process of fighting against it is difficult and exhausting. We can work to get a Black man into the White House or build better schools or run for office ourselves, but it’s simply not our job to fix whiteness.
I want to be clear and say this isn’t about white people. White people are divine creations just like everyone else with tremendous gifts to offer the world. This is about the illusion of white superiority and the pathological impact it has on individuals and society as a whole. The most damaging aspect is that it refuses to admit that it’s way of being may be wrong, no matter how unjust or tragic.
Last week, the Asian-American woman who was sexually assaulted by Brock Turner revealed her name and identity, Chanel Miller. She was not only subjected to the assault, she was later brutalized by a justice system that decided the future of the “all-American” Stanford swimmer was more valuable than fairness and her dignity.
Thankfully, the judge who chose leniency for Turner was recalled by the people. But, what has Brock Turner learned? How has he changed? Is he able to see that he earned favor without merit, even after committing a heinous crime? Or did things turn out exactly as he expected because he too is rapt by the illusion of his own superiority and entitlement? On record, Chanel was nothing more than an “unconscious intoxicated woman.”
When a chamber full of white men and women in power are caught up in the self-deception of their own superiority, they can easily justify not taking action when twenty six-year old children are murdered in their classrooms. In their minds, the values of money, power and dominance supersede the lives of the citizens they serve. It makes zero sense. Yet, they continue down the same road as 50 more people die in Orlando, 58 in Las Vegas, 9 in Charleston and so on.
We rally to vote these people out and their response is to suppress our vote or to commit actual election fraud–North Carolina. As long as they believe that their way of being is better, they will always fight back or lie to re-establish their “position.” Their own hypocritical and hateful acts will neither bother nor deter them. The illusion of superiority requires it.
And this isn’t just a Republican ailment. Bill Clinton, our “beloved” statesman, was quick to resort to dog whistle politics when threatened by the excellence and success of Barack Obama. Comparing him to Jesse Jackson, he deemed Obama’s primary win in South Carolina a “fairy tale.” A knee jerk reaction in the heat of an intense campaign, riddled with the undertones of the illusion as well.
In the most recent Democratic debate, when confronted with his past words regarding the enduring damage of slavery, Joe Biden pivoted to blaming parents from poor communities for their problems. They just need to learn how to parent better. Really, Joe? Tell me, who raised Brock Turner? Donald Trump? Watching Biden in his smug “superior white man” suit, I wanted to vomit. High five to Cory Booker for not letting that shit go without a counter.
One of the most compelling scenes in the movie, American Gangster, was when Russell Crowe’s character was trying to get access to the coffins of the fallen soldiers being brought home from Vietnam. As he tried to explain to the government official that Frank Lucas, a Black man from Harlem, was smuggling drugs into the United States through these service planes, the official refused to believe him, stating that “no American n****r has accomplished what the American mafia hasn’t in 100 years.” He was incredulous–again, the illusion.
Throughout the years, I have protested against war, injustice and inequity. I once stood for hours in front of a movie theater protesting the film, Buffalo Soldiers, marketed as a dark comedy about a bunch of corrupt American soldiers stationed in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, selling drugs and screwing around during peace time. I was appalled by the appropriation of the name as my own grandfather served in the 9th Cavalry at West Point right before the US entered into World War II. Called Buffalo Soldiers, they were representative of the revered former slaves in the all-black cavalry and infantry regiments who served during the Westward expansion. When I was a kid, I loved looking at the little buffalo pin on my grandpa’s cap.
What brought about such a gross appropriation of African-American history by the Weinstein-owned Miramax? The illusion of superiority and the values that it represents. The blatant assumption that it is acceptable to defame the title and memory of those who served this very country in the name of entertainment. It’s pretty disgusting when you think about it. Hey Joe, what do you think of the job Harvey Weinstein’s parents did?
In pursuit of my own happiness, I have decided to live outside of the United States. I would hardly call it a “free ride.” The influence and evidence of my commitment to my citizenship is equally as potent in a classroom in Paris as it was in the hallways of a charter school in Brooklyn and in front of a movie theater in Bethesda, Maryland.
And what obligation do I have to fix the problem of the illusion of white superiority?
Only the afflicted can heal their own pathology.
Photo courtesy of Goalcast