Mulhall column: Elevating racial discord above harmony
In the wake of events in Charlottesville last month, there’s been a lot of talk about white privilege. A recent meme suggests a white supremacist gathering is white privilege. If that strikes you as tediously monochromatic, you’re not alone.
To attain the conceit of racial enlightenment offered by white privilege, you have to suppress common sense, personal experience and American history.
A former co-worker and friend of mine did this. We met in the early ‘90s on the job. “Jon without an ‘h’” had a Ph.D. in computer science from Berkeley and was the lead programmer.
Jon wore Birkenstocks even in winter, with thick, beige wool socks on colder days. Weekends you knew he was in town if the well-oiled sandals were on his front stoop. He aired them there so they wouldn’t overpower the aromas of ginseng root and chamomile buds in his kitchen. “I like things clean and odor-free” he once told me as I perused the James Baldwin, John Muir and Joan Didion titles on his shelf.
One night Jon invited me and several co-workers over for a showing of “Koyaanisqatsi” — an early-‘80s film based on the Hopi word meaning “life out of balance.”
When the post-viewing discussion somehow turned to race, Jon’s countenance changed. Perhaps he was trying to convey both the pain of grappling with a difficult subject and the relief of coming out bloodied but better for the struggle. While some may have attributed his expression to gas pain, it struck me as more of an unnatural affectation — less like President Trump’s enigmatic hairstyle than Rachel Dolezal’s afro.
As our discussion grew more involved, which is not to say “heated” due to overall accord, Jon interjected, “Well, you all are clearly unfamiliar with Peggy’s invisible knapsack.”
This ahem evoked pause as we contemplated how one might come to know anything about a backpack you cannot see, say nothing of Peggy, and that’s when Jon pounced, enumerating 26 conditions that reveal our white skin privilege.
On completion, he explained the conditions and the knapsack itself were invisible to the white-skinned, which left some in the room checking the backs of their hands as if they’d forgotten. His spiel was so cute and neatly unpacked that several departed blighted by their own whiteness.
The irony of Charlottesville is that white supremacists and Antifa, as well as white privilege itself, arise from the same origin: The Democratic Party in America.
No one has trouble equating white supremacists with the German Nazi Party of the 1930s if for no other reason than they sometimes go — without objection — by the name “neo-Nazis,” but few recognize that in Eugenics and 19th century Democratic legislation, white supremacists, like their Nazi predecessors before them, find more than enough intellectual and legal precedent to rationalize their views. Democrats gave us Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws in post-emancipation South — a subject I wrote about several months ago.
The Antifa movement has clear allegiance to the Democratic Party too. You don’t have to scratch the surface deeply to see Antifa’s opposition to President Trump, conservatism and the Republican Party. What’s more interesting to me, however, is the recent focus on Civil War-era monuments.
Charlottesville erupted over the proposed removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, but how do the burning of an Abraham Lincoln statue in Chicago and the spray painting of the Lincoln Memorial comport?
Three answers come to mind: Those responsible don’t know Abraham Lincoln’s emancipatory role in American history, they don’t care or they seek to water down America’s historical narrative in all its warts and beauty.
I dismiss the first, and it’s not a jump ball between the second and third. “Not caring” stands tall and looks like a baller, but he can’t dribble or shoot from outside. If you’ve got a racial ax to grind, you get a lot more play out of diluting history.
Deface memorials to the Great Emancipator while agitating for the removal of Confederate monuments and you reinvigorate today’s racial debate in a way that says, “whatever progress we may have made will never be near enough.”
Whether true, what justifies violence?
In a recent New York Times profile, Antifa member Emily Rose Nauert answered this way: “You need violence in order to protect nonviolence.”
That’s maybe not what St. Francis, Thoreau, Gandhi, King and others had in mind. It does, however, dovetail with the Ku Klux Klan, the Democratic Party’s enforcement arm for pre- and post-Civil War racial policies.
This common cotton makes Antifa and white supremacists such same-tempered bedfellows that it’s a wonder Charlottesville wasn’t some kind of Burning Man-style convergence where everyone joined hands around the bonfire to sing Horst Wessel Lied.
Peggy’s invisible knapsack serves up a fresh helping of racial divide by reheating lingering drippings, yet by every imaginable metric Band Aid color and hotel room hair product availability pale in contrast to violence, murder and inhumanity. But rather than seeing in white privilege room for improvement, some invoke it instead to shame one race and incite another — even though each American, regardless of ethnicity, grew up on a generational foundation poured on the rock of Emancipation and civil rights.
Charlottesville did not mushroom from the inability of whites to see some imaginary knapsack, but from an indiscriminate failure to see that the ethnic “awareness” proffered by the left still elevates racial discord above harmony.
Mitch Mulhall is a longtime valley resident. His column appears on the second Friday of each month.