Terrorism

charlottesville

Explaining why Charlottesville happened requires me to do something I haven’t in years — go to church. There is a big, hairy demon that possesses the soul of America and it is white supremacy. White supremacy begot racism in America and ultimately, the evil and irrational nature of it has no logical explanation other than it must be a demon. It is too diabolic, non-sensical and potent to originate from any other place but hell. As whiteness slowly depletes its privilege we are seeing an exorcism in real time; this demon is coming out but not without a fight.

Charlottesville happened now, during the Trump age. It is an age that can best be understood through a passage in the New Testament — Mark chapter 9, versus 14-29. In the story a father brings his demon-possessed son to Jesus in hopes of deliverance. The demon would often take control of the boy’s body and cause him to do crazy shit, basically. When the demon saw Jesus, it threw the boy to the ground and began convulsing, rolling around and foaming at the mouth. Essentially, the demon began to “act up” rather than go quietly. The demon, feeling threatened, lashed out rather than humbly submit to its fate. That is where a sizable faction of white America is today. White people run America and maintain privilege but there are discernible cracks in the foundation of white supremacy. Indeed, white power structures still frame the day to day existence of us all and yet there is a sense that white power is being threatened, a sense which energized the candidacy of Donald Trump and gives rise to groups like the “Alt Right.” Charlottesville is but the latest convulsion in an ongoing exorcism. This demon feels threatened.

Drug overdoses, liver disease and suicide are driving a peculiar trend among whites. Of late, their life expectancy is not increasing but decreasing. That is according to Elizabeth Arias, the statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics. Based on federal data of deaths recorded nationwide, black men actually had the greatest gain in life expectancy in 2014 of any group. White supremacy is under attack. Babies of color now outnumber non-Hispanic white babies. 2014-2015 was the first year in which minorities were more populous than white students in America’s public schools. America will be a majority-minority nation soon, led by individuals who more closely resemble Barack Obama, Kamala Harris and Luis Gutierrez than Mitch McConnell. The world that has always been will simply not be anymore. For those conditioned by generations of privilege, that is a scary proposition.

A big demon is being exorcised, slowly. It senses its demise and in response shrieks, convulses and lashes out, even irrationally. And Charlottesville was irrational. The rally was initially a protest against removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a slaveowner who fought vehemently to uphold slavery during the Civil War. Removing the statue is not an attempt to erase whites from the American tapestry. Objecting to its removal, however, suggests a commitment to the ideals of Lee and ultimately that is what this demon is fighting for. The critical question now is what we will do as this demon continues to lash out.

In the biblical text Jesus responded quite curiously to the demon’s little sideshow. As the boy rolled on the ground convulsing and foaming at the mouth, Jesus calmly turned to his father and asked him, “how long has he been like this?” It was as if Jesus was saying, “I refuse to get caught up in this show. I will not pay attention to you lashing out and I certainly will not be intimidated. I will simply pretend that you do not exist as I go about the work of overpowering you.” The father explained that the boy had been that way from his youth. He pleaded with Jesus, “but if you can do anything for us please help us.” Jesus, perhaps almost offended replied, “If!?!? Bruh…all things are possible if you believe. Ain’t no if to this!” Jesus exorcised the demon and went about his business. I choose to ignore the noise and the shrieks. I choose to go about the work of black power, even in this age of Trump.

 

 

LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 19:  Actor Bill Maher and Donald Trump attend the 56th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at the Shrine Auditorium September 19, 2004 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Donald Trump is anti-Muslim but more disturbing is the degree to which white liberals share his ideology. Rooted in white supremacy, it lives on the political left, trumpeted by thought leaders like Bill Maher. It views brown terrorists as especially scary and worthy of scrutiny but is incapable of treating whites in the same way. It cannot see that my (black) people still live in fear of white Christians, not ISIS. It extends white privilege to slavers and the Klan, insisting they were exceptional and not representative of Christianity yet regards every Muslim attacker as a perfect ambassador of Islam. It dismisses Timothy McVeigh and the IRA as ancient history while 9/11 dictates our national course daily. It fails to fully appreciate that although the Klan is not lynching black people today, Dylan Roof, police and James Harris Jackson are. White supremacy blocks conservatives and liberals from seeing the issue of terror clearly and we cannot afford blurred vision in this moment.

On this past week’s episode of Real Time, former UK Parliament member Louise Mensch highlighted that Khalid Masoon, the London attacker, was born in Britain and the tragedy should not be exploited to fan anti-Muslim flames. Maher, predictably, insisted that Islam itself was the issue. When Maher’s guests pointed out that we do not attribute terror to Christians in the same way, Maher cited false equivalency. When Maher asked whether there were in fact Christian terror groups today and his guests furnished modern examples, Maher excused them as being in the past. The only terrorists of interest to Maher are the brown ones. Unwittingly, Maher provides intellectual cover to overt racists, those in the Trump camp. As a liberal, Maher’s fixation on Islamic terrorists and broad condemnation of Islam as a religion only serves to empower bigotry, not halt terror.

As a black man I have great difficulty following the logic of Maher and the bigots he empowers because history lives for the oppressed. When there is an unwillingness to treat white extremists with the same urgency as brown ones, there is pause. When there is a dismissiveness of crimes in the past, as though they are not still present in our memory, trust is broken. As a nation we never dealt with the issue of white terrorism in the past, especially when Christianity was a motivating force. In the present we are told it is inappropriate to discuss white terrorists groups like FEAR because they somehow do not represent the same kind of threat as Islamists do. It would seem as though the time is never right to discuss white terror and for those who have suffered at the hands of white terrorists, we are unable to engage in a genuine discussion on the topic until these scores are settled.

To be sure, Dylan Roof and James Harris Jackson do not belong to groups seeking nuclear weapons. Still, white terrorists have demonstrated the ability to kill en masse and yet the hysteria is just not there. Timothy McVeigh and the IRA did not explicitly attack in the name of God. Yet it is undeniable that the Klan and the many extremists who have attacked abortion clinics have drawn from holy texts but Christianity manages to escape broad condemnation as a violent faith that produces such terror. It should also be noted that extremists often have a cultural association with Islam, much in the same way Timothy McVeigh was raised Catholic but not particularly devout. While we tend not to stress the link to Christianity in such cases, Muslims are not extended the same privilege.

I have been a huge fan of Maher since childhood. It was my greatest joy as a teenager to stay up and watch Politically Incorrect and Real Time is still my weekly obsession! My aim is not to takedown Maher so much as to point out the flaw in our national reasoning, which white supremacy enables. Terror is a serious issue and as such, our lenses must not be flawed when we view it.

osu

I am a graduate of The Ohio State University and I watched in horror when our campus was attacked Monday morning. I walked those grounds for years; sometimes going to class, at others to a lady’s dorm room hoping for a kiss. This was personal. I just knew the attacker would be a white male and yet it was a Somali immigrant, a Muslim. That discovery made this piece harder to write. The Trump crowd will welcome this as a validation for their xenophobia and anti-Muslim crusade; that makes me uncomfortable. The reality is Islamic terrorists do pose some threat to us. It is also true that America has done quite a bit to create terror by its actions and at times, inaction. The OSU attacker expressed some of those grievances and the question we face in this age of Trump is whether we can be empathetic to a Muslim and hear him out.

orlando

At the root of the massacre in Orlando is religion. We struggle to admit that because we seem not to know that our holy texts provide theological justification for such violence. Recognizing this is especially difficult because we’ve largely created 21st century versions of our faiths; versions which omit sacred texts unpalatable to our 2016 tastes. It is a faith in which Muslims preach the virtues of Islam but pretend the Quran doesn’t specify crucifixion as one of the only punishments permitted for enemies of Islam (Quran 5:33). It is a faith, for Christians, which highlights the liberating power of the gospel while ignoring Torah’s imperative to execute gays (Leviticus 20:13) or Paul’s command that women be silent, not have authority over men or teach (1 Timothy 2:11-12).

police

I hope you aren’t raped or shot today. There’s a good chance the police won’t have your back. Fifty years ago there was a likelihood of over 90 percent that a murder would lead to an arrest and despite tremendous advances in technology, today there’s a one in three chance that your case will go unsolved (and much worse in communities of color). The police are no better at solving rapes than in the 1970’s: there’s only a 24 percent chance that an arrest will be made. We spend more than $100 billion annually on police and this is the return. More alarming, in the month of March 2015, American police killed more citizens than police in the UK have since 1900. Cops aren’t solving crimes and making us safe but they are chasing nonsense and doing plenty of shooting. This is what the War on Drugs has wrought.

grossflintwater

Cuba was ruled by a dictator in the 1950’s, his name was Batista. John F. Kennedy once charged that Batista murdered 20,000 Cubans and turned a Democratic Cuba into a police state, all with the United States supporting his “reign of terror.” The U.S was particularly fond of Batista because in the 1950’s, as Kennedy pointed out, “U.S. companies owned about 40 percent of the Cuban sugar lands

isis

I’m angry. Tragedy has touched Paris and now Mali this week but I must confess that the root of my anger is not those attacks. I’m angry because international terror now directly impacts me. I work, more or less, across the street from the White House: the newest target announced by Isis. Daily, I take a subway train into work, mindful that the subways in London, Tokyo and Madrid have all been attacked in my lifetime. This is real for me and I’m angry about it.