Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Don't Blame Me, Bro!

Let me put it this way: Facebook is often a sewer, but it lets me keep a finger on the pulse of heartland America (not a place, but a state of mind) without spending much time there.

A Facebook friend with whom I went to high school passed this along the other day:

It gives some insight into some white people's reaction to the current surge of anti-racist activism: distraction and denial.

Apart from the shitty* versification, what makes this meme so offensive is its stubborn refusal to engage with -- well, anything, really: the actual complaints of Black Lives Matter and the athletes (not all of whom are black, by any means) who've taken a knee to protest institutional police violence, for one.  Apologists for racism love to complain when anyone brings up the American heritage of chattel slavery and Jim Crow; "I never owned a slave," they protest, and "Nobody now living in America has owned or been a slave."  But when someone criticizes racism in the present day, they try to change the subject to ancient history.

While slavery and Jim Crow are certainly relevant to racism today, taking a knee to protest police violence against black people and Black Lives Matter are primarily about abuses that are happening now.  Since people like those who made and shared the above meme don't want to grapple with or even acknowledge police and other racist violence, of course they resort to distraction and displacement.  I don't blame these people for slavery, but I do blame them for their attitudes now.  Despite all the Right's talk about personal responsibility, they panic when anyone holds them accountable for their own words and actions.

The emotional logic here is of course flag idolatry: for athletes to protest white supremacist violence and terror by refusing to stand for "The Star Spangled Banner" infuriates these people.  They take it as an intrusion of "politics" into sports events, though obeisance to the Stars and Stripes is political if anything is.  If the people who vilify Colin Kaepernick and BLM really cared about the flag and the ideals it stands for, they would care about this country's refusal to put those ideals into practice.  They don't, and indeed they oppose putting those ideals into practice.

So they hide behind The Troops, who, they claim moistly, fought and died for the flag.  The only black soldier they are interested in is one who kept the flag from touching the ground in battle, though he was shot several times.  Stories like this one, which circulated on Facebook a few weeks ago, make the flag into an idol and a fetish, to be valued above and beyond mere human life, but many people eat such stories up with a spoon.  (Despite this, they'll wear US flag britches, and sit on the ground in them without a thought.)  They also love explications of the symbolism of the flag - the stripes, the colors, the stars - which have nothing to do with ideals or principles or human lives.  Acknowledging the yawning gulf  between American ideals and the American treatment of black people is impossible for them, it seems.  I don't know why.

And this meme really backfires, by invoking those who "fought and died for you."  I suppose the military cemetery in the picture is Arlington National Cemetery, where black soldiers were buried in segregated areas until President Truman ended the practice by executive order in 1948.  He didn't do it out of the goodness of his heart, but because civil rights activists like A. Philip Randolph pressured him -- and it was an election year.

The American armed forces were segregated for decades after that, however, thanks to resistance by the parents and grandparents of people like my Facebook friend and whoever made this meme.  "Your rights are still protected" was a lie when black soldiers were barred from combat and buried in Jim Crow military graveyards, and it continues to be a lie when police officers murder black people with impunity.  World War II was a tipping point for black Americans in many ways: many questioned the validity of fighting for a country that denied them their rights.  "There's no one here to blame"?  It's probably impossible to determine exactly which white soldiers refused to serve next to black soldiers, but it's certain that many of them are buried in white-only areas at Arlington and in other military cemeteries, and those who resisted desegregation are blameworthy if anyone is: it makes an obscene mockery of the claim that the US fought for freedom even in World War II.

Some of my white racist Facebook friends have black family members.  After the police murder of George Floyd, one of them broke her silence on the issue to mourn police cars that had been set on fire.  I asked her why the destruction of machinery bothered her when the taking of human lives didn't.  She denied it, claiming that all lives matter to her, she doesn't see color, she loves everybody!  I told her I don't believe her, and I mentioned numerous cases of horrific racist violence, such as Dylann Roof's slaughter of nine black worshipers (one of them a Vietnam veteran) in their church; or the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre, or the Christchurch mosque massacre, and pointed out that like all my racist Facebook friends, she had never expressed horror over these attacks, or noticed them on Facebook at all.  Only the destruction of police cars moved her to speak out.  Something is seriously wrong there, and as I said, she is not alone in her lack of concern about human lives of the wrong color.  She had no good answer.  A few weeks later she posted some family photos, without comment, which included a couple of black (or more likely mixed) teenagers.  I've seen these kids in her timeline before, and I presume that one of her children married one of Them. (It would be interesting to know more of the background, but it's not really my business.)  I didn't probe, but maybe I should have asked what she'd do if that lovely girl were killed by a cop.  Doesn't she worry about her?  Does she believe that her own whiteness will somehow protect her grandchildren from racism?  She's a Trump supporter, so I presume she just doesn't think. 

I believe that this verse and meme are directed at black Americans, as shown by the reference to "your rights" and the admonition to take a knee before military graves.  Probably it was first made to attack Kaepernick and the other athletes who followed his lead.  If so, it's even more insulting than I thought at first glance.  Time's up.
* I almost wrote "execrable," but decided it would dignify this doggerel too much.