I See You
By Jorge D. H. Prósperi, 2019
Dominance is based and dependent on power and control. Power and control are two major components of all -isms and phobias. We can dissect each ad infinitum, but all are born and live in the same toxic cess pool of ignorance, hate and fear. Among the most insidious is RACISM. The very word is contaminated – diseased – pathological. For some the mere mention of the word is difficult, to be accused of being racist deplorable.
The concept takes on a more insidious meaning when combined with the prefix white – White Power, White Supremacy, White Nationalism cloaked in nuances of the White Master Race. We tend to sugar coat it, talk around its reality, find ways to quickly walk past it, desperately try to avoid hearing it and at worse deny and suppress its ugly reality. The word can be discarded as the problem owned only by people of color, immigrants and some white do-gooders. I posit that a significant element of white dominance is the power to avoid, ignore and deny without consequences.
The tenets of white dominance in America has been inherited among a group of citizens who believe that their political and cultural ancestry has political capital, value and worth over others. It is a cultural ideology that white origin, history, beliefs, ideas, families, communities, politics and culture are superior to others – a truncated belief that the founding documents were written for them rather than others.
We fully understand overt racist behavior. Men and women in white robes chanting around a burning cross are easy to spot. We can also almost understand the covert nuances, while aversive racism remains an unaccepted but tolerated reality. But introspectively dissecting from within the toxic racist alien living within by choice and design is quite a different matter. And this is where some of the power, control and dominance exists – the power of avoidance and silence. Making an unconscious choice to remains the same.
America is a nation built on forces of power and control. The capital of Capitalism is one major fact. This is not about debating the right or wrong – good or bad of Capitalism. But its power and control is evident in every phase of society. It influences life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Concepts such as culture and society can also be defined through the lenses of power and control. When the words “that men are created equal” were uttered, what was not said was “for men with the power, control and dominance – and who happen to be white.” America has been debating that part of the unspoken paradox for centuries.
A striking example of this nuance took place in a graduate required college class on Diversity Literacy. It was only the second class of the term. It was during the first class that the students were given the Peggy McIntosh’s treatise on White Privilege, Racism and Sexism. The students were to read and write questions and comments. A discussion would follow based on their reactions. Nothing difficult right? But I braced myself as students were not used to such discourse. A white student, who seemed to have been stewing about the assignment raised his hand before I even took attendance. He said, “I was hoping that this class was not going to be about white-bashing.” The class took notice. “I’m tired of being called a racist.” “The article is racist.” I informed him that Peggy McIntosh was white and that her ancestors had come, literally, on the Mayflower, and that the article was her opinion of the capital of whiteness as it pertained to her experiences as a white woman.
Some of the students of color challenged affirming what they felt were poignant points regarding white privilege. The white student stood his ground and said that he was tired of being race-baited and bullied. He was sick of being told that he was a racist because he was white. To his surprise, other white students countered. The self proclaimed defendant dug in. Upon feeling cornered he said without hesitation, “You can say what you want and call me whatever you want but there is one fact that all of you can’t deny and that is that regardless of the bashing, at the end of the day we own everything!” A moment of silence followed! He had spoken the truth… at least as he saw it, felt it and owned it.
He also succeeded in muting the class and demonstrated the nuances of dominance, power and control… the control of the conversation. In time we were able to discuss his definitions of ownership – beyond property. Not to lose hope, by the end of the term the defendant had found ways to appreciate McIntosh’s definitions and left with new lenses by which to view the world and fellow classmates. The students while challenging each other, never gave up on each other. But it made me ponder just how many Americans have the opportunity to deal with issues of diversity, much less for eight hours a week for six weeks.
But the young man had introduced an excellent point regarding power, control and dominance. Because of the way American society is presently structured, most whites have almost no conceptual idea nor first-hand experience of life in the African American, Latino/a, Native American, Asian, Indian (subcontinent), Middle Eastern and/or African communities. This is because the prevailing norms of accepted separation and segregation that prevent people of different racial/ethnic groups from interacting with each other has been normalized. Rural, urban and suburban communities seemingly walled off from each other. This perpetuates the ignorance, which in turn gives rise to preconceived attitudes, labeling, predispositions, prejudice and feelings, of being persecuted and/or accused of being RACIST. As the silence persists, so does the perceived power, control and dominance. The silence providing opportunists and charlatans a stage on which to spew divisiveness.
It would be foolish, irresponsible and unfair to ignore elements of power, control and dominance that are tangibly evident that oppress – suppress democracy, rights, justice, equity and pursuit of a quality of life equally and fairly. At the same time, we must acknowledge that there has historically been a dedicated and relentless national advocacy to actualize the founding principles by women and men of good faith who have given their lives to the cause.
Of course, unlike my students, America can’t be required to pause for six weeks and ask every family, business, politician, CEO, employees and schools to turn off phones, reality TV, Cable, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram in order to have a NATIONAL RETREAT on RACE. I know, it sounds crazy even though it is desperately needed. But imagine, at least one week of getting to know difference, otherness and of course, whiteness. One week to hear and feel other voices, discovering their humanity within our own… and say… truly say… I see you.
END OF PART IV – Go to Part V