Category Archives: racism

Putin’s Fascism

 

Jason Stanley and Eliyahu Stern wrote an interesting article in Tablet Magazine. They pointed out that “The admiration of religious traditionalism and hatred of cosmopolitan liberalism is part of the Kremlin’s fascist ideology.”

 When Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022, Vladimir Putin claimed it was necessary for Russia to “denazify” Ukraine and end the genocide of Russians who lived in Ukraine.  It would have been difficult to come up with a more absurd claim, but that’s what he said. He did that to elicit memories of Russia’s memorable and heroic defeat of Nazi Germany in what the Russians called “The Great Patriotic War,” and we in the west call the World War II. Stanley and Stern point out that Putin’s claims are “a diversion from his own fascism,” and ““an expression of antisemitism.” I agree with them.

Stanley and Stern say this about fascism:

“Fascism embraces a mythic past, where the nation, once great, has experienced humiliation and loss of land, the result of weakness and decadence brought on by liberal democracy. To make up for these losses, real and supposed, fascist leaders encourage violent reassertion of previous greatness, as well as the destruction of liberal democracy in favor of a one-party state or, more typically, a single autocratic ruler who is synonymous with the nation.”

 

This strikes home for many recent fascist movements, including, even the near fascist movement led by Donald Trump.  As Stanley and Stern said,

“In the Russian nationalist version of the mythic past, Ukraine is central. According to this mythology, there are no Ukrainians—just lost Russians living, whether they know it or not, in the heart of historic Russia. Under Putin, Russia has been harshly sexist and homophobic, familiar manifestations of fascist ideology. But Russia’s violent imperial war against a neighboring cosmopolitan democracy that it seeks to absorb is the clearest manifestation yet that its animating ideology is something akin to classical fascism.”

 

Alexander Dugin was the intellectual leader of Russian fascism.  He and Putin both deny being racists or Nazis but frankly that is what they are. I think the evidence is overwhelming.   They claim the real enemy of their movement are not any racial group but rather “what they refer to as confused cosmopolitans, liberals, and secularists. The same enemy found by many fascists, including Donald Trump and a host of American conservatives. Those American conservatives say their enemies are the “elite-racist ultra-liberal that seeks to annihilate American values.” These “liberals” stand for minority rights and and the replacement of political leaders by democratic means.  A substantial number of Americans would agree with these “classical fascists.” To me that is a scary thought.

According to Stanley and Stern, the clear enemy of modern fascism then is liberalisms which it sees, rightly in my view, as “cosmopolitan liberal democracy.” That has been demonstrated by both Putin and Trump.

 

Christian Hate

 

To me it is a fundamental position that Christians should not hate. They should love. Yet often that is not true. Often they hate.

In the United States far right groups traditionally attack racial minorities, but those are large groups. If you want support from non-whites you have to attack smaller groups such as trans-gender Americans. That is what the current far right is doing in America. Many of those are of course Christians. Take almost any hated group and away you can go. It does not take much for Americans to join an anti-racial parade. Vilify a small group and soon you will have wide-spread support for your cause.

If you attack a tiny group you can gather a large group  against them.  This is what Americans have been doing.  Then you can gather a lot of people to join our hateful attacks on very small minorities. Unfortunately, there are often many Americans who want to do exactly that.

As Jason Stanley an American philosopher and expert on fascism said,

“In the United States the audience includes white nationalists who very prominently want to return to a white state that prioritizes white Christianity. So they say they have black Americans who join them in their antipathy against LGBT citizens. It is always about gathering a larger coalition by ever greater vilification  of a small minority while winking to the large  part of the coalition that this is really helping. In the case of the United States that would be white Christianity.”

 

One should never underestimate the power of hate among small groups. Smart politicians know how to enlist such power and amplify it. Often such tactics are used to enhance the interests of white Christianity. Hence we get what Timothy Snyder referred to as Christian fascism which often attacks small sexual groups that are easy to dominate and quick to catch the attention of haters.

There was a recent piece in the New York Times by Elizabeth Dias and Ruth Graham that reported on The growing religious fervour in the American right. They call it a Jesus movement.”  The far-right movement is increasingly drawing in devout Christians.

As Stanley said,

“That’s because the global fascist movement presents itself as a defender of traditional values. And this is not new. This is textbook fascist politics. If you look at Joseph Goebbels’s speech, “Communism with the masks off,” in 1935, Goebbels says that Jewish Bolshevism is threatening religious faith in Christianity and that the only protection is National Socialism.”

 

Once more, this is Christian fascism. So what Putin is doing is reviving these themes. He is saying liberalism is a threat to tradition. Of course liberalism is not a threat. Liberalism says my Orthodox Jewish brothers may live as they want and other people who aren’t religious can also live however they want. Tolerance for other views is the bedrock of liberalism. However, Christian fascism says Judaism is a threat to its hegemony and must be resisted.

 

Of course, this is not about truth. This is about creating fear among people who chose to live traditionally that they are under attack and this approach in the US, Russia and many other places has been very successful.  As Stanley said,

 

This is about persuading people that other people’s choices threaten them and in particular, threaten their children, and then they say to them, ‘Look they are going after your children. You need us to protect you.”

 

This is a very effective strategy and has been used by authoritarians and fascists many times. It is so effective because it is so easy for us to fear our children are in danger. In its most extreme and absurd recent incarnation this has been the strategy of QAnon followers.  They get people to believe their children are in danger of pedophiles. That is guaranteed to arouse quick and hostile response especially in countries where such fears are rampant such as the United States and Russia. Sexual insecurity adds an existential edge to such fears. It is so effective people are quick to believe totally absurd claims.

 

In both countries conservative members of society are easily convinced that their children are in danger because traditional values have been undermined by liberals. As a result, traditionalist are quick to abandon democracy in favour of the protection of a strong autocratic leader.

 

This is what Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted on April 6, 2022:  “Democrats are the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophilia politics.”  It doesn’t matter that it is absurd. It matters that it triggers fear.

Hari Sreenivasan who interviewed Jason Stanley on PBS quoted this: “In a recent poll 49% of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that top Democrats are involved in elite child sex-trafficking rings.”

These are now going viral in conservative Christian circles in particular in the US and elsewhere. This is not a small group of people in the US.  Congresswomen are part of it. This is widespread hair-brained thinking.

As Stanley reminded us, QAnon is clearly descended from “blood libel” and the “protocols of the elders of Zion”,  the conspiracy theories that Jews were stealing Christian babies for their religious rituals. It is a conspiracy theory that there is a global cabal of elites and they are seeking to conquer institutions to get at your children.

To these conspiracy theorist if “their men” cannot stand up to this they are not real men because they are going after women and children and all real men must stand up to defend them.  As Stanley said, “It is that level of fear and paranoia that has seeped into…and permeated much of American politics.”

 American Christian fascism, the ugly American twin of Russian Christian fascism.

 

Vladimir Putin, Alexander Dugin, & Alexander Prokhanov: Political Fiction

 

Alexander Prokhanov was Putin’s companion in a radio program in 2011 where Putin had cited Ivan Ilyin. Prokhanov and also Alexander Dugin enlisted the idea of Eurasia as an alternative to the despised liberal west.  Both used this idea to try to bring back Soviet fascism. Like Hitler, Prokhanov blamed international Jewry (the typical fascist scapegoat) for inventing ideas of an enslaved homeland. As Timothy Snyder said, “Like Dugin, Prokhanov openly embraced political fiction, seeking to create images that would exude meaning before people had a chance to think for themselves.” People who think for themselves are the greatest enemy of fascism.

 

Like Putin and Ilyin, Prokhanov found an enemy in sexual perversion.  All them of them agreed that perverts were the enemy of Christian fascists although Putin of course never called himself a fascist. He considered himself an enemy of fascism, but he was a fascist. They all argued in favour of traditional values that were opposed to liberal perversion.  A good example of this was Prokhanov’s statement after a meeting with Barack Obama, for the Russians “it was if they had all been given a black teat, and they all suck at it with lust and mammalian smacking…In the end I was humiliated by this.” Blacks of course are the other standard enemy of fascists.

 

As Timothy  Snyder said,

“Prokhanov’s next move was to claim that factuality was hypocrisy: “Europe is vermin that has learned to call heinous and disgusting things beautiful.” Whatever Europeans might seem to be doing or saying, “you don’t see their faces under the mask.” In any event, Europe was dying: “The white race is perishing: gay marriages, pederasts, rule the cities, women can’t find men.”  And Europe was killing Russia: “didn’t get infected with AIDS, they deliberately infected us.”

Notice that  Russian white supremacists, like their American counterparts, try to stoke fears that the white race is perishing and needs to be saved. Just like the young American domestic terrorists in Buffalo last week who walked in to a supermarket with a gun to kill blacks and prevent blacks from replacing whites.  Fascism is similar the world over.

It seems strange that so often for fascists, a fundamental problem for them were the Jews and blacks Jews rattle the fascist cage and paid a heavy price for that in so many fascist states.

 

Timothy Snyder described the situation with Prokhanov this way:

“The fundamental problem, said Prokhanov in this interview (with the Izborsk) was the Jews.  “Antisemitism,” he said, is not a result of the fact that Jews have crooked noses or cannot correctly pronounce the letter ‘r.’ It is a result of the fact that Jews took over the world, and are using their power for evil.”  In a move that was typical of Russian fascists, Prokhanov deployed the symbolism of the Holocaust to describe world Jewry as a collective perpetrator and everyone else as the victims: “Jews, united humanity in order to throw humanity into the furnace of the liberal order, which is now a catastrophe.” The only defense against the international Jewish conspiracy was a Russian redeemer. Eurasianism was Russia’s messianic mission to redeem mankind. It “has to encompass the entire world.”

 

Prokhanov thought this would happen when Russia, Ukraine and Belarus merge. That is exactly Putin’s goal.  That is what he meant by Eurasia and Prokhanov acknowledged that Putin had declared this.

And of course, Putin saw himself as the Russian redeemer against the perversions of the west. And like so many redeemers, he brought ruin,  not paradise. Just like the young killer in Buffalo. And so many others.

 

Why does the American right love Putin?

 

You may have noticed something astonishing recently—the love that some American conservatives have for bullies and tyrants. What is that all about?

A poll that came out right after the Russians invaded Ukraine showed that 1 in 4 Republicans blamed Joe Biden and not Putin for the war. Because their  statements  are so appealing to them, the Russians are using statements by Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson on their televisions with Russian subtitles.  Trump and Carlson are producing Russian propaganda! The Russians have already used actual statements by Trump and Carlson as part of their propaganda machinery. That is how enthralled some American right-wingers are with Putin. He is their kind of strongman. They envy him! I know not all conservatives can be tarred with the same brush. Many of them have spoken out loudly against Putin, but when the two most influential conservatives in America agree on their approval of Putin we must take notice!

Steve Schmidt, a former Republican strategist  who lost all confidence with that party after it elected Donald Trump said Trump had “a fetish for autocracy”.  Tucker Carlson seems to share those views.

 Former Trump has consistently acted like a tin-pot dictator and no one should be surprised. While he was president, he frequently made it clear that he admired dictators such Vladimir Putin of Russia, Xi Jinping of China, Rodrigo Roa Duterte of the Philippines, and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Trump admires strongmen.  He admires bullies and that is the mark of an authoritarian or even a fascist. While he was president, he also tried to twist the arms of Ukrainian political leaders by withholding aid payments to that country in order to dig up dirt on his political rival (at the time) Joe Biden. He also used the Department of Justice as his personal law firm against all protocols, and has done much else to make it clear to anyone who pays attention that he is an authoritarian at heart.

Then after Russia invaded Ukraine on flimsy justifications that Russia was there to save Ukrainians from a neofascist government, Donald Trump, like a true New York real estate mogul, told the world what he really thought of Putin. He said,

“Putin’s smart.  I mean he’s taking over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that is pretty smart. Listen, he’s taking over a country; really  a vast, vast location and a great piece of land with a lot of people and just walking right in.”

 

In other words, Trump was jealous of the great real estate deal Putin made by invading Ukraine. Never mind the 44 million Ukrainians who had their government taken away from them. This is the bizarro world of Trumplandia. As the journalist Julia Ioffe said about Putin and his cronies: “They take a little bit of truth and spin it into a cotton candy ball of lies.”

Bill Maher said as early as 2018, “We thought Russia would become more like us, but we have become more like the Russians.”

What really concerns me, about this issue is the 55 million Americans who voted for Donald Trump, though his popularity seems to be waning, he is a still a force to be reckoned with. So is Carlson.

Reporter Lulu Garcia-Navrro of the New York Times said, this,

 “There was just a poll. out showing that Putin was more popular among Republicans than any senior Democratic leader, including the American president.”

 

Bill Maher and others have for some time been commenting on the attraction of the American right to Putin.  In the case of Trump this was near man crush. It is really surprising what has happened. A sea change has occurred. The Republican party used to be so anti-Russia that they were nearly rabid on the subject. Ronald Reagan became Saint Ronald by defeating the Ruskies economically and calling on Mr. Gorbachev to “bring down that wall.” It didn’t happen but Reagan became a hero on the right.  George Bush attacked the evil empire and the axis of evil. Yet for some reason the Republicans have flipped on Russia. Why is that?

Anne Coulter in June 2017 said: “In 20 years, Russia will be the only country that is recognizably European.”  What was she getting at there? I think she was getting at appearance. Matt Drudge in 2013 said “Putin is the leader of the free world.” The free world? White Supremacist, David Duke in 2004 called Russia “the key to white survival.”  There is a big hint there.

All of us have noticed how the world has become a lot more diverse. London used to be completely white. When I was in London in 2017 I was struck by what a a wonderful diverse city it was. I was pleasantly surprised by this. But some people don’t like diversity. We must acknowledge that. Some people think the white people are being replaced.  They are being displaced from their positions of dominance. And that scares a lot of people.  I have talked to people like that.

Russia has resisted diversity. They don’t want diversity and make no bones about it. Gays and lesbians also have a difficult time there. Putin has made it clear that they are not welcome in Russia. He does this openly. But not only Putin, many of the Russian people are  like this.   They are attracted to what Yale Historian Timothy Snyder has called “Christian fascism of Putin” that does not tolerate diversity. To them holy Russia has no room for diversity.  They don’t want gays, lesbians, or blacks.

As Maher said, “Republicans don’t see Russian meddling in our election as bad thing. They see it as white people helping white people. To the people who are afraid of a diverse world, Russia is their savior country. ”

That is exactly what fascism is all about.  Keep the inferiors out so we can dominate the country. This attraction of American conservatives to Putin and his cohorts betrays their allegiance to fascism. Like the Nazis before them, they want white supremacy. Actually, I think it goes beyond white supremacy but that is a big part of what some of them like about Putin. In future post I will say what I mean.

 

Compassion for the Vulnerable

 

To Brother Cornel West the concept of Hesed is central. I had never heard of Hesed before I heard him talk about it. I guess that shows profound ignorance. In the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, if you like, when God appeared to Moses to give the Law a second time, he said that he was  “abounding in” or “filled with” Hesed, which is translated  as “love and faithfulness,” “unfailing love,” “faithful love,” “steadfast love,” and “loyal love,” depending on which version of the Bible that you read. The relevant passage is (Exodus 34:6–7). The idea is that of a love that is loyal within a group. West emphasizes, as did American Philosopher Walter Kaufman, the idea of compassion for the vulnerable that is so important in the Hebrew Bible. Once more, that is the essence of religion. I believe that it is the essence of the religious quest in the modern world.

Cornel West says that the greatest play on the American Empire is Eugene O’Neil’s The Iceman Cometh. The plays deals with the idea, what does it profit a nation to gain the whole world and lose its soul?

The western tradition is important, but it is also limited.  The western tradition had no room for indigenous people of Africa or the Americas.  I went through 7 years of university without paying any attention to any part of the indigenous culture other than the western culture. That is what I thought culture was all about. I, like so many others was completely western centric. The western tradition was all that mattered. I did not see vulnerable.

Now we know better. Even I know better. We need African culture and tradition. We need indigenous culture and tradition from the Americas, and from everywhere! Anything less is shabby. We need to learn from the oppressed. If we get all our ideas from the dominant culture we are badly served.

Walter Isaacson when he interviewed West on PBS’s Amanpour & Co asked West  how these others could be added to the western tradition? How do they become a part of it?  West’s answer was very interesting.  He said the way to be part of it is to challenge it. We must challenge the dominant culture to learn from those that were oppressed by it. That is the start.

That is something that modern conservatives don’t want to do. For example, they worry about critical race theory which is used to challenge white supremacy. They don’t like it when their dominant culture is challenged. They don’t want their children to be challenged. They don’t want their children to be disturbed. But that is what you must do to wake up and see more than your own privilege. The point is not to make white children feel guilty. That serves no purpose.  The point is to make them see.

Hesed means to be concerned about and have love for others. To do that you must first see them. If you don’t notice them you won’t care. So you can’t be scared to look and look without blinkers or rose coloured glasses.

 

The Final Dark Truth

 

In his novel Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad tried to show us what he thought was a dark truth. It is not just a truth about European society, he showed it was a truth about all of us. You and I too.

Bu how can a person face this horrifying darkness?  Marlow has some advice. Clearly pious phrases are not the answer. Nor noble truths.

“Let the fool gape and shudder—the man knows, and can look without a wink. But he must at least be as much of man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true self—with his own inborn strength. Principles won’t do. Acquisitions, clothes, pretty rags,–rags that would fly off at the first good shake. No; you want a deliberate belief.”

 

You need deep inner strength to face such horror. It takes strength of character and courage. It reminds me of the person Leslie Fiedler, an American literary critic described in his bookLove and Death in the American Novel—the person who had the courage to go the end of the dark cave with a torch to see the tragic.  Fiedler like Conrad, realized that “The final horrors, as the modern society has come to realize, are neither gods nor demons, but intimate aspects of our own minds,” Fiedler said in his book.  We are the final horror! What an awful truth to face.

Fiedler saw this as the final consequence of the age of reason. I disagree. I think it is the final consequence of the abandonment of reason. Racism, white privilege and exploitation on an insane scale,  were the result of reason being forsaken in favour monstrous desires. The age of reason Fielder said, dissolved in sentimentalism, “in a debauch of tearfulness; sensibility, seduction, and suicide.”  Fiedler noted how the French philosopher Diderot wrote about Richardson the author of that classic novel, Clarissa: “It is he who carries the torch to the back of the cave… He blows upon the glorious phantom who presents himself at the entrance to the cave; and the hideous Moor whom he was masking reveals himself.”  Surely, “the hideous Moor” is a striking symbol of the demonic in ourselves, which the Enlightenment inadvertently discovered in its quest for light.”  Not that dissimilar from Kurtz who found that demon in his pursuit of noble ideals in the deepest jungle of Africa. We have created that image of the hideous Moor.  He is not real except in our own minds.

 The racial component here is not accidental either. The hideous Moor is, of course, black. He is at the heart of darkness. It is the black Moor that we fear the most and will do anything to stamp out. But that Moor is Us! He is the product of our original sin!

Kurtz found that demon when he looked at those shrunken shriveled heads on poles.  Heads that showed shrunken dry lips showing a narrow white line of teeth grinning horribly and “continuously at some endless and jocose dream of that eternal slumber.”  Those heads “only showed that Mr. Kurtz lacked restraint in the gratification of his various lusts.”

From that came the understanding only at the last that “the wilderness had found him out early and had taken him on a terrible vengeance for the fantastic invasion. I think it whispered to him things which he had no conception till he took counsel with this great solitude—and the whisper had proved irresistibly fascinating.”

As I said earlier, the horrors perpetrated by Kurtz in the jungle were never described by Marlow. That was because he did not know what they were. He just knew that they would be even worse than the heads on spikes. Marlow had the feeling that

“such details would be more intolerable than those heads drying on the stakes under Mr. Kurtz’s window.  After all, that was only a savage sight, while I seemed at one bound to have been transported into some lightless region of subtle horrors, where pure, uncomplicated savagery was a positive relief.”

 

The heart of darkness within the human mind was much, much worse. That was what Marlow could not bear.  He could not carry the torch into the back of the cave and confront that horror, as Kurtz had done. He did not want to know. He did not want to know the truth about himself. Do we want to know truth either?

 

Heroic Vigilantes

At the time I am writing this blog I don’t know if Kyle Rittenhouse has been found guilty of any the charges against him. I suspect he will be acquitted.  The reason is that self-defense in the US is a pretty robust defence. Added to that, the United States has a rich history of vigilantism, particularly on the border with Mexico, but really everywhere. This is particularly true where white vigilantes are defending the country against non-white threats. Vigilantes are part of American mythology. The country was built on this and frankly I think it is baked into the American DNA. As a result, I will be shocked if Rittenhouse is convicted.

If he is acquitted, I think many Americans, particularly on the right, will immediately make Rittenhouse out to be a hero. I think that would be a bigly mistake. Rittenhouse is no hero. David French wrote a fine essay on the subject in The Atlantic.  He pointed out that “For millions he’s become a positive symbol, a young man of action who stepped up when the police (allegedly) stepped aside.” This is precisely the point.  Millions of Americans don’t trust authority.  The pandemic should have by now made that clear to pretty well everybody.

In America there is a strong distrust of government and pretty well everyone in authority except a few perceived renegades, like the previous president. That distrust is the essence of vigilantism and anti-vaccism. Vigilantes are only needed because we can’t trust the authorities to do the right thing and protect us from harm. That is exactly why millions refused to get vaccinated. They refuse because the authorities tell us that is what we should do. For millions of people no more needs to be said to persuade us not to be vaccinated.

A willingness to dissent from authority can be charming. I often endorse exactly that myself. But as I have said before, it is charming only if the dissent is rational. It must be grounded on good reasons and evidence, not your uncle Ernie’s research on the internet.

Personally, I agree with French that “the Trumpist right is wrongly creating a folk hero out of Rittenhouse.” That does not mean he should be convicted.  I have been trying to follow the case in the newspapers and online. Frankly, I find the evidence mixed. There is significant evidence that Rittenhouse was asking for trouble. He went to Kenosha carrying an AR-15 style automatic rifle to defend American businesses from left wing rioters. So he thought. Then in defence of those businesses he was chased by at least 3 and maybe 4 protesters (or rioters if you like) one of whom had a gun and one of whom assaulted him with a skateboard. He may have legitimately feared for his life even though he had been immensely foolish to go to a riot (as he perceived it, not entirely without justification) with a rifle and basically without being trained to do so.

There are many cases of Americans doing very foolish and even dangerous things and getting shot at as a result, who nonetheless had a reasonable case for claiming self-defence. Remember the police officers who barged into the home of Breanna Taylor without knocking and unsurprisingly were met with gunfire in return from the occupant of her house?  The police fired back and were successful with their claim of self-defence to a murder charge even though they killed her boyfriend in his home. The police initiated the entire incident and were in my opinion entirely at fault, yet they were acquitted.

 

I think the same thing might happen to Rittenhouse. He was white and shot at 4 white men not a black man, so he will have a harder time making the defence work, but it certainly could. Added to that, he was defending white citizens from a perceived black mob. I don’t think he was justified in going to the city with a gun, but I think that defence might work. The American mythology might save him.

None of this makes Rittenhouse hero material. In much of white America though a young man carrying an automatic rifle to defend whites is automatically hero material. As French said,

“Most of the right-wing leaders voicing their admiration for Rittenhouse are simply adopting a pose. On Twitter, talk radio, and Fox News, hosts and right-wing personalities express admiration for Rittenhouse but know he was being foolish. They would never hand a rifle to their own children and tell them to walk into a riot. They would never do it themselves.”

 

That will not stop them from broadcasting their hypocritical support for Kyle Rittenhouse. And if Rittenhouse is made into an American folk hero, as I expect he will be, this will be a dangerous precedent for the next foolish young white man who steps into the next fray to defend his country from the perceived ravages of the next black militant.

As French explained,

“But these public poses still matter. When you turn a foolish young man into a hero, you’ll see more foolish young men try to emulate his example. And although the state should not permit rioters to run rampant in America’s streets, random groups of armed Americans are utterly incapable of imposing order themselves, and any effort to do so can lead to greater death and carnage. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in Rittenhouse’s case. He didn’t impose order. He didn’t stop a riot. He left a trail of bodies on the ground, and two of the people he shot were acting on the belief that Rittenhouse himself was an active shooter. He had, after all, just killed a man.”

Americans who encourage young white men to become vigilantes will have a lot on their conscience when the next young man, whether a white vigilante, or a black victim of vigilantism, is killed.

As French said,

“If the jury acquits Rittenhouse, it will not be a miscarriage of justice. The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”

 

I am very interested to see what justice comes out of this trial. it will tell us a lot about that country.  I fear the “justice” will be a pretty thin and toxic gruel. After all, vigilantes are rarely heroes.

Facing the Uncomfortable Truth

 

Whenever I want to learn something important about race I turn to James Baldwin or Toni Morrison.  James Baldwin said this among, his many significant pronouncements about race:  “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.

 

In the US and Canada conservatives are doing to the best they can to help their followers avoid looking at the truth. In the US they do this in many ways, including their opposition to any criticism of their beloved country by people of color. For example, they have launched a concerted campaign against something they refer to as “critical race theory.”  That is nothing else than a technique that permits interested people to look behind the facades and  myths surrounding race. That can reveal some ugly truths that people in power–in the comfortable pews–don’t want revealed. Such people also do it by decrying what they feel is a negative view of their country promulgated by the New York Times 1609 project which again attempted to look at slavery in particular and race in general based on actual history, and not just the comfortable legends of white supremacy.

In Canada conservatives, among others, try to avoid looking at the truth by curtailing any criticism of people considered by them to be sacred, as evidenced by monuments around the country. The sacred include John A. MacDonald, Queen Victoria, and Queen Elizabeth. By definition, conservatives like things the way they are. Many of them are people of privilege who have benefited from the status quo.

 

Recently, in Manitoba, Conservative Premier Brian Pallister, fell into this trap when we ignored the sins of European settlers and concentrated instead solely on their ability to “build.” Here is what he said,

“The people who came to this country, before it was a country and since, didn’t come here to destroy anything. They came to build. They came to build better. To build, they did. They built farms, and they built businesses. They built communities, and churches too. And they built these things for themselves, and for one another, and they built them with dedication and with pride.”

 

Later the Premier claimed that he was complementing both settlers and indigenous people, but I don’t see that in his statement.  It might have been in his imagination.  When he later “apologized” for his statement, he did so in a clumsy fashion. He said, at a news conference he called, “I feel awful about the reaction and the misunderstanding I created with my comments.” He never admitted his statements were wrong because of what they ignored.  Pallister did not catch on that people did not think they misunderstood him. They heard him and were insulted at his casual dismissal of the offences committed by the settlers and only saw what they had built without paying attention to what they destroyed. Pallister was blinded by his own privilege in failing to understand this.

His statements made in the context of current discussions of the horrific abuse at Canada’s Indian Residential Schools is a sad reflection of white ignorance about their own white supremacy and privilege which for more than a century in Canada has given them a pass. They have been blinded to their own privilege.  Their current conservative supporters want to continue that pass. They want to ignore the truth.

Truth can set you free, but ignoring it, as Baldwin said, can turn you into a monster without you realizing it.

 

The Blindness of Privilege

 

Recently a person I know, the daughter of a friend of mine, said that she just could not understand “Indians.”  Why didn’t they just get over it? Why didn’t they forget about past wrongs? She said, “If our family could get over being cheated by a scam artist and robbed of hundreds of thousands of dollars, why can’t they get over residential schools?” I did not hear this first hand, so unfortunately I did not have an opportunity  to challenge her statements.

First of all, I know a little bit about the losses of my friend’s family. They lost a lot of money.  No one would like to lose all that money.  But the fact is that they were still left with lots of money after it happened. The family is still wealthy. They are just a little less wealthy than they could have been and or should have been.

This is actually a common attitude among white people. I have heard similar statements many times.

Frankly, though my white friends are much better off than most indigenous families. None of them were taken away from their homes and made to live in shabby schools with predatory teachers and religious scoundrels while they ate poorly, spent half of each day working literally like slaves, and all the while were taught that their parents were worthless, their culture was worthless, and they were worthless. Then the children that survived (and thousands did not!) were robbed of the opportunity to learn how to take care of children, which they could have learned from their parents. Instead, they were dumped in schools where no one wanted to teach them things like that, they wanted to teach them religion and the benefits of the white ways. Many of those children were then physically, mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused. They grew up thinking that they and their families and their race were all worthless. This happened for generations and the effects have cascaded through the generations. Then as adults these former children were subjected to pervasive systemic racism. The trauma of losing some money hardly compares.

Who do you think was better off? Who should get over it? I think these children of wealthy whites should get over it. They should get over their privilege. They don’t even see their own privilege.  And they don’t even see the gross exploitation of others. There is nothing more blind than privilege. And nothing more ignorant. There is nothing so hard to see as one’s own privilege, because it seems so natural and right.

Good Intentions?

 

This week (May 2021)  the southern B.C. First Nation of Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc near Kamloops B.C. announced that the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of what used to be the site of Canada’s largest residential school. The school was closed in 1969 the year I attended first and second year university at the University of Manitoba. I just want to put this into context for me. I don’t think I am that old and this was not that long ago.

What I want to emphasize right now is that these were children taken from their homes to be “educated.”  We Canadians often think of ourselves as a kinder gentler version of our more powerful neighbours to the south. Many of us think that we took these children from their homes and into these schools to be educated for their own good. Sometimes white people say that we sent indigenous children to residential schools for good reasons. We had good intentions we say and sometimes even believe. We wanted them to get a good education. We wanted them to become like us because we were better than them. Assimilation we called it. White supremacy was what it was all about.

 

Children shouldn’t often die in schools should they? My wife Christiane had a very wise question for me when we heard this news. When we now learn that this Indian residential school had 215 bodies of children buried outside it, what possible explanation is consistent with a good intention? I could not think of one. Can you? Those who think our intentions are good must answer that.