“Innocent” White People Are Also Complicit in the Anti-Black Murders in Buffalo

Pundits and politicos are busy running their mouths full-time in the wake of Saturday’s white supremacist attack in Buffalo. They say such hate crimes must stop, warn us about domestic terrorism, and raise the issue of gun control restrictions.

Yet, in this stew of mainstream commentary, politicking, and anti-Black racism are still being discussed, I find it hard to believe that anything is being done to end it. The weight of all the suffering makes me want to. ScreamTo beg for all the cruelty I continue to witness in the United States and around the world.

My heart aches for answers. It is a question that must be painfully felt by the loved ones of those 10 Black precious souls who died in Buffalo while shopping at Tops.

But they and I mustKeep fighting for the safety of those whose life was taken from them violently. They would love us to.

In this moment my outrage and anger are overflowing specifically about the history of anti-Black racism — the white terrorism of Jim Crow segregation, white plantation dehumanization, the transatlantic slave trade, and the reality that the U.S. never meant for me to have rights that white people were bound to respect. W.E.B. was a civil rights activist and writer. Du Bois said, “Chin up, and fight on but realize the American Negroes can’t win.”

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Du Bois’s warning resonates with what I feel right now within the core of my soul: As Black people, we can protest, we can fight, we can help to bring about judicial reform, we can help elect the U.S.’s first Black president, but still Black people in the U.S. can’t win.

I can hear the naysayers. “He is a pessimist.” “He’s a prisoner of cynicism.” “He makes light of Black progress.” “He is a race baiter.” “He betrays what Black people have fought and died for.” “Black people are doing better than ever.” “Hell, what’s his problem? He has made it.”

Well, I’m prepared for the backlash. It’s what I feel and it sounds like. I respond with the painful truth of the reality.

A murderer (whose identity I refuse to reveal) arrived in Buffalo specifically to murder Black people. He was dressed in body armor, with a semiautomatic rifle and a shotgun, and livestreamed the murders via Twitch using a helmet camera. The N-word was written on the weapon used to murder the loved ones of all the Black families who are now grieving and in anguish, likely haunted both by the images of their loved ones’ deaths and simultaneously by the memory of historic photographs taken by white people of lynched Black bodies.

Mass shootings leave everyone with the terrible feeling of not being able to say a final goodbye, or even say any last words. In this instance, the loved ones lost were just going to the shop, a public space where people gather and where people are vulnerable. It was a typical day. The survivors must now be thinking of all the words they didn’t (and now can’t) say to their loving friends, relatives, your mother, your father, your children: “I love you.” “Forgive me for being upset with you.” “I’m sorry that I didn’t call you the other day.”

But given the reality of the horror of anti-Black racism in this case, the horror didn’t even end there. This shocking news was given a new meaning. It is a story that makes the pain more personal and historical. An 18-year-old white supremacist, cold, calculating, willful, remorseless, hate-filled, murdered his loved ones. This is the stuff that makes you scream, the expression of white power.

After writing my latest Truthout Robin D.G., historian, wrote an article about why the state of the planet makes me want to scream. Kelley and me had a conversation about anti Black racism, rage and hope, which I ended with the following observation.

Ridding ourselves of hope doesn’t mean that we are morose; rather, it gestures toward the relinquishment of all cooperation with tomorrow’s promise, one that has proven repeatedly that there is only Black death that awaits us there. My goal is not to advocate a certain form of nihilism but to question the ethics of hope in the face an anti-Black world determined to destroy us.

That piece was published on May 5 — just 10 days ago. What I wrote was not prophetic. It is just that sense of realism that refuses to forget; it is that deep understanding that what we’ve just witnessed in Buffalo is not new and does not signal anything inaugural about the reality of anti-Black racism.

It doesn’t take a white racist 18-year-old coward to write a 180-page manifesto to convince me that I was never wanted in a country apart from my enslavement and instrumental use toward the fulfillment of white racist capitalism. The white killer, allegedly traveling for over three hours, hell-bent on killing Black people, didn’t need to write the N-word on his weapon of Black mass destruction. I already know that I am perceived as a “n*****” in this country. This is why he didn’t write it on his rifle barrel. It doesn’t teach me anything new about the doctrine of white replacement theory. The theory is predicated not just on white fear or hatred of Black people or the non-white “other,” but, more importantly, it is predicated upon the ideal of white “purity.” It is based upon the preservation of whiteness as “sacred,” “superior” and “destined” to rule the world.

Let’s be clear, white privilege, that sense of racial A white investment in whiteness is a benefit that white Americans have and are born with. White privilege involves the obsessive and fanatic preservation of whiteness against all things Black — which are deemed “evil,” “sinister,” “dirty,” “immoral,” “uncivilized.” Hence, where the doctrine of white replacement theory ends and a white person’s investment in white privilege begins is not so clear. This does not mean that white privilege is not possible. All white people are card-carrying white supremacists who will carry out such horrendous acts of anti-Black violence that we’ve just witnessed. This claim is absurd. However, it would be absurd to assume that white antiblack racism is a rare and unusual phenomenon.

Anti-Black racism is characterized by being Black and unarmed, while being gunned down and killed by white police officers. It is not uncommon in our society.

Anti-Black racism takes hundreds of forms which exist on a spectrum that includes everything from the slurs uttered by those who supported former President Donald Trump’s claim about “shithole” countries to the microagressions-disguised-as-compliments uttered by white liberals who describe Black people as “articulate” as if this is an anomaly for a Black person.

White people who choose to live in monochromatic white neighborhoods are expressing anti-Black racism. Anti-Black racism manifests itself in making it harder for Black people vote.

Anti-Black racism also includes white people calling the police on innocent Black citizens using their white power. Anti-Black racism is when white people don’t see their own privilege as a source of their whiteness.

White people can be enthusiastically supportive of liberal multiculturalism and still maintain white power. This can lead to anti-Black racism. Such white liberal perfunctory “wokeness” is an instance of anti-Black racism.

Anti-Black racism is the act of being white in predominantly white academic spaces. After all, the whiteness of the space secures the white student’s identity, the curricular materials underwrite their white importance, and the white professors engage in insidious forms of white pedagogical modeling, reflecting what the student can become.

What’s my point? I want to be sure that the quotidian whiteness operations are not left out of the discussion. This is because we will soon be inundated by narrow narratives about how terrible white supremacy or domestic terrorism is. We will be told just how “troubled” the young white man was.

Already President Joe Biden described the killing in Buffalo in terms of a “racially motivated act of white supremacy.”

He also made it clear that as a nation we need to “address the hate that remains a stain on the soul of America.”

But I would argue that the stain on America’s soul is the stain o whiteness. This is the kind that shows itself in both non-hateful and overt forms.

This is not a point to be taken literally Demonizewhite people. This is what this white nation has done to Blacks, Indigenous peoples, as well as other people of color. My point is that, even if the most extreme forms of white supremacy ended tomorrow, whiteness would still be a structure of privilege and power. Hatred is not a requirement to maintain whiteness as antiblackness.

I’m not only concerned about the “radicalization” of white people that occurs within xenophobic social media echo chambers. I’m also concerned about much more quotidian and ubiquitous white racist echo chambers — the ones that exist within white homes, white places of worship, predominantly white dorms, predominantly white schools, and within the context of white family dinner conversations. Whiteness can be toxic in everyday settings where white people live together, love one another, and discuss the events of each day.

This is an example of how white racism can be so toxic and mundane. A white colleague at one university suggested to me that white children who were racially prejudiced had had white racism crammed down into their throats in the form of direct and didactic racist instruction. This was years ago.

My suspicion is that my white colleague wanted me to believe that young white children were blank slates and that they later would be inculcated with racism and hate. The book is a profoundly insightful read. The First R: How Children Learn Race And RacismJoe Feagin and Debra Van Ausdale, scholars, gave me an example of a 3-year old white girl, Carla, who was told to sleep next to a 4-year old Black girl at a daycare center. After being told this, Carla said that she did not want to “sleep next to a N*****.” When asked why by the teachers, she said, “N****** are stinky. I can’t sleep next to one.”

After I explained the situation, the same white colleague insisted it must have happened in 1960s. She was shocked to hear that this happened in a study from the mid-to-late 90s. It is clear that this 3-year-old child of color was not raised to believe such vitriol and racist nonsense. Moreover, she clearly didn’t spend hours absorbing white supremacist social media on the internet. Yet, there she was, fully knowledgeable of anti-Black racist discourse, along with a distinct white affective sense of anti-Black racism, using the N-word against an innocent Black child who, according to white racist beliefs, “smelled.”

Carla’s words were racially motivated, but I would be hard pressed to refer to her as a white supremacist. However, she does understand her own whiteness and just how “clean,” and valuable it is, and how it might be “sullied” when in close proximity to Black bodies. Carla learned anti-Black racism lessons from where? I would like to see more of her loving white home.

The onslaught against critical racism theory; the refusal of identifying, call out, and name white privilege; and policing a robust understanding and policing of the history and formation of white racism in the U.S., the white racist stain that remains on the souls of the U.S. will never be removed. Each day will bring more Carlas into the world. White children and adults will discover the lies behind what it means being white.

That lie involves zero-sum logics, that there are non-white “others” out there whose sole purpose is to take stuff that “naturally” belongs to white people. White people, according to this logic, are the “winners,” the “virtuous” ones, the “finest” and the “fittest” in all of God’s creation. The lesson is to not look too far. Whiteness-as-anti-Blackness is right there — perhaps sitting in class with you, perhaps sitting in church with you, perhaps on the same committee with you.

Why is this warning? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already claimed that the views written in the white shooter’s manifesto are consistent with the right wing’s “philosophy in our country.” This is my worry. It is important to remember that whiteness, as an institution of power, exists on the right and in the middle. Naming the U.S. a Herrenvolk (“master-race”) democracy, political theorist Joel Olson, in The Abolition White Democracy, writes, “The white citizen is one who enjoys the status and privilege of a racial polity. This is the political challenge. We must eliminate these benefits in favor of more democratic forms and citizenship. The consequence of doing so, I maintain, would be the dissolution of white democracy.”

Hence, it is ordinary, “innocent” white citizens who need to rethink their whiteness and how it is complicit with structural anti-Blackness. To avoid locating anti-Blackness at the very heart of the U.S. white polity leads, as Olson argues, to a narrow emphasis on “hate rather than systemic racial oppression, prejudice rather than privilege, pathology rather than discrimination.”

Hence when President Biden refers to these overt anti-Black killings as “abhorrent to the very fabric of this nation,” he is incorrect. White-perpetrated anti Black murder is all too common, consistent, and inoffensive against the very fabric of this country. We wait and some will scream. The pundits will brag and fret and share their opinions, while more Black people will continue being murdered tomorrow by the anti-Black racism plague.

Whiteness as blood-lusting or boisterous is not the problem. Rather, it is more perniciously whiteness as “innocence” that is the problem. As writer and activist James Baldwin writes, “It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”