On June 21, 2020, the New York Times Sunday edition published a Nonfiction Bestsellers list that was populated almost entirely by books about racism and purported anti-racist activist philosophy. Mainstream media outlets (even Forbes) were exuberant.
Finally, over 525 years after Christopher Columbus began the settler colonial project in North America, 155 years after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, a month after the police murder of George Floyd, and two days after nationwide commemorations of Juneteenth, American booksellers happened upon a miracle!
Dr. Johnny Eric Williams of Trinity College in Hartford, however, would beg to differ. The scholar of white supremacy and anti-Black racism offered a thorough critique of the tomes.
“They don’t focus on the structures of white supremacy. They focus on remediating the individuals,” he said in an interview of the titles by Robin DiAngelo and Ibram X. Kendi. “They focus on getting the individuals to acknowledge that they have a white advantage. That breeds primarily guilt and inaction, the analysis stops there.”
“They also de-center whiteness so the issue becomes white people trying to comfort themselves about their own complicity in white supremacy. But it is not addressing what is going on for everyone else who is impacted by white supremacy, which again breeds inaction.”
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This speaks to liberalism’s basic orientation as an individualist philosophy that absconds a comprehension of structural forces which shape our society and its political economy. Further, the deference to the beatific alchemy of “the market” in solution of all humanity’s malfeasances is not subliminal.
By contrast, Dr. Williams suggests writings by authors like Canadian Rinaldo Walcott, Christina Sharpe, Michelle Alexander, Frantz Fanon, Joe Feagin, and Paul Kievel.
One strange offshoot of this conversation has been the obscene proposition that Black people can be racist. Dr. Williams describes this phenomenon instead in terms of colonized thinking. “People need to think in terms of systems in which we are born into which we are then integrated into via socialization. We accept what we are taught by our parents and our peers and so forth,” he says. “In our society we are born into hetero-patriarchal white supremacy capitalist society and everybody takes it as normative until someone asks ‘Why does it need to be this way?'” I refrenced Roy Cohn, a closeted homosexual Jewish man who died of HIV/AIDS after spending decades serving the most reactionary, homophobic, and antisemitic forces within the neoconservative project. “You internalize this as a kid and you are immersed in it consistently. Transphobia, homophobia, all this stuff gets internalized. And so when you see people who don’t go along with those ideas, you see them as the Other and act this out. You can enact it systemically in terms of power, if he has power, anyone in heteronormative society can enact it in terms of policies, so they can reinforce that they have inside about themselves and direct it toward other people.” In this sense, Dr. Williams describes the expression of this sort of animus as a deeply personal emotional impulse.
“It’s a lot of tokenist reforms that are being offered in order to address the problems right away and alleviate liberals because liberals fundamentally believe that the only thing that is wrong with the way our society is organized is that things need to be tweaked so people can be more included in the heinous process of racial capitalism.”
“Fundamentally the United States is racist to its core and the country needs to be broken down so we can rise from the ashes to be a more beloved community.”