It was all too predictable that Attorney General Eric Holder would be attacked for his recent remarks about race in America. To suggest that the nation is still haunted by the specter of racism is unacceptable it seems, especially since, with the election of President Obama, we have ostensibly entered the "post-racial" era.
But in truth, the nation's chief law enforcement officer deserves criticism more for what he didn't say than for what he did.
Specifically, Holder blamed personal cowardice for our racial divide, rather than institutionalized inequities, thereby minimizing his own Department's role in solving the problem; and he blamed everyone (and thus no one in particular) for being cowards, thereby letting white Americans--who have always been the ones least willing to engage the subject--off our uniquely large hook.
This combination of power-obliviousness (ignoring discrimination and unequal access to resources, while focusing merely on attitudes) and color-blindness (suggesting that everyone is equally at fault and equivalently unwilling to discuss racism) is a popular lens through which to view these matters. Indeed, the Oscar-winning film "Crash" was based almost entirely on these two tropes. But such a lens distorts our vision, and obscures true understanding of the phenomenon being observed.
The racial divide about which Holder spoke, particularly in terms of the neighborhoods where people live, is not the result of some abstract cowardice to engage one another. Rather, it is about the racist fears of whites, who decades ago began leaving neighborhoods when blacks began to move in. They didn't move because of declining property values, as they often claimed (indeed economic logic dictates that the rapid white exodus, not the black demand for housing, would cause such an outcome), but because of racism.
And in their fears, these whites were assisted by government policy, which subsidized their flight via FHA and VA loans that were all but off limits to people of color. This is how (and why) the suburbs came to be. From the 1940s to the early 60s, over $120 billion in home loans were made to whites, preferentially, thanks to these government efforts, while blacks and other persons of color were excluded from the same. Indeed, about half of all homes purchased by white families during this time were financed thanks to these low-interest loans, while folks of color remained locked in cities, their dwellings and businesses often knocked down to make way for the very interstates that would shuttle their white counterparts to the suburbs where only they could live.
We remain residentially divided today because of the legacy of those apartheid-like policies, as well as ongoing race-based housing discrimination: between 2 million and 3.7 million incidents per year according to private estimates. It is the AG's job to do something about that by enforcing the Fair Housing Act, not pleading for more dialogue. As Elvis once said, albeit about a very different subject, we need "a little less conversation, a little more action, please."
Holder also pulled a punch by issuing his charge of personal cowardice indiscriminately, as if to say that everyone was equally averse to tackling the subject of racism. But people of color have always voiced their concerns about the matter. It is whites who have tended to shut down, to change the subject, or to minimize the problem by telling those who mention it to "get over it already," or by accusing them of "playing the race card."
As exhibit one for this charge, consider the way in which most of white America has reacted to the recent New York Post cartoon, in which police officers gun down a wild ape, meant to represent the author of the stimulus bill; and this, directly opposite a picture of President Obama signing that very piece of legislation. That such an image trades on longstanding racist stereotypes is apparent to most folks of color, and yet, most of white America has yawned through the controversy, or worse, accused blacks enraged by the image of hypersensitivity. Likewise, most whites reacted with unaffected diffidence at the New Year's day videotape from the Oakland subway, in which a white police officer coolly executed a black man by the name of Oscar Grant, despite Grant putting up no resistance, possessing no weapon, and posing no threat to the officer. On message boards in the Bay Area--supposedly filled with progressive types to hear locals tell it--whites regularly expressed more outrage at protesters demanding justice for the Grant family, than at officer Mehserle for committing cold-blooded murder.
Sadly, whites are rarely open to what black and brown folks have to say regarding their ongoing experiences with racist mistreatment. And we are especially reluctant to discuss what that mistreatment means for us as whites: namely that we end up with more and better opportunities as the flipside of discrimination. After all, there is no down without an up, no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise.
It is white denial, as much as anything, which has allowed racial inequity to persist for so long, and it's nothing new. In the early 1960s, even before the passage of modern civil rights laws, two out of three whites said blacks were treated equally, and nearly 90 percent said black kids had equal educational opportunity. Matter of fact, white denial has a longer pedigree than that, reaching back at least as far as the 1860s, when southern slave-owners were literally stunned to see their human property abandon them after the Emancipation Proclamation. After all, to the semi-delusional white mind of the time, they had always treated their slaves "like family."
Until we address our nation's long history of white supremacy, come to terms with the legacy of that history, and confront the reality of ongoing discrimination (even in the "Age of Obama"), whatever dialogue we engage around the subject will only further confuse us, and stifle our efforts to one day emerge from the thick and oppressive fog of racism. For however much audacity may be tethered to the concept of hope, let us be mindful that truth is more audacious still. May we find the courage, some day soon, to tell it.
Sorry for the Inconvenience: Race and the Power of Whiteness (Case Study #399) By Tim Wise
Imagine if you will a 40 year old black male, coming through security at Boston's Logan airport. He's looking a bit younger than his middle-aged self, due in large measure to the clothes he's wearing: a black hoodie, jeans and sneakers. These seem, at least in his mind, to balance out the creases and crevices that occasionally appear on his face, hidden though most of them are beneath his beard. It isn't that he's trying, per se, to look younger. But to feel younger, oh sure, and wardrobe is a far less expensive and pathetic way to accomplish this end than say, botox or a lid lift.
He only has one bag with him, a briefcase, having checked his other luggage at the ticket counter. As the one carry-on makes its way through the x-ray machine, something anomalous strikes the screener's eye.
"Do you mind if we take a look inside your bag?" the young Latina TSA employee asks.
"Of course not," comes the reply. The black traveler thinks to himself, "probably those damned computer cords all jumbled up in there. I really ought to pack those more neatly next time."
He steps to the side, out of the way of the others coming through the line, and watches as the bag screener wipes a tiny cloth all around his briefcase. He knows the drill because he's been through it before, on other flights. Just a random dusting, perhaps for explosive residue, which has been a routine around the country ever since 9/11. Oh well, no biggie, he thinks, not having built any bombs lately, let alone stored them in his briefcase. He knows what's in his bag: a MacBook Pro, a day planner, a cell phone, an asthma inhaler, some pens, an iPod, pictures of his wife and kids, a bunch of business cards he's collected from people, meaning to neatly store them somewhere, but never getting around to it, and then there's...
Oh, this could get interesting, he thinks to himself.
Just as the thought enters his mind, he notices that the screener has unzipped the pocket on the top and front of the briefcase. Her right eyebrow raises a bit, as she stares at a fairly thick wad of cash, denominations as of yet unknown, overflowing a small white envelope inside.
The passenger, it should be understood at this point, is an author, and over the last several days has been on the road for speeches and book signings. During these events, he has sold about 100 copies of his latest work, and what the screener is looking at, though she doesn't know it, are the proceeds of those sales: approximately $1500 give or take.
His mind races, wondering how he can explain such a stash, and whether his explanation--though eminently verifiable and 100% true--will be believed. After all, he's vaguely aware of a study from a few years back, which found that black women were nine times more likely than white women to be stopped and searched for drugs coming through airport security, even though white women were twice as likely to actually have drugs on them. How much more likely might he be, as a black man, carrying this kind of cash, to trigger suspicion?
He begins to sweat a bit, nothing too visible he hopes, as the seconds seem to pass with all the speed of ketchup, flowing hesitantly from its bottle. He stares stoically into space, hoping to seem non-chalant. He's done nothing, but he knows it doesn't matter.
"Where are you heading tonight?" the screener asks, as she motions for her supervisor, an older white male, to come take a look.
"Chicago," the passenger replies, the word catching in his throat, cracking on the "ca" sound, betraying a nervousness that would be hard to miss. Damn, he thinks to himself, why'd my voice have to crack like that? Man, stay cool, stay cool!
He can't hear everything the screener and the older white guy are discussing, but he sees as she opens the pocket so the supervisor can spy the cash. The passenger hears the screener ask, "What do you think?"
Time stands still for what seems like hours. These four words, being asked by a woman of color to her white male boss, in effect, are more loaded with significance than any he has heard that day. They are, though he would rather not consider it, probably more significant than any he has written, and for which he has received the very payment that has, this evening, caused such a distraction.
"What. Do. You. Think?"
It's a simple, benign question, at least to some. But it is being asked of a white man, who has just been shown a bunch of cash--mostly twenties--in the bag of a black man, in a hoodie, traveling from one large urban area to another. That the black man is a fairly well-known author, with four books under his belt, several awards, a publicist and an agent may well mean nothing under the weight of those four words.
Oh, he knows, or at least reasonably assumes, that in the end it will all work out. After all, there are no drugs in the bag, and if he has to, he can always open up the computer, log on to Amazon and show them his books, confirm his identity, and make it alright. And, he remembers, a few people in the past week had paid with personal checks, and even put "Book" in the memo line. Surely that will do it, he thinks. What drug dealer, after all, takes personal checks?
But none of that matters. Even though he feels certain things will be resolved in a favorable manner there is still this moment. This dread. This knowledge that even though he will no doubt be on the flight to Chicago, where he is scheduled to speak in the morning, he will yet have to endure the looks, the suspicion, and perhaps a full body search, in a way that few if any white men would have to experience.
And more, it's the looks he is garnering from other passengers that really sting. They see him, the black man in the hoodie, standing off to the side, the TSA staff looking at his bag, and then at him, with suspicion. What must they be thinking? No, even if it all turns out alright, it won't really all be alright. There will still be this moment, and the ponderousness of what it all means in sociological and psychological terms for everyone involved.
"What. Do. You. Think?"
He swears he hears her ask him the question again, but certainly she didn't. Surely it was but an echo in the chambers of his subconscious mind, repeating the four words that have placed, for at least a few more moments, his fate in the hands of someone who does not know him, but may very well think he does, and therein lies the problem.
What happens next is for you, the reader, to guess. Because what I've just described, though it happened, didn't happen to a black man at Boston's Logan airport last week. It happened, instead to me, minus the dread, the fear or the worry that I might be strip-searched on suspicion of nefarious activity. I knew, quite viscerally, in fact, that it would not go down that way, and indeed it did not, even though my voice did oddly crack when I told of my destination, and even though I was in a hoodie.
The question, "What do you think?" though asked by the screener was met rather quickly with a glance my way from the older white man, one final glance at the cash, and then the words, "It's nothing, you can give him back his bag."
The screener did as she was told, handed me back my property and said--and here is where things get especially weighty--"Sorry for the inconvenience."
"What do You Think?"
We think we are sorry for making you stand there, for all of three minutes.
We think we are sorry for even momentarily suspecting you of anything.
We think we are sorry for getting you confused--if only for a moment--with a black man.
We are sorry. For the. Inconvenience.
"No inconvenience," I replied. "You're just doing your job, as you should," I continued, wanting to make sure that this woman of color never would shrink from possible suspicion just because the bag in her hand belonged to a white man like me. She had done nothing wrong, and I had suffered no injury.
Because I was white.
Not only did my whiteness, in all probability allow me to escape unsearched and uninterrogated by the white male supervisor, it also meant that no one witnessing the exchange would likely read much into it. As such, the psychological burden of standing there, with many an eye on me, was virtually negligble. Sort of like when I get pulled out of line and "wanded" by security, as one of their random searches that any frequent traveler has experienced at some point. For me, the psychic cost of the process is so minimal as to be nonexistent, unlike the way it must feel, for instance, to my Arab, South Asian, North African, or Persian brothers and sisters right about now.
But whiteness also did something else for me that night, and it is something I lament even more than the rest, because it is something over which I could have taken control and used in a productive fashion, and yet failed to do so. See, even though I made the comment to the young Latina screener, letting her know it was all good, and confirming that she should be every bit as suspicious about white men as anyone else, when I turned to head to my gate and passed the white man who had issued my free pass that night, I was rendered mute, turned into a silent collaborator with the process by which white privilege is dispensed. Rather than express to him my gratitude for having been looked at, initially, just as oddly as a man of color likely would have been--in other words, rather than challenging his apparent presumption that suspecting me would have been silly--I said nothing, allowing him, in all likelihood to think nothing of the incident, and to never have to rethink his own assumptions, or perhaps develop the same kind of alertness that his younger, darker colleague had evinced that night. It was one thing to validate the underling, but it would have been quite another--and more important thing--to have challenged the boss.
Opportunity missed, I boarded my plane, vowing not to miss it again, were such a situation to present itself a second time. The plane lifted off, headed to O'Hare, with me still in search of this post-racial America I keep hearing about. For wherever that place is, one can rest assured that Boston's Logan airport lies well outside of its newly-drawn borders. And in that, it is not alone.
Tim Wise is the author of four books. His latest, "Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama," was released in January 2009 by City Lights Books. He can be reached at email@example.com
Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, now available!
Anti-Racist Essayist and Activist, Tim Wise, announces the release of his fourth book.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Barack Obama's presidential victory means we "can put to rest the myth of racism as a barrier to achievement in this splendid country."
According to columnist Richard Cohen, Obama as President signifies that America is a "post-racial" nation, and that "we have overcome" the vestiges of racism and discrimination.
And according to the Atlantic Monthly, Obama's ascent to the White House may well signify, "The End of White America," or at least the extent to which whiteness remains a privileged "norm."
Yet, beneath the proclamations of achieved color-blindness and race-neutral ecumenism, the evidence of racism in employment, education, housing, health care and the justice system remains substantial. And white racial attitudes--not about Obama and those who, like him, "transcend race," but rather about the bulk of black and brown folks in the nation--continue to indicate substantial white racism at the personal level as well.
In Between Barack and a Hard Place: Racism and White Denial in the Age of Obama, author and activist, Tim Wise, explores what Obama's success means, and importantly what it doesn't mean for race and racism in the United States. Contrary to popular perception, Obama's victory says little about racism as a larger institutional phenomenon, and may well make the fight against racism more difficult than ever, by reinforcing longstanding white denial, reinforcing the myth of meritocracy that has long served as a justification for profound racial disparities, and by creating a new and limiting archetype of acceptable blackness, which although met by those like Obama, would erect higher obstacles than ever in the path of non-Obama-like persons of color.
About the book, actor and human rights activist, Danny Glover says that Wise "provides an insightful and much-needed lens through which we can begin to navigate this current stage in our ongoing quest for a more inclusive definition of who we are as a nation. It's definitely a book for these times."
And Bill Fletcher, long time activist and Executive Editor of BlackCommentator.com says:
"Tim Wise has looked behind the curtain...His book debunks any notion that the United States has entered a post-racial period...With this book, Wise hits the bull's eye."
As we enter the Obama-era, it will be increasingly important to arm ourselves with the factual information and analysis needed to place the quest for racial justice in the forefront of public consciousness. With the media and the talking heads proclaiming that Obama signifies the virtual fulfillment of Dr. King's dream, piercing the veil of denial and deflection will become more difficult, but also more critical than ever. Between Barack and a Hard Place can help to re-claim the race discourse from those who prefer to paper over the ongoing presence of racism as a potent social force.
Get your copy today from City Lights Books (the publisher), Amazon.com, or your local independent bookstore!
Holocaust Denial, American Style By Tim Wise November 26, 2008
Recently, after a presentation to teachers about racial bias in high school curricula, I got into a tiny spat with an instructor who objected to my using the word "holocaust" to describe the process by which nearly 99% of indigenous Americans perished from the 1400s to the present day. He also objected to the use of the term to describe the experience of Africans, forcibly kidnapped and enslaved throughout the hemisphere.
The teacher seemed especially concerned that as a fellow Jew I would suggest that our people had not been the greatest victims in world history, let alone sui generis in our suffering; that I would offer as a possibility the idea that others had also faced mass death, even extermination, and that there was no such thing as "The" Holocaust, but rather, several such events in history, including but not limited to the one perpetrated in the name of Hitlerism, which claimed millions of victims: Jews, Roma, homosexuals, communists and the disabled.
In defense of his position he averred that the definition of holocaust was "a genocidal program carried out with the intent of completely exterminating the target group." This, he insisted, was not what had happened to blacks or Indian folks. The former had been valued as forced labor, thus there had been no campaign of deliberate murder launched against them, and the latter had died mostly from disease (coincidentally one presumes). As such, the homicidal intentionality that motivated the Nazis could not be ascribed equally to the colonists, or the slavers of the West, and the term "holocaust" simply didn't apply.
There is much that could be said here, and I managed to say most of it at the time, concerned as I was that someone entrusted to fill the minds of young people should find himself in such a confused position as this.
First, before addressing the inaccuracy of the teacher's historical and etymological wisdom, there was the matter of why he had felt it necessary to rank oppressions in the first place, especially when the three cases being discussed had been of such magnitude as to make them among the gravest crimes in history. After all, there comes a point where tallying body counts, or trying to compare suffering of this scale approaches the threshold of mendacity, only to cross it violently on its way to obscenity. I queried as to the wisdom of his particular taxonomy of terrors, only to be met by a look of disdain, as if it should be quite apparent, without having to withstand scrutiny, that Jews had suffered worse than any others in the history of the cosmos: something he noted he made clear to his black students, so as to help them "put things in perspective" whenever they opted to focus on that which had been done to them. How nice.
But in addition to the strange psychology, by which some folks apparently need to be the biggest and most sympathetic victims, the teacher that day simply had it wrong. His definition of holocaust was purely fabricated, comporting with no actual dictionary version upon which he could truthfully claim reliance, and had been offered up without the slightest regard for the term's actual and easily discovered origins. As it turns out, the word holocaust is defined in most dictionaries as "destruction or slaughter on a mass scale," and derives from a Greek term for a sacrifice made upon a burnt altar.
This somewhat theological etymology probably explains why the term preferred by many Jews to describe Hitler's FInal Solution is not Holocaust at all, but rather the Hebrew term, shoah, since to equate the killing of millions of Jews with a sacrifical offering to God carries with it fairly obvious and disturbing connotations and places Hitler's maniacal practices on a par with ancient religious rites.
Shoah, in comparison, means any "catastrophe, calamity or disaster," and, as with holocaust, relies not at all upon deliberate extermination as a necessary component to the term's factual fulfillment.
That clarified, the only issue then should be whether or not the indigenous of the Americas or those enslaved here experienced large-scale death: a point requiring little debate or deliberation, as the historical record on this point is clear. The Middle Passage, without which enslavement in the Americas could not have progressed, claimed millions of lives, and as many as 93 million indigenous persons perished in the Americas following the onset of European conquest. That such facts as these suggest a Holocaust, a genocide of monumental proportions, should be obvious. Sadly, it is not.
And so this Thanksgiving morning, I awoke to discover a nationally-syndicated column in my local paper by Mona Charen, who felt as though the best use of her weekly 700 word-limit would be to deny that which history tells us is apparent: that the native persons whose conquering we are in effect celebrating today did indeed suffer a genocidal extermination. Such a claim as this, to hear Charen tell it is not only factually false, but a left-wing conspiratorial calumny placed upon the nation's head by radicals intent on warping the views of children and turning them into America-haters.
Charen, borrowing from conservative talk-show host Michael Medved's recent book The 10 Big Lies About America, argues that the charge of genocide leveled against our nation's founders "cannot withstand scrutiny," because Indian deaths were not principally the result of overt extermination campaigns. As Charen explains it, Indian depopulation was merely the happenstance consequence of diseases against which the natives had, sadly, no immunity (Charen calls this a "tragedy, but not a crime"), and the fact that the Europeans were technologically superior.
That the superior and "more advanced" civilization should prevail in such an instance has nothing to do with the desire by that bunch to destructively press its advantage against others, according to Charen, and nothing to do with greed or the maniacal desire to enrich oneself at all costs, but is simply the "usual course in human affairs." In other words, we should presume that the clash of civilizations in the Americas had been inevitable, as if the Europeans had had no choice but to take to the high seas, in search of riches and land; as if the North American continental shelf had possessed some kind of literal magnet, the pull of which simply could not be physically resisted by the white man, who then, amid tears and anguish, had no recourse but to spread throughout the western hemisphere. Reducing a half-millennium long process of displacement and destruction to the equivalent of a "Shit Happens" bumper sticker, Charen suggests we should happily consume our annual turkey and dressing absent so much as a twinge of remorse.
Of course, as with the previously mentioned teacher, Charen's position (and that of Medved, whose shtick she was pushing in this latest column) lacks even a rudimentary flirtation with intellectual honesty.
To begin, Medved and Charen suggest that to qualify as genocide, an action must, according to the 1948 UN Convention on Genocide, be carried out with the "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, racial or religious group." As with the teacher who insisted that Indians died of disease and thus were hardly the victims of a holocaust, so too these professional atrocity-deniers, who claim the deaths of millions of indigenous persons was virtually an accident. Yet the specific acts carried out against native peoples here are all mentioned explicitly in Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, and as such fall under its aegis. According to the UN, such acts include:
a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and/or, e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
Any of those things alone would qualify as an act of genocide, and yet each one of them has been part of the treatment received by indigenous persons at the hands of the U.S. government, or the pre-nationhood colonists. Indians were indeed killed, with the intent of destroying entire bands of natives, in whole or in part. Serious bodily and mental harm was surely inflicted, quite deliberately. Indians were removed from their homes and relocated in large numbers on reservations, which meets both clause b and c of the definition. Indian women were forcibly sterilized--as many as 100,000 during the twentieth century, and even as many as 3000 a year into the early 1970s--thereby satisfying clause d; and as many as 80% of all Indian children were forcibly removed from their homes and families and sent to boarding schools, while others were forcibly adopted-out to white families, and in both cases, stripped of native language, culture and religion during the 1900s, thereby meeting the final clause of the very definition Charen and Medved use to suggest that no genocide occurred.
Both Charen and Medved insist that since most Indians died of disease, rather than direct violence, they cannot be the victims of genocide, but seeing as how the definition of genocide fails to require mass death at all, this argument holds disturbingly little weight. Not to mention, had it not been for conquest, those diseases to which Indians had no resistance--and which colonists praised as the "work of God," clearing the land for them--wouldn't have ravaged the native populations as they did. To imply that such deaths were merely accidental or incidental would be like saying the Nazis bore no responsibility for the 1.6 million or so Jews who died of disease and starvation in the camps, rather than having been gassed or shot. But try saying that at your local neighborhood synagogue and see how far you get, with good reason.
Of course, there is more than enough evidence of the intentionality of Indian-killing to suggest that genocide occurred, even if we were to accept the inaccurate interpretation of the term's definition put forward by Charen and Medved.
And so we have George Washington in 1779, sending a letter to Major General John Sullivan, that he should "lay waste" to all Iroquois settlements, so that their lands may not be "merely overrun but destroyed."
And we have Thomas Jefferson telling his Secretary of War that any tribe that resisted the taking of their land by the United States must be met with force, and that once the hatchet of war had been raised, "we will never lay it down till that tribe is exterminated, or is driven beyond the Mississippi...in war, they will kill some of us; we shall destroy all of them."
And we have Andrew Jackson overseeing the scalping of as many as 800 slaughtered Creek Indians at Tohopeka (Horseshoe Bend), and bragging of preserving the "sculps" of those he killed in battle. And then, during the Second Seminole War, we have Jackson admonishing the troops to "capture or destroy" all the nation's women and children.
Open and deliberate calls for mass murder and destruction of entire Indian peoples were common. So, for instance, during the laying of the Northern Pacific Railroad through the Montana territory, the area's chief of Indian affairs noted that if the Sioux (Lakota and Dakota) peoples continued to "molest" the laying of the track and the progress symbolized by it, a military force should be sent to punish them "even to annihilation."
In other words, that widespread death of indigenous peoples was the desired (thus intended) outcome of conquest is hard to deny. To suggest that no such intent existed, simply because so many millions succumbed to disease ignores not only that such diseases were welcomed and celebrated (and occasionally spread deliberately), but also implies that had Indian folk not died from disease, they would have been allowed to live and remain on their lands. Yet we know this is not true, any more than the Nazis would have allowed those Jews who died in the camps from typhus to live, had the disease never taken its toll. That disease made the land-clearing and conquest easier--and relieved the white man of the burden of having to actually fight for their spoils in many cases--hardly relieves the beneficiaries of the moral weight of such an end.
What is especially sad is that by excusing genocide, Charen and Medved (and others) perpetuate our identification with those who did the killing and thieving, rather than either the victims, or even the members of the dominant culture who stood against such depravities. Modern-day whites, for instance, could choose to identify with those persons of European descent who stood up against the taking of indigenous land and lives: people like Bartolome de las Casas, Jeremiah Evarts, or Helen Hunt Jackson, just to name a few. But we can hardly feel a kinship with such folks if we know nothing of them--and we know nothing of them, or little, because our schools have been so busy telling us of the heroism and greatness of the architects of genocide, rather than encouraging a connection with those who stood up and said no. That such whites have existed however, in all times and places during the spread of white supremacy, suggests there has always been a different path that we of European background could have chosen.
If we are to be thankful at this time of year, we should be thankful for their example. We should be thankful that within us resides the spark of decency that animated their resistance to the plans of the colonial elite, and later the Washingtons, Jeffersons and Jacksons of their day. We are capable of so much better than they, and we deserve far better role models than we have been offered up to now, by our teachers, or by syndicated columnists and talk-show hosts more interested in covering up evil than celebrating true bravery.