All White Everything: Race and Policing Black Americans (Part I)
This article is a two part series exploring Black police officers, American police culture, and institutionalized white racism. Part one will briefly discuss the origins and complex nature of white racism and identity in America. Part Two will use the claims presented in article one to discuss socially-constructed race and institutionalized racism in American police culture.
We heard it with George Zimmerman, the pseudo-cop who “stood his ground” against unarmed teen turned BlackLivesMatter symbol Trayvon Martin. After the “not guilty” verdict added insult to injury to a soul gutted Black American citizenry; amid cries of racism and bouts of surging hopelessness, a surfeit of reports began to surface challenging Zimmerman’s racial orientation, bent on discrediting what was irrefutably a cut-and-dry murder case. Highlighting Zimmerman’s “Hispanic” parentage, commentators zealously seized on this checkbox-error as the perfect opportunity to play a perverted game of identity politics, to reroute the national conversation onto the white-road most traveled by. Absolutely nothing came of it except a conceptual juggling act, supplanting “white” with “white Hispanic,” in an effort to accelerate unnecessary confusion about the mad genius of white supremacy.
“See,” the White Right enthused, “everyone can be racists.” What happened to that poor black man (not boy) was tragic and unfortunate, but not the product of white racism.
By “white”, they mean what Isa Hopkins, in an article for Salon, referred to as meaning assigned to arbitrarily coded physical traits, what students of culture call the essentialist definition of race (pdf). Expressed differently, racialization of a people is but a superficial process.
With the release of mugshots of the six Baltimore officers indicted for the reckless murder of Freddie Gray, revealing three of the accused law enforcement agents as Black, it was only a matter of time before this species of argument, the “brown-on-brown”- ingroup infighting brand, gained traction on the fiber optic streets.
Take the DailyCaller’s Jim Treacher for example, who cursorily reviews what he perceived as unfair condemnation of the white men making the headlines for killing unarmed Black persons. Convinced that race-baiting was behind the inflated coverage of Zimmerman, Wilson, and others, Treacher asks readers why
“No one is talking about Caesar Goodson,” referring to one of the African American cops arrested in the murder of Freddie Gray.
implying that Goodson’s phenotypical blackness grants him immunity from criticism.
Another site, portending politically incorrect commentary to expose “race hustlers”, writes:
“Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. (who is black) is one of the six officers charged in the Freddie Gray hom[i]cide. Funny how the media leaves [out] that inconvenient fact
The race hustling blacks and media’s narrative just went down the toilet. Turns out the Freddie Gray case was just another black on black crime.”
And then there’s Universal Journal’s emaciated piece, featuring this on the nose headline
“Freddie Gray: Murder Suspect, Officer Caesar Goodson, a Black Man … Officer William Porter, Also Black, Facing Involuntary Manslaughter Charge”
Nothing would be easier than to demonstrate how these shoddily rationalized attempts to deal with racial bias in America are but backdoor entry points for discounting white privilege and the indiscriminatory valuation of white lives, undermining genuine efforts to deal with possessing white privilege. It’s BS; and reasonably thinking, conscience bearing people know it’s BS. Demonstrating this demands that we break down the peculiarity that is whiteness.
First, there’s the matter of the elephant in room:
Yes, Caesar Goodson, the officer driving the police van who ignored Freddie Gray’s pleas for medical attention, is “ostensibly” Black. So is William Porter and Sgt Alicia White. Yes, alongside White officers, Goodson, Porter, and White exemplify the general police culture at the helm of the senseless and ceaseless murder of countless black bodies in cities across the country. No one is, or should be, blind to that.
However, in all the umbrage over the illusory media favoritism toward Officer Goodson, the deeper, more pernicious point is missing — institutionalized whiteness and systemic racism: the implantation of the construct of mental whiteness.
Phenomenologically speaking, whiteness-as-mental construct, is the most neglected aspect of white identity. But it is whiteness understood as such, as a way of cogitating social order within the human condition, that is the real problem corroding the core of American society. As usual, willfully-blinded race deniers miss this.
Morality, or “virtue”, as that ole Anglo-Saxon sage Ralph Waldo Emerson would put it, is measured by proximity to whiteness. Train everyone to think white — this is the true perverted genius of systemic white racial bias.
“Thinking white? Really? Come on, Twan. There’s no so such thing.”
Actually, there is.
Moreover, to fully appreciate the nature and complexity of the psychological dimensions of whiteness, we must cast an abbreviated glance back at the origins of white identity — that clever, if not outrageous, ambiguous polygamy of social categories, comprised of body aesthetics, bourgeois morality, and aristocratic-capitalistic nationality.
From the beginning of Europe’s colonial land-snatching, terrorist adventures, there had always been a distinction between Elite and lower-class whites. The latter, produced from “othering” outgroup European ethnics, were deemed culturally inferior, sub par, devoid of the right manners. In this social schema, inferior Whites evidenced processes of subspeciation, thereby warranting a lifetime of subordination.
Historian Joe William Trotter, Jr describes the shared condition of low-class whites and enslaved Blacks, and concludes that Elite Whites, fearing this bond, gradually and systematically ceded life perks to white indentured servants, codified whiteness into an advantageous form of material property, and conflated nationality with race through, among other polices, Naturalization Law, which rendered citizenship accessible to “free white men.”
In one stroke, America became a synonym for white personhood.
All the half-ass scholarship carried over from Europe to the colonies appeared to the mass of settlers as “scientific” confirmation of a natural racial hierarchy. Hume, Kant, Hegel, Cuvier, on up to Jefferson and others, packaging their racism as “objective” investigations into nature, purported the universal superiority of all white everything, and paved the ground for implicit bias densely packed in the nucleus of white racism.
Crazy shit, right?! Wait. The ambiguity gets crazier.
Simultaneous with this was the mass popularization of the assumption, in colonial and postcolonial society, that to be white is to be bourgeois, i.e. hardworking, educated, thrifty, morally upstanding, law-abiding, blah, blah, blah. Middle-class morality, citizenship, and human aesthetics were seamlessly woven together in the concept of white, and objectified in the colonial public policy that governed behavioral economics of daily life.
Claiming whiteness admitted some workers into a bourgeois status otherwise denied them.
With time, socially-identified White persons grew accustomed to preferential treatment — for what is Jim Crow and the everyday reality of de facto segregation but “affirmative action” by another name … IJS — and, for the most part, never bothered to ponder on the details of whiteness, and its dependence on dehumanizing black bodies. Did not the surface of everyday life confirm what they’d been raised to believe? Were Blacks, whether in the field or factory, not imprisoned in an iron circle of pathology — diseased, chronically ignorant, plagued by cultural deficiencies, doomed to inevitable extinction? Were Black professionals not bootlegged versions of the white, well-to-do?
Exactly Twan — Black professionals! What about professional, well-to-do Black folk? You know, slavery-to-freedom, rags-to-riches, ashy-to-classy Blacks?
Elite Black response there was — the “respectable Negro.” (And we see how far that’s gone) Promote the bourgeois Black. Equate the best (or so they believed) of black culture with middle-class, bourgeois sensibilities. Backburn criticism of the aristocratic model of human nature; manufacture a parallel to bourgeois White standards of humanity.
There’s just one problem. I’ll let Du Bois explain it
“The Negro group is spoken of continually as one undifferentiated low-class mass. The culture of the higher whites is often considered as typical of all the whites.” (From Dusk of Dawn)
While it may be true that, value-wise, there is no difference between the Black and White Bourgeoisie, or black and white workers for that matter, ALL the aforementioned groups target their scorn at Blacks. History may have proven that respectability or “Lemonizing” will not save black America; but, many Blacks continue to believe it will, and continue to fight tooth-and-nail to meet the behavioral expectations of the “high culture” at the core of White beingness.
This is the systematic racism level of whiteness, a de facto, fantastical imaginary, cultivated into the psyche of everyone, that equates beauty, intelligence, reason, civility, lawfulness with white human nature.
It is this level of whiteness that experimental psychologist Dr. Sylvia Terbeck, and other neuroscientists, are attempting to exorcise with propanolol (pdf), that is, fighting implicit bias while one sleeps.
It is this level of whiteness actualized in the FHA, and residential segregation — the geographical manifestation of white supremacy — characteristic of Black and Hispanic urban neighborhoods in Los Angeles, Oakland, Chicago, Detroit, Gary, Philadelphia, Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and other cities across the country, the fault of which, always, is attributed to unimpeachable innate traits of Black residents.
Only this level of whiteness — impossible as it is for many to conceive — explains the drastic, intergenerational, rigidly maintained income gap between Whites and Blacks, or the dire need to displace #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter or #BlueLivesMatter when the term Black precedes any mass call-to-arms against social injustice.
And when ostensibly Black officers do point out the bias, as occurred when, according to the Baltimore Sun, following a hiring hike of African Americans in the Baltimore PD, reports of “police misconduct” grew “exponentially”, only white-as-virtue could permit these claims go ignored.
Through coerced devaluation of black culture, Blacks can, have been, and remain ensnared and entrapped in the construct of white psychologizing and whitesplaining. And in such a world, every body is an agent of whiteness. Like the woman-in-red advice Morpheus used to explain to Neo the precarious existence of unplugged person languishing in the matrix: Until the system is defeated and destroyed, EVERYONE functioning in this program, is a potential agent.
Be warned, readers: the White-matrix has everyone.
Nothing and no one is immune.
Featured image screenshot via: Dr. Evil and Jigglypuff tumblr.