Winter Edition, Volume 2, Issue 4: A Love Supreme Commentary

HANNIBAL B. JOHNSON

For many African Americans, it is less about abject, in-your-face racial bigotry and more about the death-by-a-thousand-cuts agony wrought by institutions and systems seeped in racism

Gross manifestations of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism like the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, challenge who we are and what we are becoming as an American democracy. Troubling as they may be, such flagrant displays cause less worry than the persistent disparities and inequities they overshadow and too often mask. For many African Americans, it is less about abject, in-your-face racial bigotry and more about the death-by-a-thousand-cuts agony wrought by institutions and systems seeped in racism. The grotesqueness of overt white power parades, brazen and bombastic racism gone viral internationally, obscures something more profound: the underlying, embedded white supremacy that manifests in less aesthetically offensive, more easily overlooked, ways. What the overwhelming majority of us readily condemn—these choreographed dances with the devil—represent only the attention-grabbing opening act. What lies beneath matters more—the stage on which such performances play out. The rallying of those crafty cretins, the Tiki torch-carrying, foaming-at-the-mouth bigots in Charlottesville, pales in comparison to what those same folks likely do in the light of their normal days. When the cavalcade ends, to what real-world lives do they return? Will they return to their jobs in human resources, making hiring and firing decision based on their racial preferences? Will they put back on law enforcement or firefighter uniforms and make race-based decisions about those whom they are duty-bound to serve and protect?   
Will they sit on juries, deciding the fates of young persons of color? Will they teach rainbow tribes of babies in kindergarten classes? Will they pass judgment on the home loan of an immigrant? Will they negotiate insurance claims of those to whom they feel superior? Will they steer a prospective home buyer away from a “bad” neighborhood? Will they work to restrict voting rights for the already marginalized? The realization that monsters—ardent, incorrigible racists— live among us should frighten us all. So, too, should the fact that ghouls and goblins sometimes don plain clothes, living among us undetected and undetectable as ordinary Dicks and Janes. Most of us revile and reject those who darken our boulevards in fire-lit spectacles like erstwhile Klan nightriders; who spew their white supremacist venom, further poisoning the national conversation on race we perennially pledge to undertake. We may pity them, too. But it is not just about them. It is also about those normal, establishment types who, through position and power, impose their prejudices and passions on those of us birthed outside their chosen tribe; who decide for and about us in ways minor and grand. Racist drama draws attention and near-universal revulsion, but the mundane—routine policy and practice--wreaks havoc on the day-to-day lives of the people of color.

 

HANNIBAL B. JOHNSON, a Harvard Law School graduate, is an author, attorney, consultant, and college professor. He writes and lectures about the history of the Greenwood District. His books include:  Black Wall Street, Up from the Ashes, and Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District. The National Black Theatre Festival selected Johnson’s play, Big Mama Speaks—A Tulsa Race Riot Survivor’s Story, for its 2011 line-up.


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