This past summer, amidst the turmoil generated by the police killings of unarmed Black citizens Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, President Barack Obama participated in a televised ABC News town hall on racism and police brutality. The conversation was a fruitless endeavor as Obama’s inclination to discover common ground would leave all sides feeling unheard. While the police thought he was being too soft on “anti-cop” rhetoric, many Black folks were hoping the President would deliver a forceful rebuke of law enforcement’s use of excessive force and discriminatory criminal justice outcomes.
At one point during the discussion, the camera panned to an older white woman identified as Karen Sharpe, the mother of Michael Slager, who killed Walter Scott in South Carolina. Sharpe was brought on as a victim. The trauma of seeing her son temporarily punished for his actions became conflated with Judy Scott, the mother of Walter Scott, seeing video of her son being summarily murdered by law enforcement and then equivocated as equal.
Could you imagine the parents of an Islamic state terrorist being invited to a nationally broadcast conversation on 9/11 and the war on terror? Probably not.
For many African-Americans, “Get over [insert tragedy suffered by Black Americans at the hands of white supremacy here]!” feels like a traditional and familiar proverb of racially unfettered whiteness. The sort of whiteness that views slavery as a historical antiquity with no more modern-day social ramifications than the days of ancient Rome. The sort of whiteness that believes we truly exist in a post-racial era where the only true form of discrimination is “reverse racism.” This form of toxicity propagates the idea that even when a white person does something indefensible against Black folks, like gunning down nine innocent people while they prayed together at church, their actions must be met with forgiveness, calm and resignation of all personal animus towards the evil-doer in particular and whiteness in general.
But, what’s truly fascinating about this sort of whiteness is the hypocrisy of their empathy. The absolution they believe their racial identity entitles them to escapes their nationalistic minds when they feel they’ve been wronged by foreign raiders. The same people who demand that Black folks find extra cheeks to turn are thoroughly unwilling to turn any to anyone else. This is best exemplified by how many white Americans compare our incursion to 9/11.
What’s truly fascinating is how the same people who lecture Black activists on the merits of remaining peaceful when challenging racist practices will not consider nonviolence as a means of combating terror.
In the name of safety and security, the nation declared war, suspended the freedoms of citizens, promoted preemptive strikes against other nations, detained people with little to no evidence, tortured them, subjected them to unfair trials and locked them away in secret detention centers. This is the blueprint America has established for confronting and combating terror at home and abroad.
In a nation where an American citizen is more than seven times as likely to be killed by a right-wing extremist than by a Muslim terrorist, what if these practices were targeted at white domestic terrorists? The Black community has suffered through endless acts of brutal terror, so if our safety and security is paramount, where’s the War on Racism?
In America, Black citizens have been forcefully entrapped in a web of violent, systemic discrimination occupied by law enforcement, white supremacist groups and right-wing terror factions, a fact our intelligence agencies have even confirmed. This domestic terror, whether deemed legal or illegal, is either directly driven or dangerously undergirded by racism that we are constantly told to overlook and ignore. But, what if we decided not to overlook it?
If the FBI preemptively targeted certain states with a high number of militias and the people in those militias were placed on an FBI watch list, would that not improve the safety of Black people? Instead of the “Bush Doctrine,” we could call it the “Diversity Doctrine.”
If criminals who’ve committed especially egregious crimes, such as gunning down a 12-year-old boy holding a toy gun in a park, were detained without trial in a hellish private prison with their rights suspended and a seemingly endless investigation ensued, would that not teach others a lesson? What if Klan members were being routinely subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding for days on end?
What if alt-right conventions were met with signature strikes? Signature strikes are drone strikes that are issued against a group of targets believed to be extremists without actually knowing the exact identity of the targets involved. Or if drones swooped in and opened fire on a truck full of people because the truck had a Confederate flag on the license plate? Wouldn’t this make Black people feel safer?
If the war on right-wing domestic terrorism looked like that, how many people would be comfortable with it? Or, better yet, how many people are troubled by those images but not troubled by the fact that the United States is doing those things to Muslims in different countries around the world?
For far too long, America has displayed a blatant cognitive dissonance concerning terrorism when it’s committed by whites as opposed to “foreign” combatants. Despite the great lengths it has gone to to vanquish enemies who promote terror against its people, the U.S. balks at taking any significant stance at protecting its own marginalized citizens. America already has a plan for so-called foreign terrorists, but the domestic ones escape serious efforts to deter them in our own backyard.