“I can’t even tell something true unless it has a punchline behind it. You guys aren’t ready. You’re not ready for this. You don’t know how to survive yourselves. Black people, we’re the only ones who know how to survive this…you need us. You need our eyes to save you from yourselves…I don’t mean to put this on the whites but I’ve been Black a long time, I’ve noticed a pattern.”
-Dave Chappelle’s opening SNL monologue, 11/7/20
“You say ‘all lives matter’ but I don’t believe you. Your actions have to show it.”
(I wrote this essay during November 2020 and sat on it for eighteen months to prove one point: when I wrote this I knew many of my white associates would assume I was reaching, but the fact is I could’ve written this yesterday or a century ago and the context would not change. As you read, think about everything that has occurred since November 2020 and keep in mind the only changes to this essay outside of editing is this paragraph.)
By now you either see it, don’t want to, don’t mind it. So, which is it?
The first time I noticed it I was eleven, though back then I didn’t fully comprehend what I was witnessing at the time. It was summer of 1992 and Dan Quayle was busy making headlines for misspelling the word “potato” while judging an elementary school spelling bee. His gaffe made national news for weeks and Quayle was the butt of jokes on many late-night talk shows. Something rather jarring about the event I didn’t recognize until I was older, however, was that no one in the room ever corrected Dan Quayle. Not the secret service. Not one adult or child in the room. Not even a teacher took a moment to correct the vice president. Instead, everyone remained silent and applauded while ignoring the truth of the moment staring them all in the face.
An interesting fact about potatoes: they emit a noxious solanine gas as they rot which can render a person unconscious or even kill in certain scenarios. The Dan Quayle fiasco albeit comical was the first time I witnessed what I refer to as the “white fog.” White fog is the silence and/or willful ignorance the majority of white Americans in America use to ignore racism, white supremacy and its constructs. Imagine the sunken place from Get Out but for (mostly) white people who are too cowardly to hold other whites accountable, especially relatives. White fog allows Black people murdered by police to be demonized while racist white vigilantes who kill Black churchgoers and white BLM protestors receive multi-million-dollar GoFundMe donations from so-called Christian organizations and Burger King from police. It has provided Donald Trump insulation from accountability while in our highest office of power, allowing him and other sycophants to further bolster bogus claims of election fraud (the same election that elected most of them, mind you) and is the main reason why most Trump supporters are comfortable enough to parrot whichever lie comes out of his mouth, because even they know this moment and past election aren’t about Trump. It never was. White fog is about protecting whiteness, and the willingness of the majority of white Americans to remain silent is the rotting potatoes that chokes this country’s democracy and drives its knee into the neck of the liberties of every non-white male citizen, especially African-Americans.
America has been tailored made to protect whiteness without correction since its inception. It is so entrenched in the psyche of most white Americans that they will watch fellow white Americans attack the U.S. Capitol and attempt to either sympathize for them, create excuses for them, falsely blame others, and/or ignore the incident all together and pretend it never happened. Whiteness is so centered and intricately woven into white people’s idea of what America is supposed to be that, in their eyes, any public admonishment of whiteness must be delivered with kid gloves. It is at the foundation of the racial disparities throughout America most minorities are forced to stomach that white Americans are privileged to ignore. Could you ever imagine any group of Black people in this country breaking into the U.S. Capitol, stealing a government laptop with intentions of giving it to Russians, then being released to home custody? Kalief Browder couldn’t even get off of Rikers Island for three years over a backpack he didn’t steal. Black Americans don’t get even receive grace when we are innocent, but any indictment against ONE white person is perceived by many as an indictment towards all white people, hence why many white people are falling over themselves to make excuses for insurrectionists the same way they excuse racist relatives during Thanksgiving dinners. It all ties together.
With white terrorism coming to the U.S. Capitol, it’s now also the reason many Republicans are quick to discuss “both sides” and “calling for unity” instead of accountability and why many media outlets are focused on wanting people to care about the feelings of Trump supporters and enablers who told us to “fuck our feelings” every chance they got since 2015.
Think about this: it literally took a pandemic for this nation to slow down enough to finally pay attention to our nation’s racial sins and iniquities against Black people, the same iniquities Black people have been talking about and fighting against since Jim Crow, Reconstruction and before. The insurrection attempt is part of an American tradition of white violence as a response to Black advancement and perceived loss of power by whites as well as a long-standing tradition of sympathizing for domestic terrorists since the Confederacy. The attack on the U.S. Capitol was no different than Tulsa, Rosewood, or countless thousands of other attacks led by lynch mobs of angry whites portrayed as good, regular common folk.
The previous administration provided daily examples of how the protection of whiteness in America and its ability to avoid accountability or correction becomes stronger as proximity to political or financial power and influence increases. Chappelle’s opening monologue on Saturday Night Live after the election highlighted virologist Dr. Birx’s usage of the “shield” when she–a professional in the medical field–swallowed her tongue like a good little lapdog as the former president suggested to our country during a press conference that we inject ourselves with BLEACH as a cure for coronavirus. Instead of calling the president out or even resigning in protest, she instead remained quiet to protect her position. Her reticence is but one example in the myriad of ways America prioritizes protecting white Americans from being held responsible for their actions equally compared to other races. The overall coddling of white feelings without truth or accountability for their actions in every aspect of American life, from social gatherings to media reports to Senate hearings, combined with a concerted effort to delegitimize Black and Brown suffering in order to continue protecting whiteness, is part of the wall blocking any chance at true democracy.
To remix a line from Ronald Reagan: America, it’s time to tear down that wall, and that wall will only be brought down with accountability against racists, not unifying with them. Stop changing the subject because it makes you uncomfortable. Having enough courage to call out white supremacy should be a baseline requirement for a democracy. The starting point. An elementary expectation. If you truly wish to “unify” then join the 80 million plus voters who saw the racism, sexism, and white supremacist agenda of the Trump presidency and said, “No more.” America is in the midst of a cultural shift and many white people are afraid of that. The future of our nation is tied in part (but not entirely) to the level of courage or cowardice of white Americans and their ability to call out systemic racism without babying those who embrace it.
There is NO middle ground to compromise on regarding racism and white supremacy, full stop. To paraphrase President Biden, we as a nation need enough Americans to be on the right side of history, because everyone isn’t coming along. Remember: this country elected a Black president twice WITHOUT the majority white vote, and everything from the Tea Party to the January 6th attacks are a direct response of that. You have to come to grips with the reality that millions of white Americans have no problem going back to racist Jim Crow days (many never left, mentally) and in order to fight against that, you are going to have to put in some work, make some sacrifices, and likely lose friendships and family. But if you are comfortable tolerating and affiliating with known racists, you have to admit to yourself who you are and where you stand, and you have to understand why your Black and Brown friends might disassociate from you should you not have the stones to stand up for their well-being. We have enough to deal with in our day to day lives without having to decipher which white people actually have good intentions for us.
A few years back I wrote a blog where I said a beast is most violent before it dies. Right now America is fighting the beast of white supremacy. Now is the time white America faces that, unless they are willing to let this country collapse onto itself in order to protect a false belief that white skin makes them superior. Accountability and awareness are responsibilities all Americans must bear in a democracy, the same responsibilities which are already mandatory for Black Americans and people of color here. Donald Trump was not the beginning of white supremacy and he will not be the end. Until more white Americans show the courage to look at the current climate and accept that reality, we will continue to live in this recycled, more violent version of the 1960s. In order for the American democratic experiment to continue, white Americans must value all Americans more than they value the benefits they receive from a white supremacist infrastructure or its need to oppress others. Americans who believe in democracy no longer get to sit on the sidelines and convince themselves that they’re a good person just because they say they are. As I stated at the beginning, by now you either see it, don’t want to, or you do and you don’t mind. So, choose.
It’s as easy as spelling “potatoe.”