By Alexander N. Riccio
The progress U.S. culture has made through concerted social and economic movements amounts to little in the face of our white supremacist status quo. This is not to claim there have not been improvements, or that such improvements haven’t yielded dramatic results, but we should not be comfortable with the opinion that racism no longer informs our systems of power.
A current litany of examples hinting at systemic racism is abundant, but largely disjointed when viewed individually. To name a few: the U.S. houses more prisoners than any other country, and our prisoners are disproportionately people of color; deportations of Latinos/as have reached record highs, and comprise more than 97% of all U.S. deportations; U.S. public schools are now reported to be more racially segregated than prior to desegregation laws of the mid-1950’s; and the environmental destruction of the globe that is vastly perpetrated by industrialized nations (the U.S. being the world’s greatest polluter) primarily affects people of color across the world.
The aforementioned instances are topics of constant controversy and debate, yet the mere utterance of these realities does not provide us with an illustration of the subtle ways in which supremacist culture operates, therefore they are often met with confusion and suspended belief by mass audiences. It is useful then to examine a parallel news item that has surfaced recently but been treated with utter dissociation: rape epidemics.
When media outlets began reporting on the surging rates of rape within the U.S. military, they provided an opening for subsequent conversations over the U.S.’s generalized rape culture. Most recently the conversation has been directed at the epidemic of rape on college campuses, and the media division over the topic has been typical and repugnant. Mainstream sources diverged on their opinions, ranging from the supportive to the hostile and outright dismissive, and these voices surfaced in all the predictable mass media outlets: Fox, ABC, New York Times, Washington Post, NBC, etc. Regardless of one’s opinion over the question of whether or not we live in a rape culture in the U.S. my reason for mentioning the general coverage over rape in the U.S. is to point out that a debate occurred— nothing was assumed.
However, when the epidemic of rape occurring in India became a news item in U.S. mass media, no skepticism was ever voiced. The comments of misogynistic Indian officials became more fuel for the general disgust Americans held over India’s epidemic. The shock and revulsion is valid; we should be outraged by these types of transgressions, but why do we have debates over the legitimacy of U.S. rape culture while being instantly convinced of a rape epidemic in a foreign nation? How is it that the notion of even questioning whether or not India has a rape culture never occurred to mass media? (I should note here that not only does white supremacy still inform our power structures, so too does patriarchal sexism; the two are inextricably intertwined.)
Another, and more blatant, observation to be made over the treatment of similar but disassociated items concerns conversations over terrorism. The mass shooting in Las Vegas has reminded America that white terrorism still regularly occurs. The Southern Poverty Law Center states that “Patriot” groups, those that claim to be anti-government and are fiercely united under white supremacist ideology, have risen by 813 percent since 2008 and now number in the low thousands. Conversely, the FBI reports that fundamentalist and extremist Muslim groups and Islamic organizations have accounted for less than 10 percent of terrorist activity on U.S. soil. But what image enters the collective imagination of Americans when asked to conjure up a terrorist?
While considering the above question about terrorism, consider this: the U.S. government has been engaging in the greatest terrorist campaign in the world: the Drone Program.
It targets ‘suspected’ terrorists in the Middle-East and has resulted in the estimated death of over 1,000 civilians. Additionally, a WIN/Gallup poll conducted this year revealed that the majority of countries polled views the U.S. as the greatest threat to world peace. This particular poll was met with opposition and confusion by mainstream media, and it took the killing of a U.S. citizen before mainstream media began even seriously discussing the judicial aspects of drone strikes—when U.S. citizens are targeted, not Muslims. Even our semantics are polluted by racist tendencies, and thus our actions go unchecked.
Connections must be made between the indiscriminate violence enacted against non-white people globally with the internal violence committed against non-whites at home, because they are both outgrowths of a complex national identity that is informed in large part by white supremacist ideology. This identity has revealed itself to be incapable of discerning its own savage behavior or applying its own codes of high morality and justice; therefore it is paramount that we address and challenge our violent national identity and the culture of white supremacy that informs it.