White Male Markers

Millions of Texans went without electricity, heat, and water for hours and sometimes for days over the past week. Half a million are still without utilities, and thirteen million people are under a water boil order for the near future. In the meantime, Texas energy companies are making big bucks. “This week is like hitting the jackpot with some of these incredible prices,” according to Comstock Resources, Inc. CEO, Roland Burns.

Comstock is owned by Dallas entrepreneur and sports team owner, Jerry Jones – poster boy for white, male power, privilege and position. Stock prices for energy companies have skyrocketed while government officials blame each other for the clear failures in policy and preparation that resulted in four dozen deaths, huge physical suffering, and likely billions in property damage.

Photo by Amir Esrafili on Pexels.com

During the worst hours of the disaster, Colorado City (Texas) mayor Tim Boyd took to Facebook to make his feelings known in a since-deleted post. Boyd declared that the government is not responsible for the welfare of people who are too lazy to take care of themselves. Socialist government and bad raising, according to Boyd, have conspired to produce the situation folks in Texas now face.

All that was missing from Boyd’s post was a quote from Ebenezer Scrooge, that the foolish freezing folks should hurry up and die to reduce the surplus population.

Later Boyd issued an apology and announced his resignation. Even though he composed the entire post, and it was quoted in its entirety by news sources, he protested that it was “taken out of context.” He wished that he had chosen “better wording” (whatever that might be for such an arrogant and disgusting screed) and thought more clearly about his comments. He complains that he and his family have suffered from anger and harassment as a result of the post. And he concludes by noting that he is now a private citizen and should just be left alone.

Finally, this week we learned of the death of Rush Limbaugh from cancer at age 70. Limbaugh was the first to take full advantage of the Reagan cancellation of the Fairness Doctrine and to turn cable news into cable bullshit. I use that term in the way that Harry Frankfurt uses it in his little book On Bullshit.

Limbaugh raised the disregard of truth to a high art. He was one of the first to realize that truth is not even relevant in most current conversations. Provocation is power. Facts are a waste of time. Limbaugh was offensive, abusive, misogynist, racist, and fascist in his comments. Worst of all, he simply did it for the money, not for any principles. I am not dancing on Limbaugh’s grave. I simply report what he himself said about himself on numerous occasions.

The cavalcade of white, male supremacy continues on, even if the Marmalade Misanthrope no longer occupies the White House or has his Twitter account. It’s not a man – it’s a system. It’s a system that produces so much idiocy that I can’t even get to the Ted Cruise to Cancun or the Terry Bumstead interview that continues to make me think that he has years of dementia already behind him. White male supremacy is an inexhaustible font of foolish hypocrisy and wealthy stupidity that would be hilarious if it didn’t kill people by the thousands daily.

As this all unfolds, I’ve been reading Native, by Kaitlin Curtice. It is, among other things, a poetic summary of the nature of Whiteness and thus a commentary on events every week – not just this one. So, for my own edification, I will share some of the necessary face-slaps I have received while reading.

What whiteness cannot enslave, whiteness erases. That is not a political or ideological or theological argument. It is rather, an historical observation. This observation is for me, of course, more in the category of the privileged white male fish discovering the ocean of whiteness and maleness and privilege in which he’s been swimming for a lifetime and more. I’m late to the game and will spend the rest of this life catching up.

“A thread runs through the history of America,” Kaitlin Curtice writes in Native,

a thin line that connects people, places, moments, cultures, and experiences. This thread started when Columbus arrived and deemed Indigenous peoples savage and unworthy of life, a thread that continued as African peoples were enslaved and forced onto this continent. We see it today in hate crimes against people of color and religious minorities. It is a thread of whiteness, of white supremacy, that aims to erase culture, to assimilate those deemed “unworthy” of humanity. (page 13).

And we see it in spoiled food, broken pipes, contaminated water, and the bodies of the homeless in the streets of Texas cities.

Whiteness enslaved Black people in order to crush the life out of them like grapes and sell the juice of their labor. When that was no longer the legal system, whiteness erased Black people from the political process, from the accumulation of wealth, from quality housing, from good schools, from white churches, from our stories, and from the pages of the history white people teach, remember, and celebrate. Whiteness continues that process of erasure daily.

“Whiteness is a culture that requires the erasure of all others,” Curtice continues later in her book,

considering them less-than. It is believing in that well-known metaphor of a melting pot that we so love to hold on to in America, but erasing the value of the lives of the “other” within the narrative and in the process presenting the idea of assimilation as virtue. But really, assimilation is about power, power that puts shackles on Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color” (Native, page 45).

Whiteness has an ironic and contradictory relationship with all that is not white. On the one hand, whiteness removes all that which is not white and will not become white. On the other hand, whiteness needs the Other as the “Inferior” in order to fund what James Baldwin called the “White wage.” That wage is basically, “I may not be much, but at least I’m better than someone.” Domination in the end is a perverse dependency of Whiteness on all that is not white. That perversity harms all but the most privileged of white people along with all others.

Whiteness erases Indigenous people from the land, from power, from their stories, from their cultures, and from life. Indigenous people were not seen as “usable,” so they were then seen as “disposable.” A continent was “discovered.” Land was seen as “empty” – even if the first inhabitants had to be forcibly removed by genocide and trails of terror and tears. Culture was cut off along with hair, and language was forgotten along with oppression. The imperative was to clear out of the way, assimilate to whiteness and/or die.

White people are portrayed as adventurers and explorers who “discover” a place for the first time. The land is “uninhabited” and needs to be “developed.” In fact, white people are colonizers of spaces that must be stolen before they can be possessed. The environment must be rendered friendly to capitalist exploitation and white male supremacy. That re-formatting of the place is deadly for those who were there first. And it is highly profitable to those who continue to “own” what lies under the stolen land in places like Texas.

Land and plants and animals and people are commodities to be measured and mined, sliced and diced, packaged and sold. “We lose the ability to see things clearly when colonization sets in,” Curtice writes. “We are clouded with dreams of economy and market value, and we forget that the land is still speaking, that the forgotten are still here, and that white supremacy does not have the last word” (Native, page 33). But while it speaks, people still suffer and die.

Because this story is so familiar, so comfortable, and so well-designed for the desires of white, male supremacy, we who benefit most are privileged to believe and act as if the story describes “Reality.” We can tell ourselves stories about colonization and settling, about heroic pioneers and fantastic frontiers, about rugged individuals and bold entrepreneurs. In the telling we don’t notice (and don’t want to notice) the people who suffer and die as a result, the communities that are devastated and destroyed as a result, the planet that rebels at our irresponsibility as a result.

I wish that my Christianity had been part of the solution over the last five hundred years, but I know better. “Settler colonial Christianity is a religion that takes, that demeans the earth and the oppressed, and that holds people in these systems without regard for how Jesus treated people,” notes Kaitlin Curtice. “So to be part of a colonizing religion, I have to constantly ask, Who am I following?” (Native, pages 35-36).

As we prepare to read next Sunday about the cost of discipleship, that question faces us Christians with painful urgency.

Jesus “called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” (Mark 8:34-37, NRSV).

White, male supremacy, using the tools of unfettered individualistic robber baron capitalism, is always trying to find out what it will “profit them.” In this Lenten season, we who desire to follow Jesus are challenged to actually try that path and see where the life really is.

More on Native in future posts, I’m sure.