Tag Archives: Mulugeta Seraw

More on Racially Profiling Whites

14 Aug

A friend (who I’m lucky to know because he’s so much smarter than me) commented my my post “Why Don’t We Racially Profile Whites?” pointing out that there is a white racial profile.

The white racial profile is the other side of the story of the way people of color are profiled. So, for instance, where welfare is concerned, Blacks are undeserving entitlement junkies, but whites are deserving needy people facing temporary setbacks, and that’s just among those who are able to put “white” and “welfare” together at all. Some would say whites are profiled as over-burdened taxpayers subsidizing freeloaders.

Youth of color who experiment with drugs are profiled as dangerous addicts, while white youth are just going through a rebellious phase. And while Blacks and Latinos are profiled as criminals, whites are profiled as innocents. In fact, where property crime is concerned, whites are profiled as victims. They are the ones who worked hard to have what we Others want but don’t deserve, while our supposed criminal natures make us prone to turning wanting into stealing.

And because Blacks and Latinos are profiled as undeserving, over-entitled whiners while whites are profiled as deserving patriots, that fear of violation of white property rights turns easily towards resentment against whole communities. That seething resentment might just explain the proliferation of Stand Your Ground Laws.

But here’s where the irrationality goes over the top.

At the end of the Civil War, whites created the Ku Klux Klan in Tennessee. It was supposed to be a club for former Confederate soldiers but quickly became a movement devoted to upholding white supremacy. The Klan quickly spread across the former Confederate states and played a critical role in ending Reconstruction. Yet, Southern law enforcement colluded with the Klan more than it opposed it.

In the mid-20th century, whites formed White Citizens Councils, often with overlapping memberships with the Klan. These Councils included elected officials and community leaders. Around that time, whites also created the Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist movement organized like the KKK, but inspired by European Nazism. Whites organized the Christian Identity movement, a white supremacist religious sect who believe, among other things, that people of color are subhuman mud people.

White people also founded the Aryan Nations, originally based on a compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Aryan Nations is a national center of Christian Identity and home to the Church of Jesus Christ Christian, and also served as a training ground for violent neo-Nazi skinheads.

The core membership of the neo-Nazi skinhead movement of the ’80s and ’90s was alienated middle-class white kids. Racist skinheads were the terrorist arm of a much more sophisticated racist movement guided by professional neo-Nazi activists like Tom Metzger. Metzger’s White Aryan Resistance was sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center for involvement in the murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw.

The most famous domestic terrorist group of the 1980s was the Order. The Order was inspired by William Pierce‘s novel The Turner Diaries, a racist and anti-Semitic manifesto that closes with enemies of the white race strung up on light posts with piano wire.

The Order was responsible for the murder of Alan Berg, a Jewish talk-radio host in Denver. They also started a counterfeiting operation and pulled off the biggest armored truck hold up until that time, taking $3.6 million that they spent on weapons, paramilitary training camps, and material aid to allies.

I probably don’t need to tell you that the Order was all-white.

And, of course, it was whites who created the violently anti-immigrant Minutemen border vigilantes and the currently insurgent white nationalist Patriot movement.

But in spite of this long history, are white racists profiled as potential criminals or domestic terrorists? No. When whites form groups for the promotion of white-only interests, does the public grow suspicious? Rarely. And when young white males gather in groups, does law enforcement see a gang or a college fraternity?

My friend is right. There’s a racial profile for whites. That profile assumes innocence and deflects suspicion and is every bit as wrong as the racial profiles that target people of color as violent political dissidents, gang members, and criminals.

This is paradox for the echo chamber. Let’s call it out.

My First Seder

19 Apr

What you make of liberation, that is the trick. Can you, unshackled, set someone else free?

– from “exodus and after” by Cynthia Greenberg.

I just attended my first Passover Seder.  For those, like me, who are new to this tradition, Seder is a gathering of remembrance of the Jewish story of liberation from slavery.  I’m 50.  One is not supposed to be a racial justice advocate attending his first Seder at 50!

I did once “observe” a Seder in Portland, Oregon circa 1991. It took place on the anniversary of the murder of an Ethiopian man named Mulugeta Seraw by neo-Nazi skinheads .  The setting was a shallow gully in a park chosen because it had been a site of frequent hate crimes.  I didn’t actually see much of the Seder. I mostly looked across and over it to the other side of the gully because I was there with other non-Jewish members of the community who were acting as security.

I have only a vague memory of that Seder in ’91, but share the experience, not to excuse my ignorance of Seder, but as a reminder that the struggle against anti-Semitism is by no means over.

On a walk with one of the hosts in the few hours before the Seder, I admitted with some embarrassment that I’d never attended one and wasn’t sure of the details of the ceremony. He leaned in and said: “what you should know about Seder is that it’s not just about the liberation of the Jews from slavery. It is also about the fact that once freed, the Jews never reached the promised land.” 

You see, to him, Seder is not just a ceremony meant to moor Jews to their history of slavery and liberation. It also acknowledges that the journey toward justice is never ending. Liberation is ours, but justice? It lies just ahead. Keep on.

This notion of keeping on will stay with me long after the details of the evening have been lost to time.  After all, few people have suffered as have Jews.  Their endurance in the face of centuries of persecution stands as one of the great testaments to human endurance and grace.

For me, in my work, it serves as a source of much needed inspiration. After all, struggling against racism is no doubt a life long commitment.  Racism is a defining feature of our society.  Our Constitution and the Federalist compromise were designed to ensure the perpetuation of slavery.  We are a society whose founding document, filled as it is with language about freedom and liberty, was written by men who owned slaves, regarded Native Americans as subhuman savages, and refused suffrage to women. The founders were the initiators of a thousand lies that have been told and retold for hundreds years to the point of being accepted as truth within the bounds of the culture they birthed, and all to justify what they’d done.

The seemingly impossible exodus from Egypt, Moses’s great sacrifice, and the journey toward the promised land lends perspective to what can sometimes feel like an impossible uphill struggle to win racial justice.

So this Seder will not be my last. I was moved and made hopeful, not just by the Jews’ great accomplishment, but by how much we hold in common. Maybe that was the most heartening aspect of it for me.

Racism, and all bigotries, is in a way like a Chinese finger puzzle. The more those who are captured by it attempt to pull away from one another, the tighter the grip of the trap. But if we do what is least intuitive to us and push toward one another, the trap releases, and we are freed.

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