That Just Doesn’t Make Any Sense at All: American Exceptionalism and White Supremacy are Incompatible with Justice

For anyone who still believes that police departments are not infected by racism, this on-the-ground account of the divergent experiences of two men–one white, one black–over the weekend at a protest in New York City may be helpful in getting a clear view. For anyone unfamiliar with excessive force and police corruption, watching this six-minute news clip about the beating of a suspected Latino drug dealer and the undocumented police action against the citizen that filmed the encounter should be informative. Please do note that the news clip is violent and includes police violence against a pregnant woman; those who may be disturbed by the video are advised to read the story instead. And for elucidation of the problems that the African American community has faced and continues to face from the non-African American community, I recommend this video of Angela Davis (prison interview footage starts at about 1:00 in).

Because of the way this society’s organized, because of the violence that exists on the surface everywhere, you have to expect that there are going to be such explosions. You have to expect things like that as reactions. If you are a black person and live in the black community all your life, and walk out on the street every day, seeing white policemen surrounding you… …when you live under a situation like that constantly… um, and then you ask me whether I approve of violence. I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all.

Those are the words of Angela Davis from over forty years ago. Yet, despite any advances that may be cited regarding civil and human rights in this country, they apply to our contemporary situation. Let me be clear: none of this is to condone violence. Violence exists. The state is violent. America is violent. Our society has always been violent. That we have been able to overcome the prejudice that we have, that we have been able to make any social progress at all through non-violent means situated in a historical and systemic matrix of violence attests to the power of non-violence.

Yet we have Dick Cheney telling media, “I’d do it again in a minute,” in regards to torture, which has once again been brought into the media spotlight with the release of a redacted version of the Senate’s 6,000 page torture report. This is the doctrine of American exceptionalism, the notion that, because we are America, we do not have to play by the rules. There is no room for justice in that doctrine. There is no room for dissent, which makes it an extremely poor doctrine for a nation founded on dissent and revolution. It boils down to the simple words of George W. Bush, “Either you are with us… or you are with the enemy.”

As calls for police accountability continue across the nation in the form of protests and non-violent #ShutItDown actions, I notice that mainstream white culture remains silent. I stopped paying attention to mainstream media a long time ago, so I’m unable to say definitively whether mainstream media continues with business as usual, though I have my impressions. There is a large segment of white America that simply doesn’t get it; “it” being the entrenched, historic, systemic violence against people of color, especially black people.

What will it take for America to become the just and free nation that it aggressively advertises itself to be? I humbly suggest less posturing, less defensiveness, less violence, the cultivation of empathy and the ability to listen, the demotion of individualism as a cultural value. More to the point: less American exceptionalism, less white supremacy.

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