Remember that bit of wisdom that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it? Well, start digesting this as well: America was built on the foundation of white supremacy.
That’s not a guilt-trip or an accusatory slap to white people today. It’s simply a fact. We are a nation that was built on land stolen from nonwhite natives largely by the labor of people stolen from another continent and enslaved.
That is the foundation of our national house. Yet here in 2017, far too many would have us believe that the past does not affect the present. But until we get serious about acknowledging the toxicity and perseverance of white supremacy, we are doomed to watch the house sag, prop it up again and wait for the next crumble and sag.
Humans are, I know, adverse to change. At best, change is incremental, and frankly when dealing with oppression, the oppressed and the marginalized want change to happen now — and rightfully so. To quote the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."
But in the daily fight for humanity while living as a nonwhite person in the U.S., it often seems that justice will never happen. Especially when you have a president who is embraced by the likes of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard with the Ku Klux Klan, as well as Richard Spencer, the darling of the so-called alt-right who openly espouses views of white superiority, open racism and bigotry, which have become vogue again in a lot of circles after several decades of being out of style. We’re not back to the 1950s yet (or worse) racially, but we’ve definitely taken several somersaults backward.
Often, Trump supporters will tell you that race had nothing to do with their decision to support him. But for those willing to look closely and critically, it isn’t hard to see that his slogan “Make America Great Again” speaks deeply to white people who feel disenfranchised in a racially and culturally changing world — a world where whiteness-as-currency is slowly starting to lose its value. Make no mistake, though, whiteness still offers up huge societal benefits no matter how much those who enjoy them may deny the fact — but they do see their dominance slipping a bit.
Thus, the potential for conflict grows keener. Here in Maine, we are balancing on the brink, as many people of color and marginalized people simply don’t feel nearly as safe anymore — and rightfully so. Maine is governed by a guy who is a mini-Trump, or perhaps more accurately, the prototype Trump. The safety and comfort of nonwhite Mainers (or visitors) have never been important to him.
In recent weeks, there have been reports of KKK flyers popping up in random towns (in step with a growing trend in other parts of the country as well). Just a few weeks ago, four Black Casco Bay High students were accosted by a white man after school, and when Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana issued a statement of support of the students, the Maine GOP accused Botana of playing politics. Most recently, a group of University of Southern Maine students invited State Representative Lawrence Lockman to give a speech titled “Alien Invasion: Fixing the Immigrant Crisis.” Given the racial and cultural makeup at the USM Portland campus, there is an implicit message in the student conservative group Young Americans for Freedom choosing to invite Lockman. Hint: It is not a message of inclusivity or forward thinking.
These unpleasantries don’t come from nowhere; they come from a crumbling and rotten foundation that needs replacing. Filling the cracks and propping up the house won’t work any better now than in the past. It’s time to build a new foundation that dismantles white supremacy. It’s time for a foundation built on unity and equity.