The United States has never been a society that embraces social equality. Any measure of perceived equality obtained has come begrudgingly and with shedding of blood. Contrary to documented history that supports this fact, white people still don’t feel they have an advantage in an America that caters to their every need – indeed, their every word. Or, in this case, lack of words. They’ll argue as if U.S. history (dare I say world history?) murdered them for the slightest of white-public-perceived offenses, or oppressed them with racist legislation. As such, this is precisely the kind of autonomous thinking whites employ that opens a portal to their ignorance, brazenly displayed in their inability (and unwillingness) to understand the type of world they have egotistically constructed.
White people don’t say anything about systemic racial inequalities because they know they don’t have to. The main course of white supremacy is served with generous sides of white privilege and there’s more on the stove if you’re hungry. Our current administration exemplifies this sentiment often. Trump even says so…by not saying a word. His silence when white crime occurs sends an unrepentant disclosure that nothing that white criminals do is worthy of condemnation. There is security in knowing that conducting oneself in overt racism will not garner censure. And even if, by chance, it briefly limits their unconcealed speak, there are always code words or signs that let those in the know…know. As a Black man, I am acutely aware of this in some capacity every single day. As a Marine, I witnessed it often.
I was in the U.S. Marine Corps stationed in Okinawa, Japan, when I earned the rank of sergeant, wearing those chevrons with the three stripes up and cross-rifles underneath for the very first time. Shortly thereafter, I would have to put those stripes to use.
During lunchtime, a corporal in my squadron was on the phone in our work space calling the base pizza shop. This particular Marine was known for being a racist piece of shit and couldn’t care less who knew about it. A co-worker of ours once said that he would hear him unabashedly utter the word nigger in the avionics shop among fellow white Marines – when no Black Marines were present, of course. The way he described it, though…
Nigger…with the “e-r.”
I could tell he was getting frustrated talking to the person on the other end of the line. Suddenly, he snapped at that person and disgustingly screamed into the earpiece, “You need to learn English, you gook!” slammed the phone down and proceeded to storm out of the room. Before he left the room, he shot a quick, surprising and somewhat embarrassed glance toward me because he didn’t know that I was present and heard his brief meltdown. I quickly followed him out of the office into the hangar and said, “Come here, corporal!” He kept walking. I yelled this time, “You better bring your ass here, corporal!” He came to me with a look on his face like he didn’t want to hear anything that came out of my mouth but he knew from my demeanor that I was serious, so he stood with his hands behind his back at parade rest as soon as he approached me.
When I arrived at the squadron as a brand new avionics technician just out of school, I was working under his charge. Now, the tables had turned. I looked him in his eyes while squinting my own and said to him in a stern manner, “Don’t you ever let me hear you talk like that again. Do you understand?”
“But she was…”
I cut him off abruptly.
“I don’t care what she was saying. Don’t you ever let me hear you say that shit again.” I knew he spoke like this regularly about Blacks and other minorities, only not in the presence of those whom he thought would give a damn. I continued, “And why should she have to learn English? You’re in their country. Why don’t you learn Japanese? Say that shit one more time…,” I said without going any further. It was understood. It would not be tolerated.
The U.S., on the other hand, has a different type of policy when it comes to tolerance and racism. It is a policy that allows for Gary Steele, a police officer in Detroit, to post a racist video mocking a Black woman he pulled over for a traffic stop. It is disturbing. Worse, it is accepted. It’s cool. No harm no foul. It’s as if he were caught going 70 in a 60 mile per hour zone. As long as no one gets hurt walking home in below freezing weather alone at night. It’s funny. Like a played-out punchline to an old joke that everyone in the office has heard before.
If he worked for a supervisor or an organization – or maybe even a country that he absolutely knew did not put up with racism, maybe he would have thought twice about advertising his racism on social media for the world to see. But he doesn’t work for that type of supervisor, organization, or live in that kind of country, so he was comfortable in doing so. More than comfortable, he was confident. He knew that his video would be seen and he would get a reaction. He knew there would be no serious repercussions. How else did he think his video would be perceived?
In a celebratory fashion. That is how. Mistreatment and disrespect toward Black people has always been lauded as well as encouraged.
There is a sense of admiration exhibited from white people when they defend Mark Allen Bartlett and Dana Scalione for terrorizing Black teenagers in Florida. Bartlett wielded a gun in full view, yelling “dumb ass fucking niggers” while walking menacingly toward the teens – one of whom was only 13 years old. It is precisely that level of tolerance and comfort that gives them the green light to threaten our children. One needs only to look at his smirk – that recognizable, crooked grin that communicated the permission given for him to pull a gun on us.
It is the epitome of acceptable cowardice but, hey, they are only following instructions per the president’s example. Yet he still won’t say anything about the killing sprees performed by white men over the past few weeks. Trump continually contributes to the open violence against Black people as if it were a GoFundMe for the murderers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. To deny that this is exactly what he is doing is to put on display one’s racism-based biases and lay with the socially perilous and intellectually incompetent.
Speaking of incompetence…
After our discussion, the Marine with whom I was speaking dejectedly turned and walked away to God knows where…possibly to be alone in his own little world of hate that surrounded his life from its beginning. Just like Bartlett, no doubt he called me a nigger…
…with the “e-r.”
Who knows where he learned or acquired such a crippling emotion? Maybe it was growing up in the town in which he was raised. Or quite realistically from his parents. I thought about all of those things as I made my way back to the work space, shaking my head and wondering why the fuck people insist on being that way.
I know now that he was influenced by the America from whence he came.