Last Sunday afternoon, Joshua Beal was fatally shot by an off-duty sergeant with the Chicago Police Department in the South Side neighborhood of Mt. Greenwood. He was visiting from Indianapolis for the funeral of a cousin, and was actually killed while driving in the funeral procession.
After the initial shooting, tensions quickly rose in the largely white, working class neighborhood — one which is home to many CPD families, and carries a long history of violent racism. While community members gathered to support the Beal family — who were barred from the crime scene by police for over seven hours — residents of the neighborhood surrounded them in an impromptu #BlueLivesMatter protest. They carried signs including the slogans “You Are Animals,” and “You Ruined Your Own Neighborhoods/Don’t Ruin Ours.” Mourning family members were called “niggers,” jeered at and harassed. Other community members who visited the precinct where Michael Beal was being held reported #BlueLivesMatter signs hung on its doors.
An ugly overlapping between invigorated white nationalist organizing and an increasingly militarized police force is emerging across the US. This was chillingly illustrated by the recent flocking of law enforcement from across the central US to the Standing Rock reservation. Police from precincts as far as Illinois traveled to North Dakota to intimidate Native protectors on land where they had no jurisdiction — even by colonial standards. There is mounting zeal within the police force to lend weaponry and aggression, well outside of any legal bounds, to defend white nationhood, targeting communities of color with extrajudicial violence to do so.
The current spike in bigotry we are experiencing — within and outside of the police force — is alarming without doubt, but should not be viewed as the result of one political campaign’s racist platform. Rather, it must be understood as the inevitable outcome of decades of forced competition amongst oppressed communities for needed resources, and the evading of structural change through superficial reforms. It is white supremacy — enforced by the police, prison and military systems, and heralded in the values of every major political party — which maintains the bounds of that competition, and shields the power of the elite from being challenged on a structural level.
Trump’s atrocious campaign proposal of banning Muslims from entering the US was patently dangerous — and we should all be prepared to take direct action to make sure such proposals do not come to fruition. Yet Clinton’s claim during the presidential debates that Muslim citizens should be “our eyes and ears” in preemptively combating terrorist plots were equally dangerous, and could have easily been used to justify similar measures. Both of these stances play on racist and anti-Muslim fears to garner a sense of white soveriegnty, only differentiating themselves in how they call on Muslims to substantiate those fears. The scapegoating of immigrants, workers, people of color, and the poor for creating the crises generated by neoliberalism is a decades-old practice, one which relies on white anxiety to cover the tracks of the ruling class.
More recently, white nationalism has been linked with a spate of police murders. Scott Michael Greene, who killed two officers in Iowa in late October, allegedly did so because he was enraged that Black athletes kneeling for the national anthem had not been arrested. Over 70% of police killings in 2016 have been carried out by white men, a fact around which many have noted a telling silence among conservatives. The FBI itself has been warning of growing white supremacist activity within law enforcement for more than a decade, and some pundits have gone so far as to call white nationalism the greatest standing threat to national security.
That white nationalism can exist within police forces while simultaneously targeting them may seem counterintuitive. Yet there is a telling truth within this seeming conflict: The reason white men who commit these acts of violence escape condemnation — and, often, jail time — isn’t a mere matter of privilege or prejudice; It is because the white supremacy their violence represents is also represented by the police, prison and military systems themselves. It is the same reason police who murder Black and Brown citizens regularly evade incarceration, and even receive massive pensions. These organizations are not equipped to punish individuals for carrying out the logical extensions of their own values, nor for acting from the same sense of supremacy they work to reinforce.
While I am in no way concerned with national security, I do see white nationalism as a real threat to the wellbeing of all our communities. Not only does it pose an immediate endangering of all non-white people, but its existence is a bulwark against any form of justice for the systemic violence perpetrated historically and currently by the US. At its core, white nationalism is a grasping for the myths upon which the US is founded — white supremacy, patriarchy, the amassing of personal wealth as a virtue, and the use of force to silence all opposition. It is fragile, anxious, and responds to fear as a reflex — part of the reason it is such a potent tool for all political parties. Resisting it is resisting the core values of the US empire, and working towards real accountability for centuries of imperialist violations.
White people have a specific role in confronting white nationalism, because white communities are the ones most invested in its perpetuation, and who benefit most directly from its set of mythologies. White communities must begin to see white supremacy — and white nationalism as its organized manifestation — as their unique responsibility. Distinctions like ‘liberal and conservative,’ ‘northern and southern,’ ‘Republican and Democrat,’ ‘uneducated and educated,’ aside from betraying elitism, serve to deflect responsibility for oppressive values that are ubiquitous to white communities, even when enacted differently based on class, educational and geographic context.
A fundamental shift is needed, one in which white people learn to see themselves as responsible for the white supremacy inherent in themselves, their families, their coworkers and countrymen. When a racist candidate, endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, sweeps the majority of white votes across gender and class, white people as a collective are experiencing a crisis for which they need to hold each other accountable. When Donald Trump inevitably says something despicable about Mexican immigrants or Black mothers, and millions of other white people cheer, stating for the record that you voted for a different candidate is meaningless.
A well of white power has sprung up, one from which very few white people will experience violence, and all white people will ultimately benefit. To deny this, to not actively resist it, is to accept a bloody reality for millions, and ultimately billions, of Black and Brown people across the planet. Working within white supremacist structures, hiding behind ballots cast for other candidates whose policies would have represented many of the same impacts, does not count as resistance.
Resistance does look like anti-racist and anti-fascist education within white communities, led by white community members. It does look like finally backing the movements within Black, immigrant, Muslim, poor, working and Native communities, joining us in the streets, standing between us and the destructive bodies that protect whiteness. It looks like a mass redistribution of personal wealth into oppressed peoples’ grassroots efforts, instead of corporate charities and mainstream political parties.
But perhaps most significantly — and more urgently than ever — it looks like advocating for police, prison and military abolition. It is an ultimate reckoning with the fact that these systems empower white supremacy by extracting resources from Black and Brown communities, killing the poor to protect the material assets of the wealthy, and fueling white rage to distract from their own imbalances. It is understanding that “Trump,” “Blue Lives Matter,” and “Niggers Go Home” are interchangeable slogans.
How do we divest from white nationalism? By fighting for the defunding, disarming and dismantling of the structures that rely on white fear to spur violence against the communities rendered obsolete under capitalism. It’s inherent violence must lead us to examine the violence of nationalism itself, and forces us to question the validity of the nation-state as the body which makes it possible for that violence to flourish.
The ongoing militarization of the nation-state is exactly what makes this charge so daunting. Many of us have stood idly by while vast sums of money, weaponry, and power have been heaped on the US’ most violent apparatuses. Pushing back against them means staring down the artillery we have allowed them to amass. It means the real threat of harm, of incarceration, of damage to our bodies. But it is high time for all of us — and white communities in particular — to rise to that challenge. White hesitance is how things got this bad, why resistance is so dangerous. It’s past time white communities put themselves and their whiteness in danger by standing up to white supremacy outside of the mechanisms meant to maintain it. This is the only way to threaten the structures that have spelled nothing but danger for Black and Brown people since they were invented.
A Trump presidency is disheartening, but it is not surprising. It is representative of a history that has never been accounted for, a mess that has never been wiped up. It is a germinating of the fear and pain people of color have never stopped expressing, but that liberals and conservatives alike have consistently ignored. It is a testament to the organizing of Black and Brown communities, their capacity to shake the material realities of the status quo so deeply as to invoke a massive, vengeful response. It is indicative of the power of whiteness, it’s ability to unite poor people in allegiance to their own master, so long as he promises them supremacy over the other, can convincingly demonize the margins. It is a blowing open of the work that has never been earnestly done, that must finally be done, and the onus of which rests squarely on the shoulders of white communities, nationally and globally.
The election is over, and with it the illusion of our ability to choose our political destinies through the electoral system. Today, we must ask ourselves how we will respond to the slashing of needed resources for the bolstering of state-sanctioned violence. We must ask ourselves how we will protect the earth, halt the official bodies who see the amassing of their own wealth as a higher priority than the longevity of our planet, and the sovereignty of Native people. We must ask how we will defend ourselves and each other from heightened racial, sexual, xenophobic and anti-Muslim attacks.
And white people must ask themselves what their individual and collective work will be in challenging white nationalism, undoing the structures that have generated this moment by selectively tolerating white supremacist terror.
Help the Beal family raise money for Joshua’s funeral by donating through Black Lives Matter Chicago.