It’s happened again. A white man gone mad has walked into a group of people and started shooting. Yesterday, in a suburb outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin a man with ties to white supremacist groups entered a Sikh Temple and opened fire. While this has prompted many to ask if it’s time to talk about gun control, I want to talk about racism and white supremacy.
(Image from here)
The gun man has been identified as Wade Michael Page, someone that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had been tracking for some time as a potential threat. Page was a front man for a couple of white power bands and was heavily tattooed with white power symbols. However fascinating it may be to “decipher the tattoos” he wore, it would be a mistake to dismiss Page was an isolated actor from a lunatic fringe disconnected from the mainstream of U.S. society.
In fact, the reality is that white supremacy is a persistent, tragic feature of the American cultural and political landscape. The extreme expressions of white supremacy – like this shooting, or like some of the violent images and messages previously circulated in print and now online – are part of a larger problem. White supremacy is woven into the fabric of our society and it kills people.
Vijay Prashad, author of Uncle Swami: South Asians in America Today (New Press, 2012), has studied the deadly consequences of racism directed toward South Asians, including many of whom are Sikh (a religion, not an ethnicity). Following 9/11, Sikh men and women were targeted for their turban and head-scarf. The (il)logic of white supremacy seems to be that since Osama Bin Laden wore a turban, it was the turban-wearing Sikhs who ought to be attacked. As Prashad noted in Uncle Swami, within the first week after 9/11, a disproportionately large number of the 645 bias attacks took place against Sikhs. Prashad goes on to make the connection between everyday racist acts and the recent violence when she writes:
“Patterns are shunned. Structural factors such as the prevalence of guns and the lack of social care for mentally disturbed people should of course be in the frame. But so too should the preponderance of socially acceptable hatred against those seen as outsiders. Intellectually respectable opinions about who is an American (produced, for example, by Sam Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenge to National Identity) comes alongside the politician’s casual racism (Romney’s recent suggestion that the US and the UK are “part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage,” erased in a whip lash the diversity of the United States and Britain). Racist attacks are authorized by a political culture that allows us to think in nativist terms, to bemoan the “browning” of America.”
As Rinku Sen points out here, there’s nothing “random” or “senseless” to this event but it is, instead, linked to the everyday microaggressions in our (white) families. She writes:
“I implore of my white friends, when your nutty uncle or classmate goes off about some set of foreigners, you must make a fuss, cause a family crisis, become unpopular, speak up. We cannot do this for you.”
This is precisely the kind of thing that Jenni Mueller talked about doing here. Some of us are doing this, making a fuss, causing a family crisis, but not enough of us, not nearly enough. Harsha Walia in a guest post at Racialicious echoes this when she writes:
“Whites might actually have to start distancing themselves from white supremacy.”
Where was Page’s family, one wonders, as he got more and more overtly extremist in his views and body art? Quietly ashamed or happily cheering him on? We won’t know from the usual bland, mainstream reporting on stories involving race.
Perhaps more pressing, there need to be more white people who will educate themselves and start exposing white supremacy in all its forms whether shooting up Sikh temples or heralding the superiority of “Anglo-Saxon heritage.”