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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 5/30/17

America's Embrace of Willful Ignorance

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Message Dr. Lenore Daniels

These new great men are great because of what makes them similar to the mass --a kind of crude common sense, brutality, and lack of culture. The handling of affairs may make then admirably cunning and remarkably good at the practice of politics. But to maintain their prestige and power, they must also maintain their lack of culture and brutality. They must remain primitives.

Jean Guehenno, Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris

Dark blue signs appeared on so many lawns. Trump/Pence.

"I just grab them by"." "When you're a star, they let you do it."

As I rode pass one lawn after and another, I thought those signs could have read: Whites Only!

Here, in Trump's Kenosha, otherwise known as America's Kenosha, I sit on a seat in the front of the bus. I walk on whatever side of the street suits me. I shop or eat at any store or restaurant downtown. Whites speak to me, and I speak to them. While the calendar indicates this is 2017, I am sure Rosa Parks would be familiar with the status quo here in the heartland of America. In other words, she would recognize white supremacy not only in the war chants of Richard Spencer and his ilk. But more important, Rosa would recognize the way Black Americans are still expected to inhabit a certain place and to do so in a certain way so as to acknowledge allegiance to the supremacy of whiteness.

When I saw all those "Trump/Pence" signs, I recalled those first few weeks when I arrived at a new campus and a new state. I had taught for over ten years by this time. A white colleague and I stood in a hallway at the university here watching predominantly white students walking to and from their classes. They are unsophisticated. I heard her in this noisy hallway, but I did not ask for an explanation. Instead, I felt as if I were miles away from her and these students. I looked closer at the students. They did not see me! I was somewhere where these young white people did not see me! And when they did, they looked down at the top of my head. Lessons from home mattered! Soon I realized the phrase referenced what was no longer contained as something local. After September 11, 2001, when the narrative of the patriotic full-fledged American made my critical critique of American politics and culture suspect and anti-American that same colleague informed me that I "didn't fit it." And this phenomena was neither local or personal either.

Creating a space for the normalization of white supremacy has been the objective of neo-liberalism's "diversity" schemes. The product of a liberal imagination fearful of losing political and economic gains, these diversity programs serve to legitimize an acceptable method for determining what guise white supremacy should adopt, particularly at American institutions of higher education. The diversity scheme is no more than re-imagined white spaces, with a few good, carefully selected, Blacks, who, in turn, understand and accept their position as the minority in the space that whites only controlled. While the one hand whitewashed progress, the other blackened the space were political policies incarcerated and impoverished the unfortunate Blacks for whom "diversity" programming was never intended to recognize as anything but the Other, that is, the "criminal."

I have not owned a television for over ten years now and rarely watched it when I did. But, in recent months, I have viewed few 1970s American television programming on DVD. Black America is present and alive! For example, in the Columbo series (1971-1978), when Lt. Columbo arrives at a crime scene, he is seen asking Black law enforcement important question. Black reporters ask him important questions. Look in the background! Black doctors, nurses, patients, and visitors pass Columbo in the hospital halls. Blacks are present as doctors in McMillan and Wife (1971-1977) or as patients in M.A.S.H (1972-1983). We are shoppers and pedestrians walking or driving on the streets of San Francisco or we are the administrative assistants in New York offices. Matter-of-fact! Unapologetic! Even in the white films, such as All the President's Men, (1976), we are not the criminal or the drug user but the natural-wearing clerk Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, portraying the Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, ask for indexed information at the Library of Congress, no less!

Maybe it was "just a fashion."

By 1983, in The Big Chill, star actors in a seriously all-white Hollywood production muse about whether or not it was all just fashionable. The it refers to their time perhaps marching against the Vietnam War or marching for the Black Civil Rights. Was it all just fashion? Rather than educate, the film entertains at the expense of those referred to as the criminal, the "guilty."

Set in a spacious mansion in the South, the characters (a successful businessman and his wife, a doctor, a lawyer, a television actor, a People m agazine journalist, and an "outsider") are alumni of the University of Michigan. One of their friends from the college committed suicide, even though it appears as if he might have been a "scientific genius"--doing "what the hell," "welfare" work! What a "wasted" life! "He didn't know what to do." Maybe Alex died for most us "a long time ago?" The outsider's observation hits a collective nerve: " Oh, Nick, give me a break!"

What has happened to you! What is wrong with you!

The friends never answer the first question: was it all just fashionable? In fact, the question is dropped as soon as the lawyer informs her friends that she had to escape her clients: she had no idea they would be so "guilty." "Who did you think your clients would be?" To which another responds: "Huey and Bobby!"

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Activist, writer, American Modern Literature, Cultural Theory, PhD.

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