Books

This Is America: One Nation “Under God”

Currently reading: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind.

I recently finished Franz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks. In this work, Fanon examines the psychological effects of racism and colonialism on the Black psyche and traces their roots through observation of our media and psychoanalysis. My takeaway from Fanon is that racism continues to be a cancer that the United States refuses to treat. We see its ugly manifestations in our current immigration policy and even the way we treat successful people of color like Serena Williams.

Fanon argues that, “All forms of exploitation are alike. They all seek to justify their existence by citing some biblical decree.” (69) The notion of biblical justification has precedence in our past as well as our present. Nazi Germany, South Africa during apartheid, and the United States back then and now have the following in common: they all utilized the Bible to justify their systems of subjugation. The United States cherry-picked Bible verses to justify enslaving Black people. Nazi Germany and South Africa during apartheid both quoted Romans 13. The first verse reads, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” In other words, do not question or challenge authority. When you pick a fight with authority, you pick a fight with God Himself. You know who else quoted this verse to justify atrocities? Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

When announcing the Trump administration’s zero tolerance immigration policy, Jeff Sessions evoked Romans 13: “Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.” [1] Sessions is using this verse to legitimize separating families and putting them in facilities (see also: internment camps). Immigrant families are being exploited for political gain because Trump’s base is anti-immigration. The zero tolerance policy is a racist policy because these families are not white. I don’t see Trump promoting stereotypes when mentioning European immigrants. Immigrants are not the only group subject to prejudice and racism. We can see mistreatment on the basis of color in the recent case of Serena Williams with the Anti-Doping Agency.

Serena Williams is a seven-time tennis champion. She has also been tested for performance-enhancing drugs “five times this year by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.” [2] This is more than double her fellow women players. Why is that? We can find our answer in the way our society’s collective unconscious[3] views Black people as criminals. In the case of Serena Williams, this is criminality in the world of professional sports. Fanon encapsulates our country’s collective unconscious when he says, “Sin is black as virtue is white.” (118) This mental association of Black with wrongdoing is why people of color are disproportionately stopped by police, arrested and locked away by police, and shot by police. This prejudice of the Black person as criminal is also why Serena Williams is being disproportionately tested. Some may argue not everything is about race, but ask yourself this: Why only Serena Williams? What is even more damning is that the USADA has found no suspicion of doping on Serena’s part. This goes beyond viewing her as capable of cheating because of her being Black; now this looks like simple harassment because she is black. The fact that Serena has been the victim of racist and sexists remarks by members of the tennis world only bolsters the view that Serena is being disproportionately scrutinized because she is Black and a woman. The situation of Serena Williams teaches us that a Black woman can be accomplished and successful through hard work and still be subject to harassment because of the color of her skin.

After cataloging the various forms of our country’s racism, what is the solution? The Four Noble Truths contain an important step our country needs to take. In order to transform suffering into joy, the first step is acknowledgment of suffering’s existence. Before our country can take the necessary steps to heal, the injury needs to be identified, but the denial is strong. People of color are consistently told to get over it. Racism is in the past. Color doesn’t exist. Really? The children of immigrant families and successful people of color who are treated like criminals share the following in common: they are not white. But remember, folks: color doesn’t exist.

[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2018/06/16/jeff-sessions-bible-romans-13-trump-immigration-policy/707749002/

[2] https://www.npr.org/2018/07/03/625746829/deadspin-serena-williams-is-one-of-the-most-drug-tested-tennis-players

[3] And by collective unconscious, I refer to Fanon’s redefinition which argues the collective unconscious is the “repository of prejudices, myths, and collective attitudes of a particular group.” (165)

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