Because of Staten Island’s geographic, historic, and cultural placement within the real and imaged New York City, it has functioned as a microcosm of white ethnicity for as long as anyone can remember. It has maintained a steady influx of immigrant populations and their connections to “the old world.” This includes their views on ethnic truths and traits. There is a proximity to whiteness that each ethic group recognizes and the pecking order is well-established. I will note early, that your behaviors can affect your perceived proximity to whiteness; you can be knocked down a few pegs. This brings shame, not only to you, but your family. I have been exposed to all of the “tiers of whiteness” at play in our received (and accepted) culture. And it all boils down to respect and power.
Florida is having an identity crisis—it knows proximity to power means whiteness. It knows the dominant subset of the population appears to be the white, Christian hetero, cis-gendered males. It knows it wants power. It knows it wants to display that power. What other space than whiteness?
I have watched the media reporting and listened to the racial rhetoric with a cool level of detachment; mostly because many of the people being dubbed white supremacists aren’t even white. I shrug it off as idiocy, but the idiocy propagates.
In the states, “whiteness” is attached to wealth. In the industrializing world, it attached to complexion and sometimes a eugenics-like view of facial structure. In Europe, where the true origins of white supremacist thought can be found, whiteness is a bloodline. It is a genetic heritage into which one cannot buy in. The “one drop rule” lives on, as in, “one drop of blood outside the white heritage bloodlines and you are unpure/dirty.” By true white supremacist standards, most of the self-proclaimed white supremacists in the United States would be laughed at.
I was in New York City public school during a resurgence of “desegregation busing” in the 90’s.Ididn’thave any negative feelings about the efforts but was sensitive to the tension it caused and how all the black students that were bussed in, formed tight units and rarely moved outside of them—even walking to class. In an equal and opposite (even though opposite creates a logical fallacy) reaction, white students also started banding together, tightening their group relations. Within these groups, the hierarchy of whiteness was very much at play. “Good” people, intelligent people, useful people were allowed to hang even if their blood heritage did not fit the square hole of whiteness.
I remained on the outskirts of this, as I do most things.
Some of the more imposing young men in these groups would try to engage me about my “responsibilities” as “a woman of Aryan descent” and how it was honor to carry this bloodline and I better not go and “fuck it up.” They were trying to instill selective breeding in a 14-15yo girl.
“You don’t even know what the fuck you are talking about.” I rolled my eyes, dismissing them. “Blonde hair, blue eyes, that facial structure, I don’t even need to ask if you are Aryan, I can see it all over you.”
Their singling me out was meant to privilege me but all it did was make me feel separate and alone in a minefield created generations before me.
“Why are you even holding this up? You know if this was the holocaust, you’d all be dead.” I jabbed at them. “I don’t know, Hitler needs a few good soldiers,” they said, while kissing their biceps. “And I’d be dead too—I’m half Irish. And Catholic.” “Nah, you look the part completely.”
The ever-shifting whiteness, even within that conversation, was used as a tool of hierarchy and weapon of control. The only response was brute force—which I often, foolishly exhibited in the face of this nonsense rhetoric, punching and shoving the boys in question.
But the power of this thought-paradigm was undeniable. All around us, the sub-cultures throbbed with this sort of descent: a person’s right to be racist if they wanted. And we were supposed to respect their right by not engaging or antagonizing if we were of different beliefs. We were alternately respected if we never associated with them again; as this was our right in turn. But it really was, just below the surface, an ever-present menace. The music scene at the time had a racist sub-culture. What color laces you wore in your doc martens revealed your stance on race. There was still a skinhead bar on the Lower East Side and the prophesized RAHOWA appeared in songs and conversation—in New York City.
White supremacy is the most powerful drug because it is an associative-dissociative aligned with a dominant group. Meaning, the association within the group is through an inherent or implied disassociation with the rest. The vitriol from the last flare up of the white supremacist “movement” has subsided since the 1990’s but the sentiment remains—it now entirely inhabits socio-economics, which is nice-speak for “racial caste system.” The United States, socially, functions under a racial caste system wherein skin color and racial origin indicate one’s place within the economic system. When Black = poor, no other poverty exists nor does another reality for Black people exist. This is not my opinion, this is dominant thought.
Just like you can’t buy into a bloodline, you can’t buy out.
There is a level of acceptance, camaraderie, and neo-tribalism at play with all racial relations. Whiteness is a convoluted construct and as such, only extremists can align under it. You’re in because you’re in. You don’t have to do better because you are better. This transcends social boundaries and places one in opposition to the rest. The dissociative state lets us view the “others” objectively: (not with neutrality, but with judgment; as object) all of their faults and flaws. We are suddenly under no obligation to see ourselves because we are also the “other.” We are the beste andere.
I believe Americans align themselves with this mythology because it is the implied and inherent power structure on the planet, at this time. More importantly for our purposes, it is the blatant financial structure in the U.S.A. Which even for its strange tiers and hierarchy, must admit that the “whitest”(meaning most privileged and affluent)among us would “fail the D.N.A. test” for “white purity.”
We are making fools of ourselves.
If there is a still a true, viable white supremacist state of the real or imaginary, they are happy to let the others do their work for them, to propagate hate and racist ideals. And if enough true power is ever funneled to these groups again, all their helpers will be thrown into the furnaces with the rest. I promise you, they are laughing at you, even as they accept your help.
Look at this whiteness; it is willing to purge itself of any abnormalities to retain a subjective myth of purity.
Look at this whiteness—it puts you to work and burns you when it finds you no longer useful. It is gladly unforgiving.
Look at this whiteness: at its peak it was the meth and cocaine-fueled rampage of a man who did not even fit the ethnic description of the pure Aryan he was deeming “The Master Race.” By his standards, he should have burned in the ovens with the rest of the “unpure.”But maybe he just afforded himself an individual cremation for his efforts; in a ditch, soaked in gasoline.
The only thing that sickens me more than this perpetuation of the whiteness myth as a source of power and supremacy is the possibility that our writers and media are lumping these right-wing movements in with white supremacists, that they are using the term as buzz words, that they are being lazy and foolish and that their stupidity is creating a nesting ground for true white supremacy to gain ground, gain power, affect change(this criticism completely ignores the class warfare that the same irresponsible actions cause).
These aren’t cute bylines, these are peoples’ lives.
Writers for these media outlets are the current arbiters of our culture and are wildly irresponsible for personal gain. Criminal, even. On “both” sides.
The “white Christian nation” is not synonymous with white nationalism and white supremacy; it is a totem. American masculinity is the dominant force in this country. American masculinity has nowhere else to align itself. All deviations from it are perceived as gradations of disempowerment. Every other group that feels disempowered is also aligning itself with and acknowledging this as their power structure.
Nationalism is a condition through which we view the world and our place in it.
It is also an associative-dissociative—it empowers and has the ability to do so outside of race and ethnicity—and even this has proven a very dangerous bedfellow.
We, culture makers, have the opportunity right now to actually create a culture. One in which acceptance and unification are demanded—where any efforts and/or attempts to divide or create disharmony are seen as such a social taboo that it makes all of our skin crawl. There is so much with which to align within the individual.
Whiteness is temporal.
Christianity is faith.
Nation is not synonymous with race.
Nation is opportunity.
We are the world-builders here. So, yes, Fuck Florida. But also see Florida for exactly what it is right now: an articulation of masculine dominance through any and all outlets provided by the dominant culture. Florida wants to be something it believes it is not: powerful. It especially wants to be seen that way. Let us use this opportunity to shape American Masculinity in our image and through the lens of American ideals. We see it even playing out in the D.C./Marvel multiverses. We see men of all races very clearly expressing what is important to them through this medium and their resonance with it. They show us what they would fight for if they didn’t feel so goddamn disempowered every day. I don’t forgive their lashing out in the form of supremacist/dominance fear tactics but I recognize and acknowledge the forces and conditions that have brought us to this precipice again and allowed it to play out this way. We are the ones in charge of changing it. We can only do so through objective recognition and concerted action (borne from independent thought feeding interdependence).Group-think is an easy place to hide but bravery exists only for the individual. It's time to shift the culture back to the individual imperative.
Jen Fitzgerald is a poet, essayist, photographer, and a native New Yorker who received her MFA in Poetry at Lesley University and her BA in Writing at The College of Staten Island (CUNY). Her essays, poetry, and photography have been featured in venues such as The Nation, PBS Newshour, Tin House, Boston Review, NER, Colorado Review among others. Her first collection of poetry, The Art of Work, was published by Noemi Press (2016).
She has organized the literary community around issues of representation in publishing as Count Director for The VIDA Count.
She works to bring writing & literacy workshops to incarcerated youth and adults on Rikers Island and other jails/institutions around NYC.