Weaponized Whiteness and the Ethic of Disarmament
“It is impossible to be unarmed when my blackness is the weapon you fear.”
Reverend Traci Blackmon
Over the past few decades, and since the inception of what this country calls freedom, it has been considered best -and often lawful - practice to protect ourselves from each other, to apply dignity to a few and a label on some spectrum of “landscape to dangerous” to others.
"This may seem a contradiction, but … it is neither a crime nor an absurdity. When we profess, as our fundamental principle, that liberty is the inalienable right of every man, we do not include madmen or idiots; liberty in their hands would become a scourge. Till the mind of the slave has been educated to perceive what are the obligations of a state of freedom, the gift would insure its abuse.”
“Keep poor whites as separate, and as distinct as possible from the Negroes, who want no encouragement to mix with, and become too familiar (for no good purpose) with these kinds of people.” George Washington
Whether inherited by desire or design, this is the legacy that influences culture and governance in the United States. People of color are presumed to be armed with rage, insensitivity, unruliness and general bad behavior. The architects of this nation sought to shield themselves from us, and divide us from each other. Fear (of true freedom, equality for all) is the weapon of choice for white centeredness. Racism wields the weapon too, though often disguised. Born of a fear that people of color are super-human, white supremacy armed itself with legalized displacement, slavery and terrorism in order to mark us as sub-human, and it now relieves itself of the guilt of killing us, since we are anti-innocent non-humans by law.
Justice will not come about by simply acknowledging the existence of this weapon, we all know that it exists and is in regular use (reference any number of human lives recently reduced to hashtags). No, freedom must be demanded. It is time for every person of good will to stand in the way of weaponized whiteness and demand that it disarm itself.
We bear witness to whiteness that our Blackness is only a weapon to those who fear it. In the past few years in our region, we have watched police arm themselves, then command unarmed civilians to cease, desist, and “stand down” in their own neighborhoods. Of what metal is our melanin? What match is Black skin to tactical gear?
Like the mirrored casket from Ferguson that makes its way into the halls of history this very weekend, we must speak up and disrupt in order to show the empire its own reflection. The people accused of being deadly and dangerous are standing on the street without weapons, while law enforcement claiming to “fear for their lives” are armed to the hilt.
We must deliberately dismantle the fear-based ethnic divides with which we have been conditioned to arm ourselves. We must do this daily, boldly, and in one accord. The most insidious piece of weaponized whiteness may very well be its ability to cause people of color to forget each other in the struggle for full liberation.
Within the United States, scholars and activists have pointed out the perils of basing theories of racism, as well as anti-racist practices, on the black-white paradigm that informed the quest for civil rights and, further, of assuming that the civil rights paradigm is foundational to the very meaning of anti-racism. Neither paradigm can account, for example, for the role colonization and genocide against indigenous people played in shaping U.S. racism. The historical genocide against indigenous people relies precisely on invisibility—on an obstinate refusal to recognize the very existence of native North Americans, or a recognition or misrecognition that only acknowledges them as impediments to the transformation of the landscape—impediments to be destroyed or assimilated. - Angela Davis
The most effectual movements for change focus on truth-telling. People of faith are taught to remember this by our own calling to speak truth in love. In this movement, speaking the truth in love is love. And love is how we stay woke. The humanity of my Native neighbor should disarm me of any false assumptions about them. The humanity of Black people should be celebrated, embraced and empathized with, not diminished. Any attempt to de-humanize a person is the manifestation of our deep fear of the truth - that we are all equals. Feeding this fear is the primary goal of all supremacist notions. Whiteness in the United States has armed itself out of fear that it is in fact just as human, vulnerable and valuable as any other race. Weaponized with fear, and self-centered as the source of all cultural and political “authority” - it must maintain power in order to insure its own way of life. In so doing, it puts all other lives at risk.
Some meager examples:
- Armenian Americans were initially identified among the “Asiatics” who were all barred from owning land, then the group was designated “white persons” in 1909, allowing for an entirely different trajectory of land ownership and opportunity compared with their Japanese neighbors, for instance.
- Native tribes were legally banned from becoming “naturalized” US citizens until a sweeping ruling in 1924. The failed attempt before that, in 1884, ended with the Supreme Court ruling that Native children born on this land were not naturalized citizens of the United States.
- In 1925 Mississippi’s Supreme Court upheld the “negroization” of Chinese people. Not being white enough to mix with white people, Chines immigrants were officially considered part of “the colored race” and therefore barred from mingling with whites, especially in educational institutions.
History is clear, the struggle for liberation must be multi-ethnic. Specifically - it must be inter-minority. Since the earliest evidences of the construct of race, ethnic groups in the United States (and many countries) have been “racialized” differently to respond to the “needs” of a society in which dignity is designed by skin color. The oppressive nature of white supremacy is the foundation for the divisive outcome of white normalcy. But we must not be divided or distracted from the task of disarming weaponized white-centeredness. We can be united by our common humanity, by the good will we possess, that is the power to make a difference right now. Here are some initiatives our partners have planned to that end.
Please join us October 8th for two important Inter-Minority Events
Inter-Minority Dialogue with Dr. Soong Chan Rah
along with local faith leaders and business owners
1216 Sidney St., St. Louis, MO 63104 // 9am-5pm, Saturday October 8th
Dr. Soong Chan Rah is one of our favorite authors and teachers. We highly recommend his works: Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church, The Next Evangelicalism: Releasing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, and Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times
SPEAK: APIs & Black Lives
2600 N 14th St, St. Louis 63106 // 8pm to 11pm October 8th
- From the organizers - This is a creative event featuring social justice activists and artists to build unity and create dialogue among St. Louis’ minority populations--specifically Blacks and the Asian/Pacific Islander communities. The event will include speakers sharing their stories of ethnocentrism, inter-minority colorism, and the various myths that divide minority communities in the US; particularly the need for inter-minority solidarity as artists and social activists.
By intentionally seeking to disarm ourselves of cultural assumptions and judgment, we will overcome the farce of weaponized whiteness that has for far too long successfully tempted peoples of color to demonize each other. Our history of legalized discrimination often acts as armor for us - customized to plant callous disregard between Black Americans and our African relatives, between us and our API, Latinx, and other neighbors. Turning towards each other, listening and speaking directly into to each other’s experiences, gives us the opportunity to learn truth and to put away assumptions. When we are liberated to more fully be ourselves, and to humanize one another, we can redefine our communities under a new ethic of disarmament:
Equity - our lives, contributions, opportunities and status are the same, and of equal worth.
Justice - Centering the people who do not experience equity, dismantling the systems that despise it.
Liberation - Equality is not a threat. I am neither intimidated by, fearful or covetous of the contributions, opportunities and status of my neighbors.
A few weeks ago we heard a lecture from the Rev. Dr. Mika Edmondson on The Beloved Community, and being our brother’s keeper. He referenced the ethic of sacrificial love as the high power of a fully just and integrated system. Think of how far away we are from this ethic right now. Our families and communities operate today under an ethic of sacrificial fear. Instead of honoring the contributions of our brothers, their offerings that the Lord favors, we rise up against them and strike them down; weaponizing our own fears and inadequacies, dehumanizing them to cover up our own guilt. This is the ultimate divide according to Dr. Edmondson: “if I am not my brother’s keeper, then I am his killer.” If the life of my fellow image bearer is not sacred to me, then I am a participant in their demise. We cannot escape our responsibilities to each other, we should not want to.
When The Lord heard Abel’s brother-spilled blood crying out from the ground, he asked Cain “what have you done?”
The Holy Spirit is moving among his Church, just as Creator God did in the garden - and he is asking us the same question today: what have we done? Have we protected and honored our brothers and sisters? Or have we made them the sacrifice for our blood guilt, slaughtering them on an altar of fear we built for self-worship, so that the gifts that we present ourselves cannot be rejected. AmeriKKKa and many of her churches participate in this type of worship every day.
In the past few days and years, the Church has risen up to resist the temptation to become servants only to ourselves. But there is yet more work to be done. Acknowledging that we are no longer slaves to fear is only one step of disarming ourselves in the presence of fellow image bearers. What then shall we do? Where will we go on this journey in and toward total “wokeness”? That is, of what impact is this condition of restlessness in which we find ourselves - until freedom comes, until we reach out and take hold of it TOGETHER?
Let us rise up and stand in the way of the weapons that lay our communities to waste. Let us learn to thrive in each others presence by first walking humbly in the presence of our God. The author of all truth is calling us to bear witness - and as his truth marches on, we would do well to follow him in the truest disarming: our God so loves his creation that he disarmed himself in order to dwell among us - and deliver us. Thus, we must love our neighbors - our brothers and sisters - so much more than we love ourselves; to the point of sacrificing even the pieces of life that seem to protect us most, in order to live out our calling to protect and sacrifice for each other.