On May 6th, the African American Policy Forum hosted its seventh episode of its hit series, Under The Blacklight. Titled “Mobilizing Whiteness to ‘Reopen America,’” the episode took up the ways that an ideology of whiteness has become central to the American response to COVID-19, and how the destructive push to “reopen” tracks the ugly history of the impossibility the very notion of public institutions and the public good in the face of racial hierarchy. By critically unpacking the ways that the debased frameworks of freedom, liberty, and patriotism have been used to advocate for a return to an unjust status quo, we can start to gain clarity on why right-wing protestors are irate not about the scale of death and destruction, but about the inability to act as consumers, producers, and crucially, oppressors.
Joined by set of esteemed panelists, Executive Director and moderator Kimberle Crenshaw opened with a pair of guiding questions: “Are we prepared to go beyond tying the disparate rates of infection and death to structural racism to reach the ideological mobilization of white supremacy unfolding in these state capitals? Has our ability to read these uprisings as modes of weaponizing whiteness kept pace with the disastrous consequences of this politically opportunistic activation?
From there, she kicked it to professor and author Joe Lowndes, who told the audience of his visit to a “reopen” protest in Salem, Oregon where he witnessed a truly disturbing manifestation of white rage, and a sense of adamant defiance that these unmasked vectors of the virus were breaking through social mores. Referencing his latest op ed, “The Morbid Ideology Behind the Drive to Reopen America,” it’s clear to Lowndes that the political mapping of coronavirus is profoundly racialized.
From Lowndes, Alex DiBranco -- the executive director of the Institute for Research on Male Supremacism -- folded in the gendered dimensions of the backlash. She noted how “over the past few decades, misogyny has become a more significant part of right-wing movements.” In Michigan, in particular, DiBranco explained how Governor Gretchen Whitmer has been the focus of the same sexist attacks Hillary Clinton received in the 2016 election. The repurposing of “lock her up,” to DiBranco, signals the same “conspiracist mindset” that often blames women for issues small and large.
With snapshot baselines from Lowndes and DiBranco in tow, Dorian Warren -- the President of Community Change -- pointed us toward three steps we must take in order to respond to coronavirus' catastrophic consequences. The first: name the threat -- name white supremacy and white nationalism. The second: point to the villains -- call out the people who are making draconian decisions, and remove them from power. And the third: ask yourself, what’s an alternative vision? What can racial and gender justice look like through an intersectional prism?
With a break to hear questions and comments from the chat room, E.D. Crenshaw turned to Jason Wilson -- a journalist based in the Pacific Northwest who cogently illuminated the common threads running through right-wing protests and connecting them to broader conservative movement. Indeed, to Wilson’s eye, the protests and pushback to the lockdown have helped integrate the Republican party’s rank and file into an increasingly large, increasingly rabid extremism. Funded by dark money groups, the crisis has “put the wind at the backs of the far right.”
The goals of the far right -- according to the author and Chair of African American Studies at Emory University Carol Anderson -- are weaving themselves more and more fully into the fabric of American political life. To Anderson, their goals can be easily, but strikingly, summed up: they want to create a neo-apartheid state. For evidence, she cited the intersection of coronavirus with voting and employment rights, looking specifically to Georgia’s re-opening process; a process that has laid bare the race and class distinctions of the state’s mangled economy. In doing so, it's reinvigorated a decades-long Republican project: the shredding of democracy.
Mab Segrest, the author of the forthcoming book Administrations of Lunacy, led us into the roundtable by detailing the particularities of Lost Cause-ism in the South, and its trenchant legacy. By elevating the legacy of the confederacy in the South, Segrest allowed us to more fully see the centrality of race in American inequality. She tied George Wallace’s electoral appeal to the modern Republican party’s, and critically examined the role of white women in forming a deeply problematic remembrance of a slavocracy.
With facilitation from Executive Director Crenshaw, and active participation from our panelists and audience, the conversation continued into a spirited roundtable. You can listen to our YouTube recording and/or our edited podcast to more deeply engage the rich material.
Until next time...