Somewhere in the good ol’ book, there’s a saying that goes, “There is nothing new under the sun.” Now, I’m about six years removed from my last Sunday school class, but I’m pretty sure this concept also applies to a fairly old concept:
Now, I am not here to recount the origins of language or debate its merits. But ... I am here to discuss the way in which white supremacy in particular employs language.
Dog whistle politics. Coded language. Not wanting us to say “white” because it helps us identify white supremacy and destroys the idea that white people are “colorless” and the default. These are just a few ways in which white supremacy twists words to suit its own purpose. And none of this is new, either. But it is important to discuss them in a 2017 context, one that includes Donald Trump, Charlottesville, Va., neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
My interest in tackling this all started with this post Jessica Chastain retweeted, which talked about the so-called alt-left “being a problem.” My annoyance at yet another visible white celebrity acting all fake deep about a concept she or he clearly doesn’t have the juice or credentials to discuss (i.e., anti-fascists are in no way the same as actual Nazis, and to portray them as such is sympathizing with fascists) aside, I was once again bombarded with the fake word “alt-left.”
I’m not sure how the word even came to be (but I’m pretty sure the New York Times had something to do with it, since they’ve been back on their bullshit for the last couple of weeks with these terrible hot takes), but the irony of it popping up right as anti-fascist groups (antifa) have become more visible recently, and are putting themselves on the line to defend people from white supremacists, does not escape me.
Confused? You shouldn’t be. And here’s why:
1. White media branding antifa (and other resistance groups) “the alt left” changes the conversation.
In the case of “alt-left,” there’s a lot to unpack in it. As it stands, white media named it such to stand as the opposite of “alt-right.” It’s supposed to exist as a dichotomy. Two extremes that exist in this world. One apparently cannot exist without the other. One’s ying and one’s yang. Destined to fight each other until the end of all time ...
... except that’s bullshit, insidiously brilliant bullshit. You know why? Because “alt-right” itself originally emerged as a baby-soft, Johnson & Johnson-approved synonym for white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Add that to Mother Jones’ and the Los Angeles Times’ humanizing these assholes by pointing out how “dapper” they are and how they are just like us, and it obviously gave way to the vast resurgence of white supremacists ... just by a different name in order to make them more palatable.
Interestingly enough, however, that actually didn’t work for long. “Alt-right”—as a term, that is—is something black people and other people of color were privy to from jump street, which made anyone using the term “alt-right” seriously look like an insufferable limp goat.
So. It wasn’t too long before “alt-right” meant something negative again (as it should). Which is why calling antifa its antithesis, “alt-left,” is notable. Without the racially critical lens that white supremacy tries to avoid, “alt-right” can be reduced to meaning that one is way too conservative, to the point that it is impolite and problematic. And because white people have shown historically that they are bad with definitions (coincidence? unlikely), most would opt to assume that “alt-left” simply means being way too liberal.
And that’s how antifa goes from fighting Nazis to having to waste time and precious energy distinguishing themselves from them. It’s a similar case with Black Lives Matter and black resistance groups, too. They get lumped in with the Ku Klux Klan, even though that logically makes no sense. These are false equivalencies, of course, but that’s the point. These erroneous comparisons exist for the sole purpose of derailment from taking the fight to white supremacy. Distraction. And also?
Which brings me to my next point:
2. Terms like “alt-left” shift the blame from the bully (white supremacy) to the victims (antifa and the rest of us who oppose neo-Nazis and white supremacists).
I don’t need to tell you that white supremacy is the ultimate big bad. The monster. The bully. And, you know, bullies can’t really be known as bullies if they want to be able to check off all items on their bully agenda.
So what do they always do? They become the victim. And in doing so, they somehow win the sympathy of the people who stood idle while they tormented their victims, along with the sympathy of the annoyingly unrealistic moral absolutists—the same people who would quote that there is “violence on both sides” at a victim for having the sheer audacity to hit back.
This happens for two reasons: the first being that retaliation from the victim—even justifiable—forces the inactive party to confront their inaction and complicity in the bully’s efforts; the second being that retaliation and justifiable rage from a victim disrupt the status quo.
It suddenly makes the situation uncomfortable and not easy to deal with—as one can no longer ignore it (now, that’s the MLK we rock with). And with white supremacy being the bully, and antifa (and many others) being the victims, we can’t have that, can we?
With this being the case, it’s not coincidental that antifa is becoming a growing point of contention for spineless centrists and spineless liberals and those who would categorize themselves as these moral absolutists I’m talking about. To allow antifa to disrupt the status quo would be to allow a crack to be made in the oh-so-thick, yet fragile, armor around white supremacy. And in the end, that isn’t in the best interests of those who identify as white or sympathize with that supremacist cause.
Sure, centrists, liberals, “good” conservatives and the rest of these white pundits may argue that violent, overt white supremacy is bad, but they’re not really arguing against it because it’s actually bad. They are arguing against it—consciously or unconsciously—because it is too easy to spot.
Case in point: Donald Trump is bad and is ripping the country apart because his white supremacist politics are too aggressive, too overt, and not at all tactful and palatable. Liberals and centrists can’t get jiggy with that shit.
But Mike Pence, though? Boyyyyy, he is presidential! Polite. Smart. Hell, his white supremacist politics are still there, too, but they are more refined.
Pence is—wait for it—reasonable! And you know what? Liberals and centrists would sleep much easier knowing they could “reach across the aisle” to him more easily than they could ever do with Trump because it would ensure that their version of white supremacy goes back to being the same ol’, same ol’ unchallenged entity because It’s. Just. So. Nice.
Hence why white supremacy is insidiously far-reaching. White supremacy carried out in violence alone can be caught and appropriately dealt with. But white supremacy carried out through language?
Well ... what is that saying about G’s moving in silence?