Here is the essence of white supremacy.
Despite the pronouncements of those who proudly declare their bodies free of a racist bone, white supremacy is not the same as racism. Actions and their results are what determine whether or not something is racist, not belief or intent. Nor is white supremacy defined by tiki torch marches or moonlit lawn cross-burnings. That is racial terrorism, which is a byproduct of racism.
And it has nothing to do with hate. White supremacy is bigger than that. It is an institution. It is systematic and entrenched. While it manifests itself in everything from education to the criminal justice system, white supremacy is largely invisible. But one can see the odious, distasteful, effects of white supremacy simply by examining school funding disparities, the wealth gap, and sentencing inequality.
Or, in a pinch, you can just browse the Twitter account of New York Times Deputy Washington Editor Jonathan Weisman.
Shortly after Tuesday’s Democratic debates, world-class sore loser and former Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill—who blamed her Senate seat loss on the Democratic Party’s failure to attract “rural voters” (pronounced “hoowyatt pee-pole”)—explained the ideological divide between progressives like Elizabeth Warren and moderates like those other store-brand white folks whose names I’m not inclined to look up (I know there was a Tim, a John and an Amy).
Democratic strategist Waleed Shahidi, who is not a member of A Tribe Called Quest, responded to McCaskill on Twitter by pointing out that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were progressives who were sent to Congress by Midwest voters.
On Wednesday, Weisman, a white man, whitesplained that the two congresswomen were not really true Midwesterners. To illustrate his argument, Weisman extended his finger in the direction of Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).
Weisman’s point seemed to be that Lewis and Doggett weren’t true Southerners because they represent major metropolitan areas where black and Hispanic people live. In Texas and in Georgia, the districts with large urban areas are represented by black and Hispanic congressmen and every single rural district is represented by a white Republican. Weisman’s recent white-manning was reminiscent of one of his 2016 tweets when he chided Democrats about electing former Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, as deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee.
To be clear, Omar, Tlaib, and Ellison are as Midwestern as anyone who ever lived in the Midwest. Ellison was born and raised in Detroit and graduated from the University of Minnesota’s School of Law. Tlaib has lived and worked in Detroit her entire life. Her father worked on the Ford assembly line, for Christ’s sake. Ilhan Omar went to high school in Minneapolis, college in North Dakota and has worked in Minnesota for her entire professional career.
But in Weisman’s head, there is something about these three that differentiates them from real Midwesterners. It can’t be geography or their ideology. No, it must be something else. Libby Watson from Splinter, our sister site, put it succinctly:
The troubling thinking behind this is that people who live in cities aren’t really from the state they are geographically located in because they’re more liberal than the rest of the state. This goes hand-in-hand a line of argument often used by racists, like the President of the United States, that minorities in cities aren’t really from here—they’re some other, alien nation within ours, and can’t be included when referring to the region or state that they literally live in. The Midwest must refer to its conservative white residents; the Deep South must only refer to the guys who look like Bull Connor, not the guys who look like MLK. (Three of the four members of Congress he picked are minorities, and the one white guy represents a majority-Latinx district.)
Gaze at the unseeable thing.
This is what white supremacy looks like.
No one here thinks that Johnathan Weisman hates Muslims or black people and would like to kick them out of his country. He even wrote a book about the rise of anti-semitism in the age of Donald Trump. But despite Weisman’s Jewish heritage, there is no doubt that he believes that this is his country. The insidious belief that he possesses the authority to arbitrarily determine the authenticity of anyone’s real heritage is so entrenched in his thinking that he had no hesitation sharing that seemingly innocuous bit of punditry with the public.
It is impossible, however, to argue with a belief. Some may even say that Weisman is simply applying his interpretation of a problematic political reality—that white people have difficulty accepting and voting for non-white, non-Christians from the big city who hold progressive ideas. To be fair, Weisman even clarified his logic after deleting his original tweet.
Those are certainly valid arguments. There is only one problem with that point:
It is complete and utter bullshit.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80 percent of the U.S. population lives in urban areas, compared to 19.3 percent in rural areas, so urban Midwesterners are the real Midwesterners. And according to Pew Research, guess which area is experiencing the biggest population loss in America?
Rural areas in the Midwest.
Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, represented by Omar, has a larger percentage of white people (70.2 percent) than does America (62 percent). Rashida Tlaib won 84 percent of her district’s vote. House Democrats won the 2018 midterms with the largest margin of victory in history, ushering in the most diverse Congress ever. There has never been a more ethnically and racially diverse Congress. The record number of black, Latino, Muslim and women representatives in the House got there because people voted for them and many of those ballots were cast in the Midwest. There is absolutely nothing factual about Weisman’s tweets. It’s just some shit he assumed in his head.
There are only three other alternatives:
- Weisman was intentionally telling a lie.
- One of the most important people with one of the most important jobs at one of the most important news outlets doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about. But white supremacy has made us accustomed to passing off mediocrity as a misunderstanding.
- Weisman was simply echoing the subconscious thoughts of many other Americans. To many dyed-in-the-wool whites, American authenticity isn’t really accessible unless one worships Jesus, eats bacon and dabs on a little bit of sunscreen to mow the lawn.
So fuck that guy.
Weisman wasn’t commenting on these people’s geographic heritage. He was commenting on their Americanism. And apparently, the one requirement necessary to being accepted as a true member of the greatest country on earth is being a member of the greatest race on earth. There is no other explanation for Weisman’s illogic. Nothing separates these women from anyone else in the Midwest, or America in general, other than their skin color and the name of their God.
And that, dear reader, is the essence of white supremacy.
Thank you, Jonathan Weisman, for this valuable lesson. I think you adequately made your point.