Richard Spencer shows the legacy of Jim Crow at Texas A&M
© Getty Images

While most Americans accept the historical fact that the Confederacy did not win the Civil War, the league of Southern states did manage to secure a profound victory in their defeat — at least ideologically that is.

Historian David Brion Davis explained, “The reconciliation of North and South required a national repudiation of Reconstruction as ‘a disastrous mistake’; a wide-ranging white acceptance of ‘Negro inferiority’ and of white supremacy in the South; and a distorted view of slavery as an unfortunate but benign institution that was damaging for whites morally but helped civilize and Christianize ''African savages.''

ADVERTISEMENT

Today, the ideas of black inferiority, white Christendom and Lost Cause apologetics, thought to have been confined to the decadent segregationist logics of the South, have re-emerged as a dangerous national — ethno-nationalist — problem under the reign of President Trump.

 

For many Americans, the most awe inspiring reality before our country today is the presence of Neo-Nazis and armed white militias carrying assault rifles marching through the streets of America — a place we once believed was the hallmark of democracy and tolerance. As Americans, we are struck by white supremacist groups like the alt-right, neo-Nazis and the KKK that have converged in a 21st century, many thought to be symbolized by post-racialism, to champion the legacy of America as a white republic.

These displays of violence, as horrible and deadly as they may be, are not the most threatening aspect of today’s ethno-nationalism. America is being torn apart by a seemingly unsurmountable ideological divide. This division is spoken about publically as a problem of race, but it is at its core an argument about civilization.

The language of white supremacy is not simply short-hand for racial aversion. It is a marker, a term, meant to convey the idea that the future of this country lies in the ability of its rightful inheritors to define and direct the cultural, political and economic destiny of all peoples within its borders.

At a rally held last year at Texas A&M University, where I teach, Richard Spencer, a white supremacist who coined the term alt-right, recalled his admiration of The Searchers, a 1956 production starring John Wayne. Spencer revered the genocidal impulse of colonization — the eliminativists force of conquest.

Recalling one particular scene from the movie to the audience in College Station, Texas, where a grieving mother replies to her husband’s condemnation of Texas as the country that killed his boy. She says “A Texican’s nothin’ but a human man out on a limb . . . This year an’ next and maybe for a hundred more. But I don’t think it’ll be forever. Someday this country will be a fine good place to be . . . Maybe it needs our bones in the ground before that time can come.”

Spencer believes this exchange to be a metaphor for the price paid by whites in Texas, and America more generally, to own this country. Spencer was quoted saying that “Texas is a wonderful place to live…And there are a lot of the white man’s bones in the ground to make that happen. White people did it . . . Our bones are in the ground. We own it. In the end America can’t exist without us. We defined it. This country belongs to white people culturally, politically, socially, everything. We define what America is.”

As an reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement, which responds to systemic racism, police brutality and the disproportionate rates of mass incarceration of black Americans, white lives matter is ethno-nationalist movement suggesting that the advance of other racial and ethnic groups in America — their prosperity and achieving of equality in institutions and other spheres of influence in America hasten the dispossession of the white race.

Harkening back to the racist ethnological tropes of early 20th century America, white lives matter resurrects a “racial weltanschauung” that posits the existence of whites is endangered by the biological reproduction and cultural replication of non-white races. The proponents of this view argue that inter-racial marriage, the rape of white women by black men, and immigration threatens the genocide of whites.

This movement, white lives matter, is not based on any real argument about the oppression of white Americans as a group. Rather it is rallying cry demanding that all white Americans commit to preserving America as a white Christian republic and refuse the diffusion of the power and wealth whites currently hold in society over blacks, Latinos, Muslims, etc.

Black Americans, indigenous peoples, Latino peoples and other victims of America’s colonial history understand very clearly that white supremacy rules by violence and terror. These groups are targeted and at times killed by radicalized groups — their bodies mutilated to show that there can be no resistance to the cultural and technological superiority of the white race.

It is these strategies of rule — the force of racial terror — that these groups aim to display. White lives matter insists that the power of the white race to dictate and rationalize the death of other groups is central to the preservation of their racial superiority.

Spencer planned to return to my campus.

“Today Charlottesville tomorrow Texas A&M,” read the press release promoting the rally scheduled for Sept. 11.

Texas A&M University correctly decided to cancel this particular white lives matter rally for fear of violence.

While it was the right move, the university remains complacent with the traditions and racist logics that make white supremacists like Spencer see this campus as a recruiting ground.

Like Lost Cause apologists, Texas A&M University honors the memorabilia of Klan leaders and takes pride in the racial provincialism of the past instead of purging them. Similar to Trump, Texas A&M University distorts the history of America’s racism by offering parity between the revolts and armed militancy of black, brown, and indigenous victims of colonialism and slavery, and the violence of white Americans who killed, raped and lynched innocent people for the color of their skin.

Jim Crow thrived in the South because it threatens violence and death against any black person who dared to offend whites. The question for Texas A&M University is whether it will continue to surrender to this managerial logic that requires blacks (and other oppressed racial/ethnic groups) to stay in their place for fear of death, or embrace a true racial democracy.

Tommy J. Curry is a professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University specializing in Critical Race Theory and Black Political Theory. He is the author of 2017 book “The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhood” and a recipient of the 2017 Alain Locke Public Philosophy Award. Curry is frequent commentator on issues of racism and anti-black violence in the United States. Follow him on Twitter at @DrTJC


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.