White Flag

Fayes T Kantawala thinks about the republic where he will soon be called upon to take an oath of allegiance

White Flag
Yesterday armed white terrorists stormed the Capitol Building of the United States in an attempt to disrupt the confirmation of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Looking like a support group for Appalachian serial killers, the white militia ransacked public officials’ offices, took selfies with calmly mute policemen and stalked the hallways of Congress armed with military-grade assault weapons, in some cases actually shouting “Where are they?” as they searched for Democratic lawmakers. They proudly carried symbol of racism and hate: the Confederate flag, white power tattoos, mullets, even t-shirts glorifying the Nazi death camps.

As the horrifying images spread through the internet, the remnants of sanity in America - including its newest president - stood back dumbfounded, helpless except to repeat impotent platitudes like “This is not America.”

It is. And as anyone non-white who has lived there can tell you, it has always been.

Confederate forces led by General Lee surrender to General Grant after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, 1865

The image of a contemporary USA as a multicultural mixing pot is to a large degree an intentional fabrication. It may be statistically diverse, but it is also overwhelmingly segregated. It may co-house distinct cultural populations and export their products, but real power is reserved nearly exclusively for white people. This is not hyperbolic grandstanding or liberal fear-mongering, this is the reality of a country — the current imperial world power — founded on racism and bankrolled by the profits of slave trade and oppression that, if we are honest, never ended so much as re-branded and diversified its portfolio.

A protester carries the Confederate flag into the US Capitol premises

Sometimes I find relief by considering the present moment in context of the last 60 years. As saner policies of equality began to take tentative root in often-hostile soil, swathes of xenophobic white supremacists left behind by the world order retreated deep underground but never far from true power. They would resurface like wriggling maggots whenever an outside change would threaten their stronghold over other people. Things like a woman’s right to reproductive choice, affirmative action, the desegregation of public space, gay marriage or universal healthcare.

The questions looming behind all these remonstrations by white America can be boiled down to this one: How do you reconcile the white supremacist nature of America’s founding with a capitalist structure that creates poor white people? The Republicans have spent the last 30 years insisting to white America that other races, nationalities and sexualities are the reason they don’t have complete hegemony. Implicit in this coddling is the presumption that if you’re white in America (or the UK or Europe), you shouldn’t have to worry about a thing. Anything short of that, and the government, indeed the world, has failed you personally and you have the right for revenge. Not everyone, not anyone, just you, Snowflake.

What happened yesterday was not an isolated event, nor a singular point of eruption. It is a slow-moving, long-standing ocean of bigotry that has been fed, caressed, armed and trained as the last stand of a threatened feral whiteness. And it’s not going anywhere.

Even as I try to rationalize it, explain it, codify and footnote its influence, I’m left with a radiating sense of sadness at what the world has lost in this facile display of white fragility. I think it matters what people in power do. When I sat down to do my American and Pakistan taxes last year, it mattered that I knew the president of the US only paid $750 in tax, and most of the ones in this country are under investigation for tax fraud. As I embark on petitioning for citizenship this year, it matters to me that the symbol of the country to which I am expecting to pledge my allegiance is so utterly broken that after four years of the openly racist leadership and near-war crimes, Trump still had 77 million people who wanted him back in power. It matters that after twenty years of facing institutionalized suspicion in America for having a weird-sounding name and Muslim on my passport, the terrorists from last night will not even be identified let alone punished. It matters that the police forces - from New York to L.A - have repeatedly and publicly expressed solidarity with white supremacists, just like they did last night when they opened the barricades to allow them inside and then pose for photographs. It matters the social media companies wait until minutes before Trump’s departure to call out his hate speech where they stood silent for decades.

It matters, because I think we all know what happens when white terrorists realize that they can do whatever they want and get away with it.

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com