“I can’t pay no doctor bills,
But whitey’s on the moon.
10 years from now I’ll be payin’ still
While whitey’s on the moon.”
-Gill Scott Heron, Angel Dust
Yesterday I decided to take a relaxing bath and listen to a 70s funk classics playlist. I don’t know too much funk but I liked the genre a lot in theory and principle because I know how extensively it influenced modern hip-hop, especially the aptly named “G-Funk” sub-genre. I was enjoying the playlist quite a bit, but it was the above song by Gill Scott Heron which really caught my attention, specifically the beat poetry portion at the end where he scathingly yet humorously criticizes the establishment for having a space program when people (black folk) in inner-cities are starving. It made me think a lot about the Jenga metaphor I used to use frequently to describe our social progress in the current paradigm: Essentially, we tend to try and build higher and higher with new innovations and achievements without broadening our base for more stability. This leads to a certain precariousness and imbalance where people are dying on the street in Karachi and they’re trying to create black holes at CERN -its kind of absurd that these two realities are existing on the same planet simultaneously.
To take the metaphor further, imagine we built a broader base for our Jenga tower, analagous to say, making sure everyone was fed and sheltered and educated, how much higher could we then ultimately build?
I don’t know, it just seems to me that there wold be more minds to advance our civilization ultimately further if we didn’t have a good many of them struggling to procure their next meal.
Buuuuut, I’m not here to talk about this metaphor as I have discussed it at length in older posts. Instead I want to talk about what “whitey” means when Gill Scott Heron says it.
So Who is Whitey?
This is really the question isn’t it, as its a bit of a polarizing moniker. I certainly don’t feel like whitey, nor would I wager do most of my light-skinned friends. So a question then: Would Heron’s sentiments have been different if there had been a black man on the Apollo 11 mission?
Perhaps, perhaps not. But this is the problem with framing activism and criticisms of the system along racial lines; it’s relatively simple for a established powers to deflect allegations of racism by “uplifting” a minority to a position of superficial primacy as an overt demonstration of how fair and egalitarian the system is. We saw the same thing when Obama got elected. Yes, black Americans got their black president so racism is over right? Tell that to Trayvon, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, and countless others.
“I have much more in common with most working and middle-class white people than I do with most rich black and Latino people. As much as racism bleeds America, we need to understand that classism is the real issue. Many off us are in the same boat and its sinking, while these bougie motherfuckers ride on a luxury liner. And as long as we keep fighting over kicking people out of the little boat we’re all in, we’re miss an opportunity to gain a better standard of living as a whole.
-Immortal Technique, The Poverty of Philosophy
George Carlin once observed that he felt the civil rights advancements made in the 60s were an accommodation, and I tend to agree with this sentiment. Nothing really changed beyond perhaps perceptions. Instead the system merely “contracted and expanded” to accommodate and placate a critical mass of people with grievances.
So does that make Obama et al. “token blacks”? No. I don’t think it does. There are enough dark-skinned people in positions of power to effectively refute allegations of racial barriers in the context of a debate. But the fact that there are “positions of power” is perhaps what is the real issue, and the one which Gill Scott Heron was reaching for in his spoken word. Whitey can really be decoded as the powerful. Black people, Asians, Aborigines can all be whitey because whitey is a class construct more than a racial one, and I think that people are starting to realize this.
As a progressive (and I’m assuming you are if you’re reading this blog) you may probably get irked by white people who scream “REVERSE-RACISM” when they feel marginalized by the advocacy of another race. You may feel like they are being petty and overly sensitive. However, the existence of these opposing voices indicates more than just intransigence and privilege; it reveals that things are tough all over. Racial bigotry notwithstanding, everyone is in a survival struggle of some sort -this is in fact an unspoken assumption of our scarcity-based economics system. It’s a system that emulates the animal kingdom in its ruthlessness and dispassion. So when I as a white man hear a black man complaining that he should have a job instead of me, it’s analagous to if I were I were a gazelle and a wildebeest being eaten by a lion was like, “Not fair, you should be eating more gazelles!”
Fuck that! I’d be like, “Motherfuck you and every wildebeest who looks like you.” -Facetious or not, I basically just explained racism.
IT’S A ZERO-SUM GAME, PEOPLE, and just because the gazelles have typically been able to elude lions better than the wildebeests in this particular corner of the Savannah (the Wesstern world) doesn’t mean they don’t taste just as good. In fact, whitey in this example would be all of the gazelles, wildebeests, boars, etc. who were fast enough to evade the lions and/or make deals with the lions by selling out their fellows. So let us not lose sight of the fact that if we are gazelles, our problem is not wildebeests, or vice versa. Our problem is what it has always been: LIONS. Or more accurately, scarcity and the survival anxieties it foments.
Scarcity will kill us. Fear of it will have us kill each other.
So Whitey’s Goin’ to Mars Now?…
It seems so. It’s funny, as a kid I was fascinated by space and the cosmos and my explorer spirit made me want to be a part of this new and exciting frontier. Buuuttt, something isn’t quite right about it. It doesn’t seem righteous to me. We haven’t figured out our shit here on Earth and we’re going to other planets.?Seems a little reckless.
Also, it scares me that certain “nation-states” will be going there and carving up the Martian landscape, declaring ownership and restricting access to future visitors.
And finally on a more philosophical slant, are we really the best representatives to go out into the universe and start colonizing other worlds? This human species has great potential but we are currently so fucked up and troubled that we aren’t really poised to make a splash as upwardly mobile galactic up-and-comers when we make the definitive move of colonizing another planet. We’re like the out-of-shape, obnoxious, combative, and smug debutante at the ball. Who would fuck us, let alone marry us?
I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago. Since then, in just the last few days actually, two black men have been killed by cops in the US and a black sniper retaliated by killing 5 white cops and injuring more in Dallas. Racism, or at least its perception, is alive and well and its very tempting to reduce these instances and countless others to racism alone. But there’s something of an awakening happening. Mycah Xavier Johnson, the aforementioned sniper, specifically targeted police. He allegedly preferred to kill white cops but his primary focus was on their “cop-ness” and not their whiteness which means he recognized it was the status-quo protectors who were the devils he had to bring it to. He understood that his enemy was the lion and not the gazelle.
Now I gotta qualify this train of thought by saying I don’t believe in “enemies”, much less the use of violence, but I want to make the controversial point that Johnson’s anger was at least aimed in the right direction. Pun intended.
Police are the gazelles, wildebeests and boars that have made deals with the lion and sell out their fellow herbivores. They have thus effectively become predators in their own right and their intentions BUT they are neither as noble or evil as we would like to believe. They are simply trying to ensure their survival. However the existence of this constabulary class with a monopoly on force and legal authorization to kill you if they deem it necessary should bother you at a deep, existential level. Every cop is an iron fist and many don’t even have the decency to glove themselves in velvet. They are our brothers and sisters in an absolute sense, but as long as they are the enforcement arm of an establishment which seeks to keep you pliant, dependent and obedient, they can not be trusted.
This didn’t start out as a rant about cops but rather a discussion of racism vs classism.
Its’s funny how senseless violence can change things so dramatically.