This week, as protests against police violence raged across America and Europe, white people who have spent months in anxious quarantine, desperate for some way to return to our familiar, everyday lives, have been confronted with the uncomfortable reality that for black and brown people, “normal” means ritual, degrading, state-sanctioned violence. It means being forced back to work in the middle of a pandemic. It means mortal peril.
America is not the only nation built on a logic of abuse, exploitation, white supremacy and white complicity. But it is a nation that has anointed itself with a special destiny, a nation convinced it is the moral protagonist of the human story. Deliberate denial of the centuries of black suffering is essential to the story America tells about itself, a story in which it cannot be anything but the hero, and every action of the American state — whether it is pursuing wars of conquest abroad or terrorising and imprisoning black and brown citizens at home — is, by definition, just, and right, and comfortable.
Being white in North America is an exercise in cognitive dissonance. It’s a sordid game of trying to shove the square peg of cultural faith in the moral exceptionalism of the American state into the round hole of reality that that state was founded on stolen indigenous land and built with stolen stolen black labour, that America is not wealthy because it is uniquely deserving but because it profited from generations of kidnapping, torture, rape and murder of black and brown people- and continues to do so.
A woman was screaming in the side streets as we drove through Hollywood in the dark. We spotted her on a bench, with all her belongings around her in bags. We couldn’t hear what she was screaming about. She clearly had mental health difficulties and nowhere safe to sleep. The police ignored her as they drove by to place the heart of Hollywood under the same effective military occupation that black and brown communities have been living under for years — because policing is the only thing that the nation sees fit to fund. The American state is the police force and the prison system.