bell hooks So Long Ago Talking About the Past and Future as a Continuous Unacceptable Present
by Christopher Jug George
bell hooks was a focal point of my American Studies program at the University of Minnesota in the nineties. When I read hooks it always packed a punch – this quote hit me today (like so many of us need to be) square in the eyes. A quote applicable on so many levels:
“Patriarchy, like any system of domination (for example, racism), relies on socializing everyone to believe that in all human relations there is an inferior and a superior party, one person is strong, the other weak, and that it is therefore natural for the powerful to rule over the powerless. To those who support patriarchal thinking, maintaining power and control is acceptable by whatever means.” – bell hooks, All About Love
It struck me while watching the President Trump’s unprecedented actions in Washington D.C. on Monday evening – and let’s call it what it is – the dictator-poser photo op. The president of the United States flexed his muscle by ordering the dispersal of a peaceful protest to clear a walkway to the St. John’s Church of Lafayette Square to get his picture taken with a bible used as a prop. With a vandalized church used as a prop. The president is changing the conversation by making this about brick and mortar rather than George Floyd.
Earlier, during a phone call with the governors of the United States, Trump proclaimed his desire to use the U.S. military against U.S. citizens. “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” This is what he said, word for word, embodying this part of the hooks quote:
“To those who support patriarchal thinking, maintaining power and control is acceptable by whatever means.”
On May 25th, 2020, George Floyd was detained by police officers on 38th and Chicago in Minneapolis with ex-police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee pressed into his neck while two other men held him down. A third hovered, doing nothing.
Chauvin, a hand in his pocket, is visibly pushing his knee down into an unarmed, handcuffed, distressed, pleading in a weakening voice George Floyd.
In front of a crowd of onlookers, including Darnella Frazier, the heroic 17-year-old who filmed the murder, Chauvin is plainly aware of the crowd presence and camera for the entire 8 minutes and 46 seconds, personifying this part of the quote:
“one person is strong, the other weak, and that is therefore natural for the powerful to rule over the powerless.”
These two actions – by the president and Chauvin – are connected very deeply to the story of our country.
The following is the 400-year-old story of blacks in the United States utterly boiled down:
1619-1865 – Slavery (246 years)
1865-1954 – Segregation (89 years)
1954-2020 – Systematic Oppression (66 years)
Do the math to get the weight. The weight of 335 years is too heavy for racism to dissipate or ever go away. If that was standing behind you, think of the shadow. The end of segregation only ushers in deadly systematic oppression. If you don’t believe in systematic racism or want to understand it, you are against the protests happening in this country. Just admit it. This isn’t about brick and mortar. There is nothing nebulous here, no blurred line to waffle back and forth.
As a Lebanese-Norwegian liberal white person, I’m not going to pretend to be able to fully speak to this so here is some more bell hooks:
“When liberal whites fail to understand how they can and/or do embody white supremacist values and beliefs even though they may not embrace racism as prejudice or domination (especially domination that involves coercive control), they cannot recognize the ways their actions support and affirm the very structure of racist domination and oppression that they wish to see eradicated.” – bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black
“Why is it so difficult for many white folks to understand that racism is oppressive not because white folks have prejudicial feelings about blacks (they could have such feelings and leave us alone) but because it is a system that promotes domination and subjugation?” -bell hooks, Black Looks: Race and Representation
So many things need to be kept sight of in this country right now. One eye learning about the history a systematic oppression of black people in the United States to even begin to understand how to change society. The other trained on a president dangerously and blatantly using the oppressive playbook of that history again—our third eye laser-focused on justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmed Aubrey.