The Wages of White Excellence in Woke America
The week that was in White American excellence in the face of minority political surges, Black Lives Matter, and Black Girl Magic
If we are to believe American Evangelicals, the United States is a country guided by, on a fundamental level, Judeo-Christian values. Our indivisible laws are foremost written under God’s laws, then they grant freedom and justice to all. The Ten Commandments — ten laws, which, according to the Book of Deuteronomy, were spoken by God to the Israelites and then written on stone tablets held by Moses, as he stood upon Mount Sinai, by the Finger of God — count second in their number, “thou shalt not worship false idols.” That being said, the amount of ersatz showmanship, outright lying, and out-moded social behavior shown by what were at one time perfect examples of what “white excellence” was as the definition of overall American excellence stands America in violation of its founding values. In the face of minority political surges, the persistent presence of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and Magical Black Women existing everywhere, the showcasing of what feels like the last gasp of classic American “white excellence” feels like white people holding up false, plastic, and surreal idols. The week that passed was not a celebration of who the winners likely honestly are as people. It was a clanging, and ironically celebratory ring of the dirge for a dying notion of the classic definition of “white excellence” in America in the face of a socially diversifying and intellectually awakening country.
This all started on Sunday, February 3, when New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady guided America’s Team II, aka the New England Patriots, to their sixth Super Bowl crown in 17 years. The game, which saw a paltry 16 points scored between both teams, was lampooned as the worst National Football League Championship game in the five-plus decade long history of the event.
It isn’t that Tom Brady is a noted supporter of Donald Trump that’s bad. Brady’s skill as a quarterback is so otherworldly at this point that this fact is rather easy to overlook and/or forget. Rather, it’s that Brady, complete with his MAGA-supporting freedom of speech, still plays in the league. This is of course, in comparison, to Colin Kaepernick, the once Afroed and now-cornrowed Black Lives Matter movement supporter who is seemingly blackballed from competing. The implicit statement that milquetoast whiteness is allowed and progressive blackness is staunchly opposed only scratches the surface. Add in the idea that the league’s growing issues with denying the impact of concussive force violence upon the lives of its players just makes celebrating a conservative white guy’s mastery of ball control offense completely immaterial to anything of actual, legitimate human concern actually taking place.
Then, two days later, on February 5, Donald Trump finally delivered his week-delayed State of The Union Address. Alongside still promising to build a steel wall along the Mexican-American border, Trump also dug into his bag of base solidifying tricks some 100 years. As the New York Times notes regarding Trump’s stunning call to arms, “[c]asting socialism as a threat could become the kind of rhetorical touchstone of President Trump’s re-election campaign that sounding the alarm about ‘criminal illegal aliens’ was in 2016. The ploy of fighting socialism isn’t so much a play at Bernie Sanders, the nearly octogenarian US Senator from Vermont who spectacularly failed in his Presidential election bid in 2016. No, it’s a play at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the 29-year old Puerto-Rican American first-term Congresswoman from New York. Though Ms. Cortez cannot legally run for the Presidency until 2024, as Axios notes, she is already “the Democrats’ Trump,” in that she has “mastered Twitter while at the same time acting like a magnet in the digital and cable news ecosystem.”
What’s even more stunning is what happens if Trump’s use of “socialism” as a “red scare” catchphrase works. What it does is that it then casts a light on a Democratic party that, insofar as nominees for 2020, could have upwards of 15 different options, 75% of whom will be representing a non-Caucasian community. These individuals as much represent the greatest diversity of gender and thought in the party’s leadership in history, as possibly a too-wide swath of liberal-to-progressive thought for an America in the wake of Trumpism, economic strife, social concern, and general malaise to want to consider. In the face of liberal minorities ranting about their truths, it’s simpler for conservatives to hold up a plasticine white business mogul who’s accused more times of lying than there are milliseconds in the day to protect themselves from the onslaught. 98% of America’s Presidents have been, relative to those running in 2020, conservative white men. In a time defined by white people giddily celebrating other white people as idols of American excellence, there’s a comfort in the expectation of say, re-electing the conservative white man.
By February 6, wearied of news elsewhere, I finally turned my attention to my place of residence, Washington, DC’s neighbor to the south, the Commonwealth of Virginia. Now Virginia is as much a place for lovers as it’s somewhere where black people protesting for their rights are run over by cars and where the Democratic Governor once felt being photographed in blackface was entirely appropriate.
As noted via CNN, Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam “confirmed Friday he was in a racist yearbook photo showing one person dressed in blackface and another in the KKK’s signature white hood and robes, and apologized for ‘the decision I made to appear as I did in this photo and for the hurt that decision caused then and now.’ The photograph, which was obtained by CNN, appears in the 1984 yearbook for Eastern Virginia Medical School. Northam did not say whether he was wearing the KKK outfit or blackface.”
What’s doubly worse is what’s seen in two separate polls regarding the occurrence. One recent Washington Post poll notes that while 70% Virginians polled said they disapprove of how Northam responded to the photo’s discovery, 47% of them want him removed from office. As well, though it was largely conducted prior to Northam’s reveal, a recent Pew Research poll notes that 34% of Americans feel blackface is “always or sometimes acceptable.” There’s always to sometimes never a time where wearing blackface is not directly linked to someone demeaning the humanity of, or impeding upon the civil rights of a person of color. The idea that people would support someone as a chief legislator who, at any time, generally found racial bias to be permissible — at a time wherein awareness of racial bias in and of itself is an easy-to-demean and civil rights voiding offense is astounding. Ralph Northam, human sambo doll, governor of an economically significant American state. And people are here for it.
Flummoxed and gobsmacked, I looked forward to Sunday, February 10's GRAMMY Awards as a moment wherein maybe my hyper-triggered week regarding a resurgence of idolization of an irrelevant ideal of Judeo-Christian, conservative, and very much classic American excellence — as seen foremost through a Caucasian lens — would calm. This was sadly not to be the case. Music would not soothe the savage beast growing inside my heart and mind.
Two minutes into the awards ceremony, Lady Gaga, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, and former first lady Michelle Obama appeared onstage. One year prior, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow condescendingly told women in the music industry that they — though appearing to be growing in presence and renown in the industry — needed to “step up” and be seen in order to be nominated for more awards. When Michelle Obama noted, “whether we like country, rap or rock. Music helps us share ourselves. Our dignity our and sorrows, our hopes and joys. It allows us to hear one another, to invite each other in. Music shows us that all of it matters every story with every voice every note with every song. Is that right ladies?,” I sat in bed stunned. It was, maybe too on the nose.
The show had opened with black, brown, and LGBTQ representatives, together, literally preaching — not boldly mind you, because nothing this planned happens without planning and say, the aforementioned aggrieved President knowing it would happen. My only note regarding this is that whenever you apologize to someone, in front of everyone, in a formulaic and scripted manner, when everyone else watching knows that an apology is coming, much of the impact is gone. As well, making it so obviously as well a play to “woke” diversity as well by having the mega-star wife of America’s first black President (and arguably the key figure in the birth of “woke” culture) on stage? It felt like a step too far. However, the actual step too far didn’t come until later.
MusicCares, GRAMMY’s charity that supports giving health, financial, and rehabilitation resources to music people in times of need, honored Dolly Parton as their 2019 “Person of the Year.” As per usual, this celebration entailed a medley of songs celebrating the honoree, Parton’s, career. In any other year, and at any other time, celebrating a self-effacing superstar who was once quoted as saying “it’s a good thing I was born a girl, otherwise, I’d be a drag queen,” with a near 11-minute tribute, would be amazing. However, there’s something, in 2019, about six white women (Parton, alongside four-time 2019 Grammy Winner Kacey Musgraves, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, and Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman), and ten white male musicians gleefully singing country songs onstage that, after the week that was, is the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
It’s a moment that on one level shows the brilliance of one woman who inspired two and future generations of women. On the same show where African-American Janelle Monae spoke words to power that “it’s time to give the vaginas a monologue,” and Dominican-American Cardi B celebrated making “Money,” it’s amazing. But as a black man sitting in my bedroom having lived through a week where white people gleefully parading unassailable, classically American, and definitely outmoded white excellence in my face, Dolly and friends singing country anthems — and yes, I count “Jolene” and “Coat of Many Colors” as songs I know by heart — 20 white plastic idols on a stage singing songs about times that had long since ceased to exist in America was a misstep too far.
The age of Obama is unequivocally complete. Reclamation of times long past, where white excellence defined the best of what America represented, are upon us. However, as of the 2018 midterm elections, there are a total of 117 African-American, Hispanic-American, and Asian-American members of Congress. Furthermore, Tom Brady notes that he’s retiring in four years, plus Kacey Musgraves is a gay icon, and by 2024, the President of the United States could easily be a black woman. So for as much as this time is rife with consternation and angst over an idol-worshipping nation in violation of its Judeo-Christian roots, it’s also a time where to paraphrase fellow GRAMMY performer — and yes, a seventh country-singing white lady of note, lol — Brandi Carlile’s honest hit single feels apropos.
Let ’em live while they can
Let ’em spin, let ’em scatter in the wind
I have been to the movies, I’ve seen how it ends
And the joke’s on them
Thou shalt not worship false idols.