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It’s Always About Power

The hypocrisy is the point

A postcard someone sent me once about power.

A favorite pastime of liberal Twitter is to point out hypocrisies and double standards on the right. “You’re mad when Twitter restricts free speech,” someone might tweet to several thousand likes, “but you celebrate when a baker is allowed to deny service to gay couples.” “You claim to hate government handouts, but you began your business with a government loan.” Or my personal favorite, “If those people were Black, police wouldn’t have allowed them to…”

Yeah. No shit.

I’ve engaged in this too. Who doesn’t love being right, calling someone on their bullshit? But the farther along we get on the nightmare ride of Viral Content America, the more materially useless this practice seems to me. The problem I have with the fetish for pointing out intellectual inconsistencies in the actions of White supremacists, bigots, race-baiters, and fascists is that it still relies on an idea that should have been abandoned long ago by anyone who is genuinely about liberation—namely, that the people who willingly engage in systemic oppressions would stop if they just understood what they were doing.

This hope is both wrong and childish. It assumes that the only thing standing between these people and basic humanist, nonoppressive behavior is proper understanding, a good thesis, a convincing explanation. Of all the “coastal elite” narratives I’ve heard, the idea that coastal elites are eggheads constantly trying to address every problem with a good argument is the only one I sometimes agree with. Of course there is hypocrisy, dumbass. The hypocrisy is the whole point.

Look, people who do things like, I don’t know, storm the U.S. Capitol in order to disrupt a free and fair(ish) election, wear T-shirts advocating the wholesale murder of entire classes and religions of people, beat people to death with fire extinguishers — these people are probably not doing these things because they fail to grasp the intellectual inconsistencies underlying their behavior. They are not unaware that the act of trampling a uniformed officer is at odds with their Blue Lives Matter bumper sticker. They are not calling Black Lives Matter a terrorist organization because they believe there is no racism. In short, they don’t actually think they are right, so trying to prove them wrong like it’s a fucking debate club is not going to make anyone change their behavior. It doesn’t matter if they believe they’re right; it matters if they are in charge. It matters if they are in power.

This is pretty much all about power, it has always been about power, and it will always be about power. And the ability to successfully pull off a double standard that favors you over others is really just power in action form. This is about people who want to be in power, who are worried that they will not be in power and who need to prove to themselves that they will remain in power. They want the power to pick the president, control elections, control the laws. They want the power to control the military, to control the media, to control when and who the police do or don’t arrest. They want these agencies to do their bidding and their bidding only. What do you think all the guns are for? As one of the seditionists said upon entering the capitol building, “We’re here because this is our house.”

Well, bitch, it’s my house too! We all feel like the Capitol building is our house. I spent a good portion of my childhood in the shadow of it and learned to understand the geography of the city by calibrating to its view. I also pay lots of fucking taxes to that building, so I own it as much as you do. The whole reason we have a system of representational government is to manage the fact that the house is both of ours. Elections, checks and balances, branches of government, and laws are ways to manage the problem of us having to share the house in question. I want one thing and you want the other, so we put it to a vote. That, in fact, is democracy. It’s far from perfect, but it’s not nothing. And in a democratic society, every idea can be heard and tolerated except for one: the idea that there should not be a democracy, which is the idea that only one class of people should have the power. That idea must be stamped out completely and consistently. Because otherwise, it grows. People are 1,000% willing to give up democracy if they think it will give them power. Shared democracy is a limited freedom, but undemocratic power is an absolute one if you’re the one in power.

My Black family has been in the United States of America for anywhere between 200 and 500 years, and one thing we’ve collectively, generationally learned in all these centuries is that it is exceedingly important to White people to maintain power over everyone else in this country. They’ll do pretty much anything to make sure of it.

This is why consequences matter. And why White people largely don’t experience them on the level of everyone else around here. I understand the need to celebrate no-fly lists and viral TikToks of rioters crying in airports after they’ve been bumped from planes, but do not be fooled by what they mean. These people would not have been busting windows and shitting in Capitol hallways in the first place if their whole lives were not defined by a severe lack of consequences. Take it from someone who grew up in an overpoliced community: Consequences are meant to limit your power. You make a move, you get a smack, you feel less inclined to make moves.

Lack of consequences, that is the true danger. It is not the bearded military “patriots” who — hopped up on their own mythology and testosterone — want to run around dominating everything in their path. Those people are plenty dangerous to individuals, but on their own, they are not dangerous to societies. The real social danger is all the peaceful people, all the nice people, all the liberals and intellectuals and yoga-doers and positive-Instagram-vibers who are afraid of consequences for the “patriots.” The editors who insist on making sure we “understand” where the Make America Great Again types are coming from, the commenters who note the insurrectionists “are hurting too,” the thirtysomething White gentrifiers whose parents have gone full QAnon but who do not want to “get into it” with them, who show up to holiday dinner and avoid the topic altogether. Those are the people who stifle consequences, and those people are the bigger danger.

If consequences are meant to curb power, then a lack of consequences is meant to bestow it. This country is notoriously reluctant to curb the power of White people because this country was built for White people, by White people, to benefit White people. What, then, would become of it all if White people started seeing, in any significant way, consequences for their actions—if they started seeing a legitimate curbing of their power? This is the thought that I suspect on some level quietly worries every White person no matter where they are on the political spectrum. Many have some small voice, some small part of them that wonders if their entire life, their entire being, their accomplishments, their achievements, their families, their possessions are, on some level, propped up by White supremacy—the same White supremacy they rail against in tweets and Instagram posts. They may want to use their power to curb, manage, and/or control White supremacy, to keep it from becoming too obvious, loud, ugly, or distasteful; to shame it; to make fun of it; or to denounce it. But it seems far fewer would like to give up that power altogether. There, of course, lies the unresolvable contradiction.

And I do wonder, dear reader, what you’re going to do about that.

@nytmag |ny’er | gq,etc | #FindingFred| Memoir @mcdbooks 2021 | pro-black, pro-queer everything | he/him |The Sixth Man| i’m cut in half pretty bad

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