The White Walkers of White Supremacy

Thursday, July 21, 2016 - 5:30 am
A group of white nationalists marches in Charlottesville, VA as part of the "Unite the Right" rally on August 11, 2017.

The White Walkers of White Supremacy

I have a certain obsession with Game of Thrones. While my loyalties are strictly to team Jon Snow, there is something about the White Walkers that fascinates and haunts me ‘til I can’t turn away. There is something about this army that poses a fundamental threat to the rest of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. And we know: Winter is coming.

In a way, the White Walkers remind one of zombies. You think you’ve killed them, and they keep coming back to life. Like many classic zombies, they have a “recruitment” strategy: re-animating the dead they have killed as “wights,” a massive army of the undead. The only weapons to be effectively wielded against the White Walkers seem to be Valyrian steel and dragonglass.
Coming back from the fantastic world of Game of Thrones to this beautiful, tortured world of ours, I am haunted by this metaphor of the undead as I look with concern at the state of our fledgling democratic experiment. They keep coming back to life and keep on killing and recruiting even more to their side.

White Walkers remind me of the impact of white supremacy, and, for that matter, every form of sexism, racism, and oppression taking root in our communities. We keep thinking we’ve killed off and buried white supremacy, relegating it to the dustbin of history. But it keeps on rising again. And, like zombies, it wants to eat your brain — and your heart.

The Night’s King raises an army of wights. (HBO / © All Rights Reserved)

Like the White Walkers, white supremacy can recruit the dead (or at least those who are feeling vulnerable and angry about their lot in life) to its own side. It keeps on recruiting angry and frightened poor and working white people who project their own loss of privilege onto some “other” community — be it Muslims, Hispanics, or African Americans. In this way, the lot of people who know that the system is broken end up voting against their own economic interests.

The White Walkers of white supremacy even recruit a token Muslim or Sikh here and there to shockingly endorse the very candidates of anti-Muslim bigotry. How strange to see at this week’s Republican National Convention a Muslim championing a party that has endorsed a xenophobic, immigrant-bashing, Muslim-hating candidate.
What business does a Muslim have endorsing a candidate who publicly states that “Islam hates us”? What does it mean for a Muslim to stand on a national platform and pray for Donald Trump, and cite the Prophet of Islam, when that same Prophet taught us to stand up for justice and speak the truth even if our voice shakes?

Is this what the victims of White Walkers are like, after surrendering their brains and hearts?

White supremacy, which is the basis of slavery, of Native American genocide, and of Euro-American colonialism, is not a matter of the past. It keeps rising as the undead, infecting and subverting the beloved community. Just when we think we’ve killed it off, it rises again. No, we are not post-racial. We are not post-white supremacy. It is alive and well. And winter is coming.
There was a vivid reminder of how much the discourse of white supremacy has moved from the anonymous margins of society to the very mainstream of our most public discourse. Congressman Steve King of Iowa appeared on MSNBC and openly advocated that no other block of humanity has contributed to civilization — well, he could not bring himself to say “white people” but rather:

“Western civilization itself, that is rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the United States of America, and everywhere where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western Civilization.”

And these are the elected politicians to represent us, “We the People.” How does one even respond to this quite literal and forceful advocacy of the supremacy of white civilization? What else do we call his remarks but white supremacy? Some, like Vox, have tried to list the contributions of the Chinese and Indians and Muslims and others. Or to remind the Congressman that the riches of American civilization were built on the backs of unpaid black slave labor.

There is perhaps a time and place for that, but I am not going to make a list of those achievements — of Indian numerals, Islamic philosophy and scientific advancement, Chinese gunpowder and paper — to somehow plead with you that we, as people of color, have contributed to humanity. I don’t need to, and I shouldn’t have to.

It is not my job as a Muslim and a person of color to list our contributions to “white” civilization. It is actually his responsibility to interrogate this myth of a fictitious white civilization.

It should not be my job to help him see that to speak of “civilization” in the singular goes back to the worst tendencies of the 19th century that divided the world into two groups: “civilized” Westerners and “primitive” or “savage” black/brown/yellow/red people, who deserved to be colonized, all justified under an imperial agenda of la mission civilisatrice, the “civilizing mission.”
I am a teacher and an educator. It is what I am called to do. It is what we are all called to do. But I am a finite being of limited life, energy, spirit, and breath. Every minute I spend trying to persuade a racist white supremacist that I am human, that my people are human, is a minute that I have not spent loving my babies or building up my own community or forming meaningful alliances.

These racist outbursts are a distraction. They serve, as Toni Morrison said so beautifully, to distract us from the real task ahead of living and loving. So no, we will not perform intellectual gymnastics just to prove our humanity to the White Walkers of white supremacy. We will live and love and sing and think and draw and hold our loved ones tight in the light of God.
We have faith in a humanity that seeks not to displace white supremacy with Chinese supremacy or Russian supremacy or Arab supremacy, but simply with the supremacy of kindness and tenderness and compassion over tyranny and domination and injustice.

No, the goal is not even to kill or shatter these White Walkers. It’s actually to heal them from the disease of white supremacy, and keep them from infecting and inflicting it on others. No, we do not have Valyrian steel. We do not have dragonglass to kill off the White Walker of white supremacy. But we do have compassion, justice, mercy, truth, history, and conscience.
Let us hope that these “weapons” of love and truth work, because they are all the nonviolent weapons we have.
Following in the footsteps of Martin Luther King, I so want to believe that the arc of the moral universe does bend toward justice. But looking into the eyes of the families of Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland and Freddie Grey and Trayvon Martin and Alton Sterling and Philando Castile and far too many others, in the streets of America, in countries where bodies fall with hardly any attention from the rest of the world, the arc of the moral universe does not bend unless and until people of good will band together to make it bend.

The universe itself is not good, nor is it evil. The passage of time by itself doesn’t make things better, nor does it make things worse. It is the will of humanity put into action that inclines us towards the good and the beautiful.
There is no Valyrian steel. There is only the moral courage of our inner convictions, one that refuses to put any walls around compassion. Winter is coming, but there is still time for compassion and tenderness, for love, to come into public spaces and protect us from the White Walkers of every form of supremacy.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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Reflections

  • Dave Dave

    The race issue is more of a nuisance and, while real, is used as a diversionary tactic by the media to keep us fighting amongst each other so we don’t focus on other issues that negatively affect us all. I’ve never met a white-nationalist, or their violent antagonist (Antifa) or a black supremacist for that matter…that I’m aware of. But I have suffered and seen others suffer, Black, white, Latinos, because of the financial institutions that also own the media.

    Remember the $66 Trillion-dollar bailout of already excessively wealthy people? I remember having to cash my retirement in desperation to survive, which I barely did while the owners of these financial institutions got even wealthier. That great champion and not a white nationalist, Hillary Clinton who supported the bailout said of the Occupy Wall Street movement “so what if we provide a living-wage for all Americans when we still have racism” Yes, democrats are part of this problem. Remember the 50 killed at the Pulse night club? Their families received millions and media attention while in the city of Chicago alone 50 people were murdered that same weekend. Their families received no compensation and little media attention.

    The people fighting in places like Charlottesville are the foot soldiers for wealthy people, like George Soros. How about, in addition to talking about a few misguided souls, we also talked about the ones that control the wealth and the narrative and how that has affected us all?

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