Real Talk | It's a dangerous time in our country

Real Talk | It's a dangerous time in our country

The attempted assassination of several Democratic Party leaders, prominent liberal donors and opponents of President Donald Trump and the two separate acts of racial/ethnic and religious terrorism that took the lives of 13 people last week should drive home the precariousness of this moment.

The actions of white nationalist terrorists Cesar Sayoc Jr., Gregory Bush and Robert Bowers suggest we have entered a more dangerous time.

Sayoc's bombing list contained 100 targets. After failing to gain entrance to a black church, Bush randomly murdered two elderly African-Americans. Bowers targeted members of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue because they were Jewish and helping refugees.

These terrorist assaults indicate that the Trump regime's looming fascism is no longer creeping slowly through the shadows. It is now in a full sprint in daylight.

Two issues about this historical moment and these specific racist fanatics interest me. I've long argued that the current historical moment is similar to the period of 1877-1917 that Rayford Logan named the nadir. I think the evidence suggests Logan's periodization should be extended into the 1920s. While he viewed this period as complex and identified six interrelated factors that characterized racial oppression, Logan saw racialized violence as its cutting edge.

After the Compromise of 1876, whitecapping (whipping), race riots and lynchings became everyday forms of racial oppression in the U.S. South. Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes' withdrawal of federal troops and granting home rule to the ex-Confederate states established a permissive environment in which racist terrorists thrived.

What's important here is that during the nadir, privatized white terrorism became more than a supplement to racist state violence. It superseded it. Though state actors usually acquiesced, but often participated in racialized violence, their actions paled compared to that of the murderous private white mobs that dominated the period.

In describing the current historical period as a new nadir, like Logan, I view nadirs as multi-causal, with racial violence as the critical factor. Before the Charleston, S.C., murder of nine African-American parishioners at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, police brutality represented the most important expression of anti-black racial violence. Even though antiblack hate crimes predominate in terms of number of incidents, they result in far fewer deaths than the state sanctioned acts of police killing.

In a June 2015 interview with News-Gazette reporter Julie Wurth, I argued that whenever African-American protest forces the state to rein in police use of deadly force, private "white citizens take action."

The Southern Poverty Law Center documents that in 2017, white supremacist groups increased by 22 percent, from 99 to 121. The Anti-Defamation League calculates right-wing extremists committed 71 percent of the 387 murders in the U.S. during the 10-year period from 2008-2017.

Since the 2016 presidential campaign, the number of private incidents of white terrorism has accelerated. Trump's role in stirring the volatile pot of racial animosity is not debatable. He is stimulating white racist terrorism to gin up his supporters' participation in the 2018 midterm elections, to sow the soil to reject Robert Mueller's investigation and to organize resistance to his probable electoral defeat in 2020.

In addition to the extremist wing of white nationalism's strategic shift to terrorism, the individual terrorists, Sayoc, Bush and Bowers offer insight into the complexity of new nadir-era, anti-black racism. Of the three white supremacists, only Bowers fits the stereotypical image. He embodies the beliefs and behaviors of dominance expressed by members of the ruling racial group. Sayoc and Bush, however, challenge simplistic assumptions about white supremacists.

Sayoc, who sees himself as a "foot soldier for white supremacy," surprisingly, is a person of color. His father is Filipino and his mother Italian. Bush, unlike Sayoc, does not have a recent dark ancestor. In contradiction to his repeated racist comments and his heinous murders, Bush was once married to a black woman with whom he has a son. Sayoc's ancestry and Bush's marital choice undermine naive theories of racism.

Sayoc's ideology and actions demonstrate that even darker people can advocate and practice white supremacy. African-American psychologists call this phenomenon "internalized racism." This occurs when a "racially subordinated" person consciously or unconsciously accepts theories of white superiority.

White conservatives, liberals and progressives seem to believe that all racists practice aversive racism. That is, they avoid interactions with black folks and other darker people.

However, racial oppression takes both overt and covert forms. The dominant expression of contemporary racist rationalization is colorblind racial ideology. The adherents to this belief system deny contemporary racial oppression. They contend blacks' contemporary condition is better explained by inherent group character deficiencies than by institutionalized racism or the legacy and continuation of systematic domination, discrimination and degradation.

They view African-Americans and other darker people as undeserving parasites who feed on the white body public. Nonetheless, their racist views do not prevent them from having intimate relations with some darker peoples.

Trump's xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism stoke white racial resentment. Unfortunately, a large segment of the U.S. white population shares his parasitic view of darker peoples. This is why we now totter on the brink of a return to massive racial violence.

Sundiata Cha-Jua is a professor of African-American studies and history at the University of Illinois and is a member of the North End Breakfast Club. His email is

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