Baltimore: Race and White America

Something happened yesterday that prompted this post after a very long gap between postings. A friend on Facebook posted an interview with Noam Chomsky and asked that it be shared.  Chomsky, linguist and political commentator, said that White supremacy in America was even more extreme and savage than in South Africa. I commented on her posting as follows:

The passive acceptance of the re-emergence of a kind of modern day lynching in US is so awful. Sometimes I think it’s a displacement for the visceral hatred of their first African American President.

Visceral speaks to deep innate feelings rather than to intellect, and is generally fear-based.

America has practised it own brand of apartheid, and Chomsky had never lived as a Black person under such a system and probably never visited a South African township. I may not have lived in a township but I visited many times. In fact working with township youth over a period of just two and a half years from 1995 affected me at such a deep psychological level that immediately on my return to the UK I trained as a psychotherapist, much to the consternation of many of my friends. 

Psychoanalysis use the term displacement to describe an unconscious mechanism used by the mind to defend or protect the individual by substituting either a new aim or a new object for an intention which if carried out in its original form will be dangerous or unacceptable and cause distress and anxiety to the 'actor'. Coming home and kicking the cat as a substitute for the boss is an example of a 'defence mechanism'.

I have wondered whether the recent spate of killing of black men by America’s police is not a displacement reaction to having a “negro” (never mind that one half of his parentage is white) as  Commander in Chief of even white supremacists. Three African American cops, including a woman for goodness sake, have also been charged for the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Of course there is a whole book to be written about how 'people of color' survive in institutionally racist organisations on which their livelihood depends.  

Of course African Americans and men in particular have been murdered in the US for centuries simply because of the colour of their skin. The acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer was not the first time that a particular ‘state apparatus’ turned its back on the illegal killing of a black person and the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore will not be the last.

The term ideological state apparatus was used by Marxist theorist Louis Althusser to describe institutions such as education, churches, family, media, trade unions, and law, which were formally outside state control but which served to transmit the values of the state. 

 I have friends in the United States and know that they are not ‘passively accepting the re-emergence of lynching’. But those who are white are unlikely to go join the Black Life Matters Movement created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin's death. Neverthess, in spite of the right wing press, many Whites have been very focal in their condemnation of the injustice of these unsanctioned killings.[1]

Martin Luther King’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery marked a pivotal time for the U.S. civil rights movement.  Fifty years later perhaps the action of Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore’s State Attorney, who moved directly to file criminal charges againist the officers, bypassing jury indictment, is subverting the usual response of one of America's state apparatuses.


Ironically, if the police officers are appropriately sentenced for unlawful killing, it will be precisely because African American officers were involved. Perhaps such an outcome will mark another pivotal point in White America’s troubled history with race. In time perhaps White America will finally come to peace with itself on race. In short end their Civil War; it won't happen in my life time.

[1] The Hanging Tree || Poem - YouTube


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