Every time I listen to Propaganda and Sho Baraka’s “Cynical,” new lines stick out to me. This time, the first few lines of Sho Baraka’s verse jumped out, mainly because of the ways they relate to a lot of my recent posts about the effects of racism on children, especially white children who imbibe racist ideas and white supremacy then regurgitate it, generation after generation. Today, I want to briefly look at Sho Baraka’s verse and ay Lillian Smith and Paula Snelling’s essay “The World: Our Children’s Home” from the Spring-Summer 1944 issue of South Today. Each of these texts points out the ways that supremacy gets transmitted and seeps into countless lives.
Sho Baraka takes on the voice of a white Christian, and with the first two lines of his verse in “Cynical,” he encapsulates white supremacy through the three short phrases that he uses. He raps,
I don’t want reconciliation, I want your gun
Take the privilege and power and then I pass it to my son
In the first, Sho Baraka points out the fear of change that fuels white supremacy. This is a recurring theme throughout his verse, and it is with this idea that he begins. Reconciliation is the restoring of a bond, the bringing together of those who have been separated. By denying and refusing that act, the speaker voices the desire to keep things the way they are, free of change and free of any movement towards equality. Change creates fear for those in power because change and a move towards equity makes them feel that their position will go away. As such, they think solely about themselves, something that Smith and Snelling write about in their essay.
Smith and Snelling’s paragraph about the self-indulgent nature of white supremacy is worth quoting at length.
Of these cultural blockings, none is harder for the growing personality to push through than the mystical concept of whiteness, the deep-rooted prejudice based on skin color. This is an obstacle that the modern age has rolled across childhood’s path. For though hating and loving are as ancient as man himself, hating and loving in terms of color is strange and new. There is something curiously archaic, and narcissistic about it: this turning back of a people, in a great scientific age, to gaze upon their own image until they fall in love with it–at the same time, fearing and avoiding all who are different from them. It is as if modern man, tiring of his science, finding rational thinking too great a strain on infantile feelings, turns in bitter homesickness for old superstitions, and makes a new superstition of his own body.
Narcissism lies at the core of white supremacy, a self-indulgent view of the world that places the whiteness at the center. Sometimes this occurs consciously in the home or around friends when those in authority relate racist jokes, use racist words, or other things.
Smith and Snelling point this out and talk about the ways the “use of derogatory terms” and phrases affects one’s psyche. Hosea Easton and William Apess talked about this same thing over one hundred years before Smith. Alongside the call to stop derogatory language, Smith and Snelling not the impact that media, specifically film in their case, has on the construction of ideas of superiority and inferiority. They write that to teach children about respect and equality “White and Negro parents can insist that Negro characters in movies be made human and intelligent and attractive,” avoiding the condescending stereotypes that populate the media. As well, they argue that producers need to include white and black actors “in the same case on equal basis.”
Smith and Snelling provide ideas for reconciliation, for suturing the severed bond. They do this by calling upon readers to teach children to look beyond themselves, beyond the reflection they see staring back at them in the mirror or in the majority of media. Getting children to do this is not difficult. The problem occurs. though, when the white child grows up seeing him or herself always in a superior position. When this occurs, and change creeps up, then the person will go into themselves. As Smith and Snelling put it, “[S]egregation is the method everybody uses to shut himself away from reality when he feels threatened by danger or is afraid of something so hidden that his reason cannot find it.”
The very idea of change leads to a fear that causes the person to become self-protective, to retreat into oneself. This retreat, though, stifles the reconciliation. It brings it to a halt because now the individual does not worry about those around him. The individual becomes afraid. This is where the demagogues step in, as Smith routinely points out, and stoke the false fears within people, playing upon their narcissism. This leads to a transmission, over the generations, of “the privilege and power” that, as Sho Baraka points out, get passed down to sons and daughters.
Later in his verse, Sho Baraka raps,
Do I believe my enemies are too far from grace?
My idea of a safe space is just blow them all away
Pray to my Savior, middle finger to my neighbor
Create a theology that helps promote that behavior
I’m an activist who hates change (cynical!)
Here, he points out the Christian speaker’s hypocrisy calling for equality and loving one’s neighbor as oneself while turning around and saying, “Screw you” at the same time. The key here, of course, is Sho Baraka’s point that the speaker adheres to a created theology of white supremacy, not a biblical based theology of equity. Again, this is nothing new. Smith talks about it constantly in Killers of the Dream and elsewhere, but when I hear Sho Baraka rap these lines, I always think about Genaro Kỳ Lý Smith’s “Fidèle.”
In the poem, the speaker, a Buddhist woman from Vietnam, speaks about moving to a town in Louisiana and the Christian neighbors always asking her to church. She tells them that she will go to church with them if they go to the temple with her. They decline, and throughout the poem, the Christian family is disrespectful of the speaker and her property. At the end of the poem, someone has put racist slurs on her driveway and her garden is destroyed.
All of these works remind us that white supremacy is a self-obsessed disease and that it gets taught, grows, and expands. When we stop looking inward and begin to look outward, we’ll move one step closer to that reconciliation.
What are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.