To the editor–
Mike Miner’s piece on the media’s role as tacit dupes of the World Church of the Creator [July 23] was interesting and revealing–but I believe Miner, like virtually all other “mainstream” critics and commentators, has missed the most significant element of how the U.S. media have chosen to approach this story.
Virtually all coverage of the World Church of the Creator has taken great pains to portray its members as extremist kooks far removed from mainstream white American thinking. But the thing that has struck me most about their beliefs is how un-“radical” they really are, when stripped of their more apocalyptic excesses, in terms of the everyday conversation and opinions of much of white America.
According to what we’ve been told, Benjamin Smith began to believe that there was a conspiracy against white Americans when he discovered–to his horror–that students of color were getting their tuition paid for by “his” tax dollars. That’s hardly a kooky right-wing sentiment in 90s-era America. I’d be willing to bet that a random survey of Caucasian Americans would reveal that a significant percentage of them share Smith’s “horror,” in one form or another. Forget Rush Limbaugh–how far is it, really, from the warm and fuzzy reaction Bill Clinton got from “liberal” America when he promised to “end welfare as we know it”?
Hang around any “mainstream” white watering hole for any length of time and the chances are pretty good that you’ll start hearing quite a bit about “those people” and how they’re ruining, sullying, ripping off, sucking the blood out of, or otherwise defiling “our” economy, “our” values, “our” culture, etc. Depending on the gentility of your surroundings, the conversation may or may not be couched in the n-word; it may or may not include blatantly hostile or aggressive rhetoric. But it will be pervasive, it will be obvious, and it will reflect only a mild version of the kind of thing that gets said in even more private gatherings. (And if you’re white, it will be assumed without asking that you concur with virtually everything being expressed.)
I’m not suggesting that most white Americans actually advocate or even actively condone racial violence (although I was pretty taken aback not long ago when I was in a blues club–of all places–and I heard the people at the bar asserting that “what this country needs is to bring back lynchings!” only moments before they all adjourned to the next room to stomp their feet, applaud, and yell their approval at the music of Eddie Burks, who was born in Mississippi and has publicly talked about his harrowing childhood encounters with racist vigilantism).
I am, however, suggesting that the mainstream media are having a very good time right now pointing to the rhetoric and neo-Nazi buffoonery of the World Church of the Creator and assuring all of us that this is, after all, what “real” racists look and act like. How unlike the rest of us, how reassuring–and how disingenuous. If the truth were admitted, the Church of the Creator is in many ways acting out the hidden fantasies (if not the hidden agenda) of many more “mainstream” white folks than a lot of people (perhaps even a lot of those white folks themselves) want to admit, at least in the light of day.