The social narrative of the United States locates virtue in whiteness; its power and entitlements are justified by white altruism, white benevolence, white entitlement. We see black trauma turned into white virtue signaling, a process to which the murder of Floyd has already been converted. Social media features a plethora of white people who are—all of a sudden—justifying their every decision: a firing they may have seen coming, a donation they may have given, a phone call they may have made, as stemming from their deep-sprung empathy toward black people. Crowing for themselves under the pretext of feeling for Floyd, they are underscoring again just how good (and hence deserving of commendation) they are.
A useful counterpoint to this habit was given by Cornel West in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper this week. Speaking immediately after George Floyd’s funeral, West described the black tradition of marching for justice without words of hatred or revenge. He described the insistence on freedom for everybody as a “grand gift to the world.” “White America ought to give black people a standing ovation,” West said. “After four hundred years of being terrorized, we refuse to create a black version of the Ku Klux Klan.” West noted that Floyd’s funeral in Houston was marked with uplift. “You can put us down, but you’re not going to put us down in such a way that we’re going to hate you, because you become the point of reference.” The presumption of goodness cannot be allowed to rest with white America. But if Gandhi’s precepts for British India modeled anything, it is the fact that it is not enough for the oppressed to actually be good; they are continually asked to perform their goodness, to prove it against the decrepitude of the other side.
Rafia Zakaria on .
From a broader article looking at Gandhi’s model of non-violent resistance, specifically in light of the criticism he received at the time from Jewish activist currently struggling against annihilation in Europe (what form of “nonviolence” or performative virtue could have stopped the Holocaust?).
One of the things that was kind of… eye opening to me when I first encountered it was that the narrative white Westerners have about Gandhi and the narrative a lot of actual South Asian people have… do not match up. Like. At all. For a variety of reasons, not all of them “good” per se (ref. parochial nationalism), but still…