If you step outside the box and look inward at the United States, much of what you see — the worst of it — is the result of American complacency based on the nationalist idea that we’re exceptional. As if we don’t have to adhere to the most basic rules of human decency. Meanwhile, we demand so much from other nations, holding them to higher standards than we hold ourselves.
Americans are so arrogant that we, as a society, routinely fail to reflect on ourselves. Our very own behaviors reveal the worst of what we declare unacceptable across the globe. How we treat the Black community, Indigenous people, Latino groups, Asian groups, asylum seekers, the LGBTQ community, and various other marginalized people is abhorrent. I say “we” because as a society “we” need to do better. Many of us are doing important work and maybe it’s not enough, but the bigger problems have always been the refusal by the majority to do any work at all.
We didn’t arrive at the worst America has to offer overnight. State-sanctioned killings; the chasing and lynching of Black people; the incarceration of asylum-seekers and children for crossing an imaginary boundary; the millions who live in abject poverty on the fringes of society one step away from homelessness; these are all incremental processes. Fostered for decades, even centuries, on a road paved with American apathy and indifference.
These malignant processes, while always present, have been more pervasive over the last two decades. Since 9/11 and the explosion of white nationalism, American indifference in the name of national security is so tangible it could almost be traded like stock. The constant fear-mongering over non-white people coming through the Southern border produced the inhumane environment we see today. The militarization of police ushered in an era of more aggressive policing and increased surveillance of Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities. All made possible by the 2001 Patriot Act, which the government states is a way for the U.S. to monitor and examine potential terrorists and persons of suspicion.
The militancy of post-9/11 law enforcement has been bolstered by the disregard Americans are historically known for at home and abroad. In the face of adversity, the culture of silence is how non-White groups become marginalized through profiling, prejudice, and discrimination in every aspect of American society. As long as the majority population (read: White people) remains complacent and accepting of injustices, our history of state-sanctioned oppression will continue.
Unopposed White Nationalism
The passage of the Patriot Act in response to the September 11 attacks has done more to continue the legacy of the disproportionate incarceration and murder of non-White people than it has to protect Americans from foreign terrorists. The iteration of agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)— among many others — increase the ever-present surveillance state.
Many of these agencies target communities of color. While much of the power of these agencies has shifted to domestic threats, they have routinely been used against racial justice and immigrants’ rights activists as well as journalists, according to a whistleblower complaint filed on September 8, 2020. The complaint also notes how White nationalist groups are left unbothered as they arm themselves and become an even greater national security threat.
The visible proliferation of extremist groups and hate groups began again in earnest with the open display of White nationalism and xenophobia of the post-9/11 era. It didn’t happen suddenly or because of Trump. The unfettered growth of these groups results from disregarding the warnings that many Whites — and some people of color — still ignore today. Even after the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, mass shootings, and the advancing domestic terror threat, White supremacist America continues with their lives unaffected; knowing they won’t be targeted by either the federal authorities or domestic extremists.
The menace of domestic terrorism is far greater than the threat of foreign terrorism. Yet most Americans are either too busy fomenting culture wars or are too self-involved to be disturbed and made aware. While the last two decades were spent stoking fears about Black and Brown terrorists posing as asylum-seekers, white domestic terrorists are supposedly being recognized as the danger they’ve always been.
Americans really shouldn’t overlook the fact that the various agencies under Homeland Security’s operational structure largely depend on the information provided by local and state law enforcement agencies who have a long and sordid history of profiling non-White groups. The information sharing between federal agencies such as DHS and the FBI exposes how civil rights activists end up labeled as “Black Identity Extremists” while the threat of domestic terrorism from White nationalist groups — with ties to police who are often members of these groups — was largely disregarded until now.
American complacency allows for the evolution of federal agencies partnering with local and state law enforcement to use their ever-growing powers against communities of color.
Legacy of Oppression
America’s legacy of oppression dates back to its birth and remains constant in modern American society. And, it’s still glaring. From Nixon’s drug war to the mass incarceration of Black people, to the Patriot Act, and everything in between, oppressive policies are simply a way of life here.
Making generalizations about any group makes them easy to profile while basing our interactions on that characterization. Law enforcement is no different in this regard. They are tasked by their superiors to racially profile non-white groups for various unjustifiable reasons. Assumptions about a possible suspect based on preconceived notions and implicit biases are how people are disproportionately arrested, discriminated against, brutalized, and murdered.
In “Constitutional Cash: Are Banks Guilty of Racial Profiling in Implementing the United States Patriot Act?” for the Michigan Journal of Race and Law, Cheryl R Lee says, “As with lynching in the 1800s and 1900s, the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1992 Rodney King beating, America continues this pattern of profiling. While profiling has always been institutional and government-sponsored, under the cover of “terrorism” it is now legitimately used by many more, from anyone in the tiniest local police agency to the National Security Service.”
There are 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States and they all have access to troves of data about us as individuals. Police officers have been caught abusing those systems with tragic results. Because of the Patriot Act, local police are now granted access to information that would not normally be accessible to them without a warrant. That information is freely available through federal and private-sector databases that store previously collected information about U.S. citizens with little to no oversight.
Section 213 of the Patriot Act also allows law enforcement agencies to conduct “sneak and peek” searches of people’s homes and delay giving notice based on stored data about us. According to the ACLU: “This means that government agents can enter a house, apartment or office with a search warrant when the occupant is away, search through his/her property and take photographs — in some cases seizing property and electronic communications — and not tell the owner until later.”
The ACLU also reports that in 2010 sneak and peek searches were done 3,970 times. Of those, 76% were drug-related. Less than 1% were terror-related. Section 213 of the Patriot Act was meant to be used as a tool to track and target foreign terrorists. Instead, it is disproportionately used against American citizens in the failed drug war. A war that we know purposely targets minority groups breaking up families and destroying communities.
The Patriot Act has been used as yet another tool of oppression. Oppression against Black, Indigenous, Latino, and Muslim groups has gradually gotten worse over the last several decades with no pushback from America.
Enough Shoulder Shrugging
The notion that systemic racism exists on such a glaring scale and the vast majority of Americans routinely upholding it is astounding. It’s not a grand conspiracy by White people with a hidden agenda but, most White people accept the systems for what they are. Politicians have their hidden agendas and what may seem like them doing good on the surface, is really them doing harm that’s hidden in the fine print, i.e., the Patriot Act. In general, white supremacist power structures are upheld by the proverbial shoulder-shrugging of the masses.
The vast majority of America’s social issues revolve around decades of complacent attitudes toward social and racial justice issues. As we come to accept certain things we allow them to grow. In the richest nation in the world, that growth has been exponential. The decades of ignoring the growing wealth gap, stagnant wages, and increased poverty that disproportionately impacts communities of color show the level of economic indifference in America.
Similar to the exponential growth of hate groups, the normalization of discriminatory ideas has also grown unabated. From the welfare queens of the Reagan era to the fear-mongering about Black people, non-white immigrants, and fear of the other, the American people have allowed hate to become mainstream. When social media entered the picture, it became a megaphone for prejudicial ideas and again, white America either became part of it or chose to ignore it.
As of now, hope for equality in America hinges on the resolve of the American people. Was January 6, 2021, enough for White people to take notice and finally acknowledge the domestic terrorist threat motivated by White rage? Will the constant mass murders put the focus where it needs to be? Will that outrage last the duration or will it just fizzle out like it always does? These are the questions White America needs to answer.
In the last presidential election, we saw over 75 million people take sides with and vouch for a man who stoked fear and hate for non-White people. Their reasoning doesn’t matter when so many different marginalized groups were being threatened by nationalism, Western chauvinism, and/or America’s surveillance apparatus that’s bolstered by the hateful rhetoric of some of the highest-ranking elected (and non-elected) officials in the country. It doesn’t matter what they label it or what their logic is because it’s all based on the same hateful ideologies that built the United States.
*Originally published in Momentum on Medium