There’s a silly but useful rhyme I think you’d enjoy. It’s easy to learn:
Eanie Meanie Slimy Schmo,
Catch a Nazi in his crow.
If he hollers, make him grow;
Eanie Meanie Slimy Schmo,
I want you to learn this rhyme because I know you can’t say it and keep a straight face. In light of this month’s events, I think we need that; all of us. There’s a special reason why I’m offering such a ridiculous rhyme and I hope you can see why. I especially want transpeople to know it because we’re the most vulnerable minority of all when it comes to the threats coming down from the self-described “Alt-Right.”
Take a look at that rhyme again. It’s plenty malleable. “Nazi” could as easily be “Klansman”. “A Nazi in his crow” can easily become “the Far Right in its crow.” The intentions are basically the same. But this isn’t about name-calling. It isn’t even about the sliminess of racism. It’s about another dynamic I want you to see.
It was evident in the weapons carried by White Supremacists in Charlottesville VA this week. Riot gear, semi-automatic machine guns, batons: all in a rally for protection of a statue of Robert E. Lee.
Think about that for a moment and see how ridiculous that really is.
White Supremacist protesters said they’re “protecting history.” I can believe that. But what history do they think they’re protecting, the gallantry and “goodness” of the Confederate South? Oh please. Confederates didn’t raise that statue let alone doing so out of goodness.
Who did? According to some fact checking by Politifact, it was a new generation. Most Confederate monuments had been erected between 1890 and World War I. Reconstruction did little to raise the South out of the wreck it was after the Civil War. By 1890 a new generation had come. Organizations arose to use monuments to point back to a more idyllic age. But more importantly, with the assertion of Jim Crow during that vicious era, the monuments were directed against African Americans, telling them, “Whites are in charge,” History Professor Karen L. Cox of the University of North Carolina was quoted to say in that article.1
If the Charlottesville City Council decided to remove that statue of Robert E. Lee, would that mean erasure? Charlottesville stands less than a 2 hour drive to the southwest of the Custis-Lee Mansion in Arlington. Robert E. Lee can be found in any U.S. History book. Nobody can tell the story of the United States without telling the exploits of that illustrious general. The idea of removing a statue from a pedestal being erasure of history is nonsense.
Instead, the history White supremacists want to preserve is an idea of a master White race asserting itself and crushing all challengers. That’s it. It’s quite simple. It’s all about ridiculously inflated egos. That’s not a history of gallantry they’re trying to preserve but a historic shamefulness of bigotry and oppression that really does need to change.
White supremacism also means asserting some other things, like the religion of White supremacists, a current exalted by Dominionists of the Evangelical Alliance, most particularly throughout the South and Midwest. It’s a similar current as that has fueled para-church organizations like Liberty Council and Family Research Network, some of the largest proponents of anti-transgender legislation in 2016 and today. In that context, opposition to the “Alt-Right” is a necessary and inherent component of trans activism.
Really, now; how does a lack of melanin in one’s skin result in any particular advantage except for a greater incidence of melanoma? That’s supposed to make Whites superior somehow? What an idiotic idea. If the real message White supremacists wanted to preserve in Charlottesville is the assertion of a master race as a “matter of history,” and they cluster around a statue to make that assertion with weapons, they must be the silliest people on the planet.
Of course it’s silliness with guns and clubs. Do weapons make White supremacists powerful? This reminds me of the case of the pilgrim Ann Sieben who dedicated her vacations to walking on religious pilgrimages. On one occasion she walked to the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City through the Chihuahua desert south of the U.S.-Mexico border with scarcely any money in her pocket. She was confronted with what she described as a “giant king-cab pickup truck with giant tires made for the desert sands with 4 mounted weapons in the back.” Armed narcotrafficantes aimed automatic weapons at her.. But she responded with laughter. She considered it absurd. “I mean, really? Eight men with guns? Really? For 1 woman?”2
What did she do with these narcotrafficantes? While they pointed their guns to her head, she relaxed her shoulders, pushed the closest gun aside, and smiled, “Really? Is that what you think it takes?” For Ann, a penniless pilgrim, she didn’t need to pretend to be anything more than she really was. If she ended her pilgrimage at the shrine or in heaven, it was okay with her. Before long the thugs asked her to pray for them.3
I’m reminded also of many nights in the 1980’s when I left work in East Los Angeles at 11:00 pm. I typically walked from White Memorial Medical Center to the bus stop at Mission and Macy several blocks away to catch a late bus to my home in El Monte. I literally traveled unarmed from Cholo turf to Gangland night after night. One night I approached the bus stop to see a man shadowboxing. What did I do? I simply ignored him and sat down at a nearby telephone pole to rest. The shadowboxer was stunned because of me, convinced that because I showed no fear of him I must be a saint. He was literally shaking. Anybody who knows me well knows I’m no saint… philosophic fruitcake maybe, but no saint.
Isn’t it interesting how it’s those who show up with a ridiculous force of arms are often the ones most afraid? I don’t doubt many of them manifest bloodthirstiness. Consider shock-jock Christopher Cantwell who reportedly told Elle Reeve of Vice News Tonight, “We’re not non-violent, we’ll f…ing kill these people if we have to… I think a lot more people are going to die here.” He predicted even more violent future episodes, even a full scale race war.4
But if these are such gallant people, why did this same person who threatened to kill others post a snivelly video to tell the world he was afraid of what might come at him after Charlottesville?5 Isn’t fear what drives such people to groups like the Ku Klux Klan, Identity Evropa, Aryan Nation, American Vanguard, and Skinheads in the first place? Don’t they fear losing their false sense of superiority where they turn away from logic and love of fellow humans to hide behind a force of arms?
NOT TAKING THE BAIT
Then what importance do we ascribe to violence on the part of any counter-protester? Blake Montgomery of BuzzFeed News pointed out an important observation as reported by the Los Angeles Times in which conflict started with 2 people, one on each side, “screaming, goading each other into throwing the first punch.”6
It’s a pattern we see again and again. There’s a word for it: baiting. Here’s an incident of baiting in its raw form:
I reached an intersection in Garden Grove CA in 2013 where the street markings were such that it would be too dangerous for me to hold a position in a center lane that would take me straight ahead westward. So I decided to walk the intersection and pressed the pedestrian button. After a minute an Evangelical couple with a toddler in a stroller approached as they crossed the street from the southeast corner to where I was waiting. I could see in the corner of my eye that they were holding religious tracts. Everything about them read like they were members of an Evangelical church. The man called out to me yelling in a sarcastic and aggressive tone of voice, “Can I help you?” I remained silent, ignoring him.
But ignoring, accepted by most people, ignited his wrath in which he intentionally misgendered me. “I’m gonna bash his face in for not answering me!” He was about 4 feet away and closing in on me. I stepped away, turned and held my bicycle in front of me at arm’s length as a barrier. He was not going to get an easy swing at me. My defensive action infuriated both of them even more. I stood behind, looking my assailants in the eye.
“Hey, man! I’m gonna call the police!” he said while ostentatiously removing his cell phone from his hand. The wife likewise joined in, saying, “Get away from our child! This monster is out to hurt the baby!” They moved to attack me from my left side. I stepped back again and repositioned the bicycle as a barrier. Their hateful tirade continued, telling me how I was going to go to hell for “harming babies.”
Again they tried to move to my left and again I stepped back and repositioned the bicycle. Meanwhile the toddler was smiling, waving to me, and saying, “Hi! Hi!” The mother said to the child, “Don’t look at that abomination!” She roughly grabbed the child’s head and snapped it forward.
All this time I said absolutely nothing to anyone. The only ones uttering any threats were that couple. Eventually they crossed the intersection westward. I changed my route immediately, riding northward out of harm’s way.7
Without weapons but lots of threats, the matter would have gone to police with the word of 2 against 1 and chances are any outlandish claim would have stuck at least till we went to court. But I refused to fight. I also refused to allow either of them to take a swing. I only set up a barrier and made sure that barrier was in place so that the aggressors could not cross it. But this couple wanted a fight so that they could have me prosecuted because their religion told them, “Onward Christian Soldiers.” They saw me, a transwoman, as a “threat” because their religion told them so.
By refusing to take the bait I prevented what could easily have been an ugly incident that would have easily bred more trouble because I could have been presented as unilaterally violent to authorities, in the press, and from the pulpit. I could have been made fodder for Evangelical propaganda.
THE PROPAGANDA FACTOR
That’s exactly what we saw in Charlottesville and in remarks later in the week at Trump Tower. Here’s a bit of the transcript of what Donald Trump said:
“Trump: I will tell you something. I watched those very closely, much more closely than you people watched it, and you have- You had a group on one side that was bad and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent. And nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say it right now. You had a group, you had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit and they were very, very violent.
[Cross talk. Reporters shout questions.]
Trump: Go ahead.
Reporter: Do you think what you call the alt-left is the same as neo-Nazis?
Trump: Those people, all of those people- excuse me. I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups, but not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch.”8
Do you see what’s happening? “Alt-Right” groups sought violence knowing that if anyone took their bait they would score a propaganda victory. A president cozy with the “Alt-Right”, evidenced in his relationship with Steve Bannon of Breitbart, would certainly paint a different picture, pointing to the “Alt-Left” as equally culpable. After inciting a riot themselves, everyone who even remotely defended himself would have been swallowed up into a tide of stigma as perpetrators equally with actual perpetrators. In this respect, those counter-protestors mere made to be fools.
So what would be a better approach? I think it starts with that rhyme I shared at the beginning. Should we use it to taunt White Supremacists? No, that’s not what I’m suggesting. Remember that malleability of the rhyme? “a Nazi” could just as easily be altered to read, “transgender”, even if that would be grammatically incorrect. It wouldn’t bother White Supremacists because they probably didn’t excel in school in the first place. Use of a rhyme for taunts only invites them to alter it to taunt you. Instead, it’s useful as an internal mantra, to make you smile and relax.
THE INNER MADNESS
Don’t you see? If you can smile and relax, you’re better able to draw upon your inner madperson to imagine creative ways to catch hot-tempered scaredy-cats off guard… like offering cookies and milk.
Think about it. Are they really going to go out gracefully by shooting me with a sub-machine gun or beating me with a baseball bat till they end up having their taxpayer dollars pay my disability? I can see the headlines right now: “KLANSMEN MURDER TRANSGENDER WOMAN WHO OFFERED COOKIES AND MILK.”
I hope you’re rolling over with laughter at a thought like that. Of course it’s ridiculous. That would result in a media coup like no other. Even if nobody accepts, it makes a great picture for the papers. After all, if one engages in a war of baiting, the kindest always wins one way or another.
But you can’t get there if you can’t smile and relax first. You have to laugh. White Supremacists are already a sorry joke. That rhyme reminds you of that. Of course, the ultimate objective of doing something mad like offering cookies and milk isn’t getting killed, of course. It’s the hope of starting a civil discourse and diffusing tensions. White Supremacists don’t generally discourse with civility, so that would be the ultimate coup. Of course, one has to be able to get past police lines to do this and be sure there are others with cameras rolling. And if not cookies and milk, why not some other good?
More than that, what would happen if we applied Kant’s Principle of Universality which says that right action is that which you can hold to be a universal law, in this case a universal law of kind craziness? If we all faced a growing force of armed White Supremacists with laughter and relaxation, just who do White Supremacists think they want to fight? They yell into the air, breathing threats and the rest of us can just look back while eating popcorn. If any of them charges, one can play it like Speedy Gonzalez who runs like the ultimate bait while yelling the untranslatable, “Andale! Andale!” Who doesn’t find that hotheaded cat that chases him utterly silly?
It would be nice if we could take belligerent White Supremacists and send them into the desert while Muslim nations send their equally annoying Islamist terrorists. Let them take out their aggressions in their own Armageddon away from the cities, suburbs, and farms. Let them fight to the death for what they think is so noble a cause. Then we could put the last man standing in a museum to show the futility of it all.
That’s not in the cards, of course. So we’re left to our own creative madness… the ultimate defense. Laugh. Relax. Truth is on your side. Take the higher road against cowards and you ignite a contagion of example that can make the world a little bit kinder… and America a little bit greater. Sorry, Mr. Trump.
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Featured image: 4 fragments of public domain images from Wikimedia depicting protest and violence, all laid out so that the negative space forms a swastika, each arm warning with the Greek word, “thanatos” or “death”. It’s also reflected in the grey capital “theta”. But the oval of the “theta” is crossed as a sign of negation with the first lines of the rhyme in this article.
- John Kruzel. “Did Confederate symbols gain prominence in the civil rights era?” Politifact (August 15, 2017, accessed August 15, 2017) http://www.politifact.com/punditfact/statements/2017/aug/15/joy-reid/did-confederate-symbols-gain-prominence-civil-righ/
- Mehta, Guri. “The Winter Pilgrim: A Conversation with Ann Sieben” Parabola, Vol. 42, Number 2, Summer 2017, p. 50.
- Ibid, pp 50, 51.
- James West. “Vice News Just Released Chilling, Must-Watch Footage From Behind Charlottesville’s Battle Lines” Mother Jones (August 15, 2017, accessed August 17, 2017) http://www.motherjones.com/media/2017/08/vice-news-just-released-chilling-must-watch-footage-from-behind-charlottesvilles-battle-lines/.
- William Cummings. “Neo-Nazi featured on Vice News cries in online video” USA Today (August 17, 2017, accessed August 17, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/08/17/christopher-cantwell-cries-video/578227001/.
- Matt Pearce. “Who was responsible for the violence in Charlottesville? Here’s what witnesses say” Los Angeles Times (August 15, 2017, accessed August 7, 2017) http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-charlottesville-witnesses-20170815-story.html.
- Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Taking the Bait” Transpire (September 2, 2016, accessed August 17, 2017) https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/09/02/taking-the-bait/.
- Christine Wang. “Read the transcript of Donald Trump’s jaw-dropping press conference” com (August 15, 2017, accessed August 17, 2017) https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/15/read-the-transcript-of-donald-trumps-jaw-dropping-press-conference.html.