Jeff Fisher gets the benefit of the doubt forever as an NFL coach despite minimal empirical efficacy; how does he remain credible? Kate Beckinsale’s Underworld series has five iterations despite marginal economic return (the same goes for the Resident Evil series; they’re basically the same franchise, right?). Donald Trump is president.
Whiteness is so unapologetically an American norm that it’s nothing but insulting – not astonishing, surprising, shocking – when people pretend it isn’t. In the face of the entirety of American history – which includes right now – white people have to think they’re telling a joke or something, right? What’s the punchline? That we’re just Farva from Super Troopers? (Minus something redeeming and lovable about us because at least he had the excuse of being a buffoon…actually, no, he was just being White. And people – White people – are keen to forgive that characteristic.) White people are stand-ups who’ve been doing it for so long that they think they’re good due to sheer longevity and resilience; the problem is that they’ve been incredibly successful in the role, goodness clearly be damned.
Maintenance doesn’t mean unmitigated exclusivity. Whiteness can stay a zone of economic privilege and existential entitlement even if non-white people start to experience that privilege and entitlement; in fact, the maintenance hinges on such concessions. Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States of America is basically a history of this maintenance. The amazing ways in which American Whiteness has adapted and evolved to keep itself alive. It’s an amazing organism. Like all life, it operates on a single imperative: live.
Except…life wants life, yes. But typically, not much more than that, i.e. life wants to live, not conquer (sorry, Nietzsche). Which is why White America is the virus Agent Smith identified in The Matrix. Cypher is the average American consumer – where race and every other identity marker matter less: if you’re spending money, you’re a good American – willing himself into blissful ignorance. America is built to usher its citizenry, like lemmings, into existential oblivion, surrendering our freedom and agency for the branded facsimile of a life. It’s enough to live, and to feel alive just often enough to make us think we’re okay. Feelings, of course, are easily manufactured, and in their distribution our country does not discriminate. You want to feel alive? There’s a drug, an article, a show, a something/anything/everything for that.
Whiteness is the ultimate something. It’s the idea that there’s always salvation for you and that money can buy it. That hard work and dedication and faithful self-making can bring. Our economy is built on making the soma tablet of Whiteness tastier and tastier for everyone. Have it your way, sure, as long as “your” implicitly means “White.” Everything for the sake of Whiteness. Sacrifice everything you have – and even better, everything you are – at this altar.
Eminem’s “White America” offers the strange mess of feelings (for a successful white male) that come with the recognition of this sociopolitical labyrinth. He almost goes through the stages of grief as he unleashes a torrent of venom on America, only to love and accept it by the end. After all, he’s just another host to its incurable disease. When you can’t cry, you have to laugh at your oppressor.