They called me “Dallas” at the London student bar where I picked up the odd shift while studying abroad in college, hoping to take home enough pounds to lessen the exchange rate’s astonishing toll on my Carling-and-crisps budget. My drinkers and my co-workers didn’t know much about Texas, but they did know this: It’s real big, and the people are friendly.
I know we Texans haven’t formally modified our borders in a while, but did y’all make a change to the “friendly” part without me? Because there have been some goings-on of late that strike me as thoroughly unneighborly.
In South Austin last month, residents found pamphlets on their porches soliciting membership in the Ku Klux Klan. A Klan spokesman told the Austin American-Statesman that the racist terror group (my take, not his) is stepping up recruitment because “they” — ahemm — “are trying to take down our Confederate flag and trying to erase whites out of history.” This plan, he said, is evidenced by the August killing of two white television journalists in Virginia by a former colleague, who was black.
There’s no evidence whatever that the Virginia killer was motivated by a general hatred of white people.
There’s also no evidence that the man who shot a white sheriff’s deputy in Houston this summer did so out of racist malice. But that didn’t stop a former Texas corrections officer, Nathan Ener, from throwing on a cowboy hat and taking to YouTube to demand white people rise up in mobs to beat and murder black Texans. He spewed into the camera:
“The last fricking thing some of you sons of bitches will ever hear is that noise right there,” Ener says while cocking his gun. “… When we’re out there, when we come in your goddamn house. … Don’t ever threaten another cop in Texas, don’t ever threaten another white person. You black bastards, you goddamn Panthers and shit, try to come to another town and try to march — see what happens to you.”
Men like Ener, and I’m ashamed to say I’ve met more than a few, see Texans of color marching for their lives in the street, demanding relief from disproportionate police violence, and take it as a personal and physical threat against golly-gosh well-meaning white folk everywhere.
And yet the only true violence I see — the only true racist violence — is coming straight from the Nathan Ener school of white supremacist sociology, from Klan lackeys pasting houses with pamphlets. From folks who see “black lives matter” and hear the cock of their own shotguns.
I’ve personally attended, and even covered, a fair few Black Lives Matter protests over the last year. I’ve never heard anyone threaten a white person, and I’ve never been threatened. I have seen many tears. Parents crying for their babies. Youngsters crying for their parents. The exhausted sighs of another night in the streets demanding change.
White supremacy grants me the privilege of white individualism; I never have to wonder whether all white people will be held accountable for my bad actions. A white cop shoots an unarmed black man, or a white man takes to the streets of Austin with bombs and automatic weapons, and they’re just unfortunate incidents. Free from the influence of widespread systemic racism.
Yet Nathan Ener seems to see oppression wherever he looks, because he only looks to blame Texans of color for his own imagined oppression. He constructs himself as a victim of a teeming throng gathering to assault him for the color of his skin. Any crime against a white person becomes an act of unmitigated tyranny. This despite the facts: White Texans fare better than Texans of color in almost all ways. We are healthier, we are safer, we are wealthier.
But Ener cries racism and fantasizes about an armed mob busting into citizens’ homes to beat them into silence. Does it sound to anyone else like the white man in the cowboy hat doth protest a skosh too much?
I’m not under the impression that Texas has ever been a truly friendly place for marginalized folks. In many important and urgent ways, it still isn’t. And it won’t be, until people who look like me stop treating as personal assaults hard conversations that disturb our unearned peace. Demands for equity, demands to be treated as human, aren’t acts of violence, however much they may disturb us white Texans who are too comfortable in our own skin.