Black Perspective: American Normalcy

Welcome to the inaugural article of our new column, Black Perspective. We, the columnists, lament the fact that we must begin our writing careers with the circumstances of the past week looming large. On that topic, we would like to begin by recognizing and denouncing the abhorrent acts of racial violence committed this past week and historically, towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). We stand in full solidarity with, and are fully committed to advancing the interests of, the AAPI community. 

Over the course of the past year, we have seen a considerable increase in xenophobia and racism directed towards both AAPI and Black Americans. The impetus for writing this first piece is a desire to uncover the conditions that have facilitated this increase in racialized violence and hate. Throughout our investigation so far, we have found the coronavirus pandemic to be a main factor in the recent growth of racially motivated hate, and will argue that, in general, adversity has not only its own immediate consequences but also the added consequence of exacerbating preexisting social conflicts. Therefore, deviations from what is normal — such as the Covid-19 pandemic — expose latent reactionary tendencies that otherwise remain concealed. 

Underlying what we generally consider to be “normal” in our society is a placated and hidden racial animus. This is important when considering the views of those like President Warren G. Harding, who famously proposed a “return to normalcy” after World War I, the First Red Scare, and the Spanish Flu pandemic. Harding’s promise was to restore America to its conditions prior to the catastrophes of the 1910s and early 1920s. However, like President Joe Biden’s similar promises, this call for “return” stems from a false ideal of stability — one that never really existed for marginalized groups. 

What a call to “return to normal” misses is that it is often the normalcy before a catastrophe that causes a catastrophe (or abnormality) in the first place. For that reason, it is disingenuous of establishment Democrats to reason that we can relax now that Donald Trump is out of office, or “go back to brunch” and not worry about political and social matters. Among other things, it was the Democratic establishment’s inability to see Trump not as an anomaly, but as a direct product of their complacency over the past eight years that led to a state of “abnormality”. Accordingly, we cannot think of American normalcy without examining its relationship to hegemony. 

People of color, on the other hand, know by direct experience that America’s “normalcy” — a shallow veneer of economic stability, tired platitudes and patriotism draped in the veil of white supremacy — is largely a farce. When the stable normalcy of white America is upset, or the economic and social statuses of white Americans are threatened, that veneer is removed to reveal a dark underbelly of systemic violence and ritualized hate. During catastrophes like the current pandemic, the platitudes become slurs, the patriotism hatred and the true nature of American “normalcy” becomes evident. 

Large social catastrophes disrupt normality and therefore newly expose latent prejudicial attitudes and biases. This new manifestation of explicit racism and xenophobia always compensates for the pure incoherency of the catastrophe — namely, its destabilization of everyday life. This compensation is often realized in racialization; it outsources the consequences of either a contingent (e.g. in the case of a pandemic) or socially induced (e.g. in the case of an economic downturn) disaster onto a minority group. Thus already oppressed groups experience not only a disproportionate amount of the trauma from the catastrophe, but are also blamed or used as scapegoats. They are the abnormal, they are the catastrophe, and this is laid bare only when the balance of society is upset.

Xenophobia and racism are two different sides of the same coin — the same systemic and ritualized coin that supports the bedrock of America. For people of color, a return to normalcy means a continuation of the crimes against us. A catastrophic event may make explicit some aspects of our pain, but the eventual return to our silent suffering is another pain within itself. Normalcy is passivity. Tough times reveal true colors and adversity reveals character. 

Unfortunately, as the Black community has seen so often, the expressed empathy and ‘standing to understand’ by white America regarding the Atlanta spa shootings will eventually disappear. This ephemeral period of attempted sensitivity is nothing but a high tide before the return of the normal invisibility and overlook. We will inevitably return to normalcy — and that’s the problem. 

As a column, we look forward to continuing the examination of America from our Black perspective. Though the requirement for this column is long overdue, writing it poses a quandary for us as contributors. How can we seriously write about any facet of Blackness in a newspaper where Black voices are only at the forefront when our community has been ‘harmed’? Our words will undoubtedly be appropriated for that of the whole Black community which is concretely not our intention and neither our purpose. As Black students, we rarely see or hear a rallying voice expressing the habitual grievances we face attending an institution created to serve whiteness, but through our column, we hope to highlight the voices of Black students and present readers with our Black Perspective.