"White supremacy is the greatest danger we as Americans face as a source of domestic terrorism, and one of the least recognized", writes Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite at the Washington Post's On Faith Blog. Since Wade Michael Page massacred Sikhs and tried to murder a police officer in Wisconcin, you've probably learned more than you care to know about white supremacist groups in the United States. For those of us who imagined such groups were a thing of the past, or at least no longer a serious concern, Thistlethwaite and others are like the little girl in the Poltergeist movie. "There heeerrrreeee", they warn us.
I find myself ambivalent about the amount of attention such groups are being given in the media right now. Clearly any group representing a threat of domestic terrorism is one that the public needs to be informed about. Also, any information that counters the narcotic of color-blind, post-racial ideology is a good thing. On the other hand, there's a risk that renewed attention to white supremacist groups can reinforce the notion that they represent what a "real racist" looks like, which let's the rest of us off the hook.
As a long time student of the issue, I've come to the conclusion that one of our greatest challenges in understanding racism today is a failure to recognize the way that the problem has changed. While racial animus persists in varied forms, particularly when the levers of anger and anxiety are gleefully pulled for political gain, it is racial indifference that the greater threat. The face of racism today is more likely to resemble a yawn than a snarl and sound like deafening silence more than "hate speech". Racist outcomes, reflecting the systematic concentration of power and privilege among White Americans (largely moneyed elites) at the expense of everyone else, no longer require racist individuals.
It is an axiom of physics that a body in motion tends to stay in motion, unless the body is compelled to change its state. The architects of white supremacy, and their enablers, set the body politic of America in motion in a particular way with particular goals. This involved insane amounts of armed robbery and mental torture, creating a legacy of massive, intergenerational trauma and cognitive disorder that affects us still. To compell the body politic to change its state has alway required a profound degree of energy and commitment. This is still true. Passive acceptance of racial equity as an ideal and professions of "color-blindness" will not be sufficient. 'Abdu'l-Baha (1844-1921), Head of the Baha'i Faith from 1892 to 1921, put it this way: