In her text The Invention of Woman, Oyeronke Oyewumi critically interrogates a visual American culture and its perpetual effect on identity markers that encompass many at birth. Engaging with Oyeyemi’s work elucidates that the visual, in many instances, is the beginning and end to understanding for many. The power of the visual is perhaps most pronounced in the recent administration when the world watched as Donald Trump became the optic for a global evil: white supremacy. White supremacy, though conspicuous in circumstance and horrific gestures, proves most sinister and even deadly as an intangible evil that is at once amorphous and embedded in every structure and space that ornaments this country. Donald Trump as an optic oversimplifies a ubiquitous truth much larger than the smallness he exudes.
The insurrection of January 6, 2021, acquires a similar effect.
Whether captioned by Malcolm X’s not famous phrase “the chickens have come home to roost,” or referenced as domestic terrorists burning down their own house, the insurrection of 2021 performed in a cycle of racial violence imposed when those deemed “extremists” perceive domestic relations as deviating from the nation’s anti-black promise.
The Trump Administration and the insurrection of 2021, for many unwilling to accept what now cannot function without question, elucidate what a minority has always known to be true: that white superiority is a farce.
For far too many, this reality was callously unconsidered until the Trump administration and the recent insurrection that will leave an indelible mark on an administration already stained in sin. Particularly, it was not until whiteness proved villainous to whites that its inherent toxicity becomes relevant to those oppressed by its wrath before they were even conceived. Whiteness as harmful only when it appears that whiteness is not only problematic but indicative of cognitive genocide.
While there are countless effects to the cognitive genocide incited by an espousal to a visual culture informed by white nationalism, I’ve outlined three.
- It privileges the neoliberal ideology: Let me begin by stating what I hope is obvious: Neoliberalism, like what the media calls “Trumpism,” is racism. White supremacists see that they can more deeply embed and actualize terror by convincing the oppressed of a dichotomy between themselves and overt white supremacy. Thus, their creation of a white supremacist optic does not “unite” the peoples of the world, but draws in the oppressed caste by belying global awareness. What the black collective witnesses here is not the enlightenment of the neo-liberal, it’s the evil of white nationalism masked by a patronizing performance and label.
- It veils a white agenda with what functions as awareness. The white media does not showcase white terror as a means to raise awareness; rather as a means to conceal white supremacy as a global weapon.
- It makes a complex issue appear manageable by facile acts. Thus, “controlling” the situation becomes commiserate to suspending Trump’s Twitter account and launching a social media war on he who is symptomatic of a systemic issue. The bottom line: presenting a superficial solution to a complex issue enables the issue to fester. An equivalent would be suggesting that a fire had been put out in a six-bedroom house but only extinguishing the flames in a single room. One can incite re-entry and obtain an underserving trust by minimizing a problem they need to exist to secure their own identity.
Confining a nation to the visual, engenders a cognitive genocide where the visual takes on an epistemological role. This is exceedingly detrimental in a space where anti-black agents control the media. Moreover, what they show becomes what we know and this simply cannot be the case, especially when the cruelest crime against humanity has become a footnote in a history where white fiction becomes fact. Though not captured on film, “we” constitute the visual for the crimes of this nation. We, who still lack presentation that has not been neutered or caricatured remain buried in an anti-blackness that tells us anything but the truth and shows us everything but our “selves” without distortion.