In my mid-thirties I worked as implementation coordinator for the Cash Management Department of RepublicBank Dallas, responsible for ensuring the technology being sold by the department’s staff actually worked for their customers. Most of the staff were women, also in their thirties. Unlike me, they were all white. Of the 3,000+ executive-level staff at the bank’s headquarters, only two were people of color: the Senior Vice President for Human Resources (SVP) and the much younger vice president (VP) of another department, both men.
I don’t remember either man’s name, and couldn’t pick them out of a crowd today if my life depended on it, but my interaction with them is seared forever in memory. I’ll call the SVP John and the VP Jamal, for ease in storytelling.
Jamal was a former professional football player who had aged out. Everyone in the company treated him with a glowing reverence. When he entered a room, all the light turned in his direction. This was especially true of the young women, professional and not, who tittered and giggled in his presence.
Whenever Jamal entered our department, he made the rounds from cubicle to cubicle. He shook the men’s hands, but when it came to the women, he hugged. But not just hugged. His hands freely roamed their bodies. Publicly. In the open. They would sigh and simper, sometimes even give him a peck on the cheek. Then he would move on to the next woman. Blessedly, he never tried this with me. He always left with a triumphant look on his face.
Once he left the department, the women would talk about how sorry they felt for him. “Poor Jamal,” they would say, “there are no women of his kind available at his level. He must be so lonely.” “Poor Jamal, no girlfriend and no prospects.” “Poor Jamal, he’s such a nice guy.” Every comment began with the same refrain. While Jamal thought he was perceived as powerful and being welcomed and accepted, while he thought he was exhibiting power, the truth was quite different. He was, in fact, being tolerated and pitied.
Because I am a very light-skinned Black woman, I am often privy to interactions of this sort. White people say and do things they wouldn’t say or do with darker-skinned people of color present. It’s with this lens I watch Senator Ted Cruz make an utter fool of himself as he grabs for control of the GOP by appealing to white supremacists and white nationalists. He seems to think they have forgotten he is Latino. Or maybe he has forgotten. Or maybe he thinks his white mother is more special than Barak Obama’s and affords him a different level of protection from racism.
The GOP has a history of adopting people of color they can use as truncheons against other people of color. Time and again they lift up individuals, like former Oklahoma congressman JC Watts or entrepreneur Herman Cain, and use them as window dressing for the party, never letting them anywhere near the actual reins of decision-making and power. It never turns out well.
Right now, across the country, Latinx people are in the same social caste the Irish and Italians were a century ago: some are trying to make a case for being white, or at least white-ish enough to be trusted by the white power elite. Unlike the Irish and Italians, though, they are hampered by their multi-ethnic nature. Latinx from Colombia is not the same as from Cuba is not the same as from Rio de Janeiro’s slums is not the same as from downtown Rio. So, using a common analogy, the crabs claw over one another to escape the barrel, never acknowledging those who built and control the size and location of the barrel.
Because the GOP has let him come into their inner circle and rub up against them intimately, Ted Cruz seems to believe he is being taken seriously and passed into white-ish status. How does he not see: no matter how much he tries to prove he’s not like ‘those other people of color,’ the white supremacist mob he is courting knows exactly who he is, and he is definitely not one of them.
Like banker Jamal, Cruz has deluded himself. Just as Jamal believed he was a special kind of Black man, immune to institutional racism, Cruz has forgotten the same group of people he is now trying to seduce cheered when their president insulted his wife. He has forgotten they chose the insane man currently in the White House over him in the last election. I cannot imagine the stories he’s had to tell himself in order to stand in front of a fomenting crowd and give it credence, all the while thinking they are going after those “other” people and would never come for him. He would do well to pay attention to how well that worked out for Mike Pence, the genuinely whitest of white men.
After trying to get change from Jamal, I went to his mentor, John, and described Jamal’s behavior and the impact it had on me, as a Black woman, and on staff’s perception of him. John gave me the “there, there little lady, boys will be boys” speech de rigueur in those days. I then told him what the white women were saying and how much they disdained and pitied Jamal. After a momentary silence, John thanked me for coming to him, and I left. Jamal’s behavior changed immediately. Two weeks later he announced his engagement to a “long-time girlfriend” in Atlanta.
I don’t know if Ted Cruz has any honest friends or mentors, but someone needs to remind him who the Republican riot participants were and, maybe more, who he is. Just hand him a copy of this post, if you need a conversation starter. I’ll wait.
So what happens next? Now that the coup has failed, do we return to regularly scheduled programming?
First, let's be clear. The coup has not failed, it has been rescheduled. History shows us these first attempts at coups are just that, the first of more to come. Just as we tell a woman who has been hit by her partner for the first time that it isn't going to stop, we must acknowledge this violence is only going to escalate. Of course this isn't the first time in the last four years that Lady Liberty has been violated. Children are still separated from their parents and Flint still doesn't have drinking water.
Sadly, and gratefully, we can look to histories of failed coup attempts to see what happens next. Either we devolve immediately into the civil war being called for by the American fascists, or we wait for them to regroup and try their next attempt.
Let's be clear, there will be another shot at this. This was a rehearsal, an opportunity to identify the flexure and breaking points, identify unknown allies, test linguistics. Germany wasn't overtaken by the Nazis on the first try. The majority of Germans didn't support the Nazis. Still, they managed to break the country using pure and simple fear. These are the time-worn tactics of bullies.
The good news... bullies play to an audience. The attention they get, positive or negative, gives them a sense of power. It is their oxygen. The best ways to beat them is to cut off their oxygen supply. The kids who stood around and cheered the bully in grade school did so because it gave them a sense of referred power. Remove that power from the bully and those fans start looking for another power source to leech from. The minute you pacify a bully you lose.
So how to do we cut off the current president's oxygen supply (Dear Secret Service... I only mean this metaphorically (I think))? Social media organizations have begun the process, and that's good, but what can we ordinary folks do? Here's an allegory:
Question: A group of violent giants stand atop a mountain, surveying everything around them, threatening to kill anyone who approaches. They have fought their way to the top, and bodies are scattered all along every side of the mountain. How can they possibly be defeated?
In short: build tunnels. Wherever you may be, find inroads and build tunnels.
Welcome! I am an essayist, poet, and facilitator, passionate about social justice and integrity, who lives and works in the Pacific Northwest. These observations are based on a lifetime working in the private and non-profit sectors, in a variety of organizational development capacities.