Manifest Destiny in Modern America

When white privilege feels threatened

Oscar H. Blayton | 6/6/2018, 9:55 a.m.
Recent instances of white people calling the police to come and control the presence of a black person have startled ...

One weekend evening in 1966, while traveling from Camp LeJeune in eastern North Carolina to Myrtle Beach, S.C., my Marine buddies and I began to see roadside signs advertising a “Fish Fry” near the South Carolina border. It was late, we had not eaten dinner, and fried fish sounded like a pretty good idea. We followed the signs that led down a dark country road to a point where cars were turning into an open field.

We fell into the long line of cars and pickup trucks and inched forward until we could see a man directing the vehicles where to park. It was then we realized that we had a big problem. The man directing traffic was wearing a white Ku Klux KIan robe and conical headgear. My three traveling companions were white, and I was in the back seat, so we were able to pull out of line and head back to the main road without anyone noticing that there was an African-American in the car.

No one in our car said a word when we saw the Klansman. No one needed to say anything. We all knew that we had come very close to entering a particular type of “white space” where my presence was not welcome. We all knew we had to get out of there.

Later, we joked about it – after we had put several miles between us and the fish fry and were certain no one had followed us. We continued our drive without any more problems.

Once we got to Myrtle Beach, my friends and I split up, thinking that we each could do better meeting girls on our own, rather than in a “pack.” But it did not take long for me to realize that I had entered another white space. While there was no one walking along the shore in Klan regalia, in 1966, Myrtle Beach was resistant to accommodating black folk, no matter what the recently enacted Civil Rights Act said.

Black folk are not welcome in white spaces. And recent events have demonstrated that some white people will not tolerate us invading those spaces. Recent instances of white people calling the police to come and control the presence of a black person have startled many Americans. But for many African Americans, this behavior by white people is nothing new.

If we give sufficient thought to what race means in America, it is easy to understand why white people always call the cops on black people. In the minds of many white people, all the space around them belongs to them. This goes back to the notion of Manifest Destiny and beyond. It was this way of thinking that allowed the “American” settlers to massacre the Indians and take their land. “American” became a code word for “white,” otherwise “Native” Americans would have as much right to the land as any other Americans.

Many white people, from Christopher Columbus to Donald Trump believe they have a God-given right to claim whatever space they want. And it is in those spaces where they expect to exercise their white privilege.