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 ...

In years past, white spaces were the front seats of Southern buses, movie theatres and railroad cars reserved for whites only. A classic white space was Levittown, N.Y. in the 1950s, a community where blacks were not allowed to live even though the homes were subsidized by federal loans. While some of the vestiges of a meaner time have faded away, the fetid stench of white spaces and white privilege still linger in America.

That stench has wafted into our nostrils each time a black person is made to feel unwelcome by someone who calls the cops to prevent them from sitting in a Starbucks, playing a round of golf, moving into their apartment, moving out of an Airbnb or riding on the Napa Valley Wine Train. And the list goes on.

Those people who call the cops do so because their white privilege feels threatened. To them, white space is where white Americans expect to enjoy “the good life” and the bounty of this country. But as with an exclusive country club, most people of color need not apply.

The tragic death of Trayvon Martin can be explained in these terms. George Zimmerman saw Trayvon as someone who did not have permission to be in his gated community, and Zimmerman took it upon himself to enforce that white space.

The truth of the matter is that for some white people, a person of color is not entitled to be anywhere in America; their presence is tolerated only at the discretion of white people. There are those white people who will look into a television camera and declare that America is a “white Christian” country, and there are those white people who will not make such public declarations but will call the police when black men sit in their Starbucks for less than three minutes without ordering anything.

Once people of color come to understand that many white people believe that the totality of America belongs to them, then we will have a better understanding of why they are so quick to call the police. Ignoring the fact that they are all descended from different groups of immigrants with different cultures, they believe the “other” has no entitlement in this country. No right to look differently or speak differently. No entitlement to worship differently or to have a different sexual orientation. Our very existence is a discomfort to them and the more prestigious the white space, the more virulent the objection to the presence of people of color.

Just as their cultural forefathers before them, these white Americans believe that it is their manifest destiny to have all that is to be had.

Oscar H. Blayton is a former Marine Corps combat pilot and human rights activist who practices law in Virginia.