“Cindy Sheehan & White Supremacy”
By Tamara K. Nopper
November 23, 2005
The anti war movement has been acting like crouching tiger, hidden white movement waiting for a white light to help them get through what they perceive as a movement growing too fixated with race. They found their heroine in Cindy Sheehan: a white mother who lost her son Casey in the Iraq War and who is now willing to take on big, bad Bush.
Now with Sheehan, the white sect of the anti-war movement can finally say fuck you to the race people: no more having to hear complaining minorities claim that war is connected to racism and no more talk about the large numbers of disenfranchised non-whites who must struggle with the enormous choice of either going into the military or surviving. If this is the case, how do you explain Cindy, poor Cindy, whose poor white son died in Iraq?
But Sheehan is more than just a sad, crying white mother. She is a fighter! For the anti-war movement, this white woman is no shrinking violet. Rather, this is the perfect white woman—one who can claim a personal intimacy with the trauma of war and who is also willing to take bold stands, stands that are normally associated with non-white women. It is this “boldness” of Sheehan that the white anti-war movement is really excited about.
Finally, a white woman who is willing to not act like a white woman. No, not this tigress! Rather, Sheehan doesn’t just cry; she will pitch “Camp Casey” outside of Bush’s ranch for almost two weeks and make pronounced statements about the erosion of civil rights and imperialism. The fact that Sheehan was never arrested when she camped outside the president’s ranch (or that she was seen smiling on camera when she finally was arrested in DC during a weekend of anti-war protests) speaks volumes. Also speaking volumes is the fact that she was able to take such a bold stand with the support of various organizations, some of them who received a great deal of donations to help Sheehan. And Sheehan’s arguments about the erosion of civil rights is simply an act of white nationalism—now we must act as a nation because the white citizen has lost her son. Finally, Sheehan’s talk of imperialism has been enticing for those who are just grateful to white people that will say imperialism even though you can go to any protest and find a white stepford lefty who will talk about imperialism without discussing white supremacy.
And it is this unaddressed white supremacy that has helped Cindy Sheehan become the celebrity and current face of the anti-war movement. The death of Sheehan’s son and her subsequent pain has become the catalyst of a renewed anti-war movement to the point that non-white families have to align themselves with her to even get a modicum of the attention that she does. Rarely, if ever, have white people had to connect their struggles to non-whites in hopes of getting some sympathy or support. Further, the excitement that people are expressing towards Sheehan’s stand reveals a hidden but all too often present dimension of activism: the economy of gratitude towards those who “challenge their privilege” rather than those who take bold stands without the insurance of such a safety net. Finally, Sheehan has been able to avoid important questions about where her white son stood on important political issues and whether or not people should even care about his death.
But Sheehan is not totally to blame. In many ways I am also moved by her struggle. However, the anti-war movement must be interrogated for how excited it is to have a Cindy Sheehan. Although in many ways, the answer is pretty clear: she is white, after all.
Now some will suggest that my critique of Sheehan and the anti-war movement is unfair and unprincipled and will surely ask whether I am willing to take the stand that Sheehan has. Well, I would protest if I was able to be funded by a variety of people so inspired by me breaking the law (read: if I was white). I would protest if I could get a blitz of media attention over a sustained period of time to keep my story and political views in the media (read: if I was white). I would protest if I could get organizations to hold a series of vigils for me and caravan to wherever I go (read: if I was white). I would protest if I could get organizations to give me time on their websites and engage in sustained support activities (read: if I was white). I would protest if the loss of my child could be the basis of public agony and sadness (read: if I was white). I would protest if I could frame my child’s life rather than have it framed for him (read: if I was white). I would protest if I could get white celebrities and celebrity activists (and some non-white ones) to be inspired by my cause (read: if I was white).
Until then I will be on the sidelines with the rest of the world chanting the Cindy Sheehan solidarity battle cry: “When white people die, we all cry! When white people die, we all cry!”
Tamara K. Nopper is a writer and counter-military activist living in Philly. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.