Commentary: Debate 2020: A Musca domestica and racism

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Commentary: Debate 2020: A Musca domestica and racism
October 14
12:50 2020

The 2020 vice-presidential debate. Senator Kamala Harris. Vice President Mike Pence. A Musca domestica lands on the head of Pence and rests comfortably there for two minutes. This Musca domestica’s presence upstages the event, creating an Internet stir. Satirical phrases and expressions, along with hilarious emojis and memes, flood social media and dominate online news outlets. A lingering Musca domestica, also known as the common housefly, poised atop the Vice President’s head amid a debate is a historic scene. Comical. Unusual. Telling. 

I too thought the incident was humorous, but when a friend informed me as to the point during the debate the insect landed, I began to think more deeply about the Musca domestica’s presence. Its arrival coincided with the discussion on racial justice. The question? “In the case of Breonna Tayler, was justice done?” From this question the words “systematically racist/ bias against minorities” (Pence) and white supremacy (Harris) emerged. 

Racism and a Musca domestica? What is the connection between these words? Frederick Douglass poignantly provides the intersectionality when he speaks to the evil of racial prejudice calling it a moral disorder. He says prejudice “paints a hateful picture according to its own diseased imagination.” Diseased imagination … ponder the thought. 

Consider the Musca domestica, which breeds in garbage, manure, and decaying fruits and vegetables. The common housefly transmits 65 diseases and carries 350 different types of bacteria! This is a filthy and lethal insect.

Racism too is sordid and deadly, exerting pathogens of hatred and hegemonic power, white supremacy and white privilege, microaggressions and marginalization, injustice and inequality, enslavement and economic disparity. These pathogens infect systems, institutions, and structures through human hosts, producing a malady-of-the-mind diagnosis. This diseased imagination has subjugated the oppressed, racially profiled, lynched and terrorized, culminating in the death of ethnic persons numbering beyond millions.

The Musca domestic, which I view as a symbol of racism, is as alive and well as it was in 1619 when the first 20 enslaved Africans slaves were brought to Virginia. In 1881 Douglass said, “Slavery is indeed gone, but its shadow still lingers over the country and poisons more or less the moral atmosphere of all sections of the republic.” And that long shadow lingers on the head(s) of our nation. Yet, leaders in the highest offices of this country refuse to acknowledge systemic racism. During the debate Pence stated, “I tell you that this presumption that you hear consistently from Joe Biden and Kamala Harris that America is systemically racist and that, as Joe Biden says, that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities, is a great insult.”

Presumption? Great insult? This ideology of a post racial society is emblematic of a diseased mind. The normalization of whiteness as pure and supreme has been entrenched in the American ethos to the point that this norm is easily offended when challenged. Even the slogan Black Lives Matter is often edited by some leaders to read “All Lives Matter.” Consequently, the Musca domestica is solidly situated among the heads of this nation’s leaders––resting comfortably, becoming indignant when disturbed. Why? White supremacy has infected this nation since its inception. Harris’s rebuttal made the point unequivocally: “The President of the Unites States took a debate stage in front of 70 million Americans and refused to condemn white supremacy … Then he said, when pressed, ‘Stand back, stand by.’

This illusion that whiteness is supreme has infected every institution in our society. Ibram Kendi calls it a cancer: “The United States is facing a form of metastatic cancer, a form of metastatic racism, in which, literally, racism has spread to every part of the body politic.” 

This classification of Black and brown people as inferior has been with us for centuries. Consider this:  The Swedish scientist and physician Carl Linnaeus, who developed the biological classifications, created the Latin scientific name Musca domestica. Linnaeus also created the classification of human beings, which was a racist hierarchy. Homo Europeanus  (Europeans) were white, gentle inventive, wise, acute in judgment, governed by fixed laws; Homo Africanus (Africans) were black, crafty, lazy, governed by impulse. Throughout the centuries, Linnaeus’s scientific successors built upon this diseased perspective of human classifications, deeply ingraining racist beliefs about Black and brown people, imaging them as subhuman in our nation’s psyche. 

Racism, the housefly, is on the heads of the highest offices in the United States of America. The housefly’s pathogenic nature denies systemic racism. The housefly sits comfortably in the pathology of white supremacy, positioned on the mantra, “Stand back and Stand by.” Musca domestica and Racism? White. House. Fly … (flies).

Karen F. Williams is an author and playwright with a diversified career in journalism and publishing. She holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English (Journalism concentration) from North Carolina A&T State University, a Master

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