I am White person born and residing in the USA. These words are addressed to other White people here. If I focus particularly on liberals, that’s because much of my adult life was spent in the Democratic bastions of Minneapolis, Boston, and Portland (Oregon).
One thing that People of Color have been telling us for years is that White Supremacy is something we Whites need to deal with. There is work to do on ourselves that only we can do. They’re right. It is in this spirit that I am speaking today, “between us.”
First of all, we can neither deny the existence of White Supremacy nor avoid its consequences.
The US as a nation has been a project of White Supremacy from its very inception. The idea that Whites are superior to everyone else has been a constant. You’ve got to believe you’re superior to justify slaughtering the original non-white inhabitants of this continent to steal their land. You’ve got to believe you’re superior to justify capturing non-white people from still another continent and enslaving them here to make yourself rich. You’ve got to believe you’re superior to justify incinerating two cities full of non-white people with nuclear bombs to assert your global dominance. Last but not least, you’ve got to believe you’re superior to insist all this is in the past and doesn’t matter now.
These were grievous acts of malice. They were also events that are historically responsible for creating the USA as we know it today. Each played an essential role in building the nation’s immense material wealth of which we are all beneficiaries today – every one of us. It’s true that the size of each person’s share of the blood-soaked loot varies, but a more equitable distribution of it will not ameliorate the crimes. Rather, a radical reworking of the very foundations of society is required, and must include the honoring of treaties and the offering of reparations, just to start with.
In our hierarchical society, the question “Who am I?” is answered by finding one’s place on the social ladder. Your rung exists only in comparison to others, below and above; who is your boss and whom is, in the vernacular, your “bitch.” In the US, Whites are above People of Color on the social ladder and everyone knows it.
Prejudice is inculcated into all of us in thousands of small ways, shaping our attitudes and spurring our actions and inactions. Starting at birth, an immiserating deformation is insidiously inserted into each of us, into our individual sense of self. It’s a like a tangle of knots in a rope, or wadded trash in a water main, or a rotting corpse in a ventilation duct. It’s a foreign blockage that prevents proper function. It’s inside all of us, to one degree or another, fellow White people.
All defenses of White Supremacy are nonsense. They don’t deserve any respect – intellectual, ethical, or otherwise. Not that they shouldn’t be refuted. Allowing a bad idea to stand without response strengthens it. Ignoring something doesn’t always make it go away; sometimes it gives it room it to fester and swell.
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Speaking of the grotesque, Trump’s election has indeed emboldened more open expressions of White Supremacy and other bigotries in the United States. Given a standard bearer, some loathsome people have hit the street with enthusiasm. As a native of Nebraska, a decidedly “red state,” I’m familiar with the hate. I moved away as soon as I could to avoid that demographic.
But many Whites in blue communities are “shocked” at the hideous torch-carriers. With exhortations of “I just can’t believe it!” they admit an ignorance that can only be afforded by White privilege, of which they seem unaware. Who’s not surprised? Plenty of People of Color.
The difference between racism before and after Trump’s ascendancy is of degree but not kind. From 2008-2016, while some Whites slept with self-satisfaction, other Whites agitated themselves into a fury. Now here we are.
The ugliness of the Trump crowd does not make the rest of us pretty, however much we might like to think so. Any amount of racism is a abhorrent. Instead of asking for pats on the back, we should concentrate on how to travel the remaining distance.
Individual journeys can join to become collective efforts, and we need strive for that end. Or rather for that means, with the end of White Supremacy being the end.
In a group context, we should be wary of contests wherein points are given and subtracted solely on the basis of one’s vocabulary; different words emerge from different intersections of identifiers (class, sex, race, etc.) and they are all correspondingly charged or freighted. That is, no lexicon will ever be flawless that emerges from this faulty system. Language is something but it’s not everything. Let us keep actions in the forefront of our efforts.
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It speaks volumes about the persistence of White Supremacy that it was not only able to accommodate itself to a Black president but actually strengthened itself too.
Reality check on the Obama years and racism:
- If you voted for him, that doesn’t mean you’re not racist.
- The fact that he was elected didn’t “cure” US racism.
- His administration perpetrated viciously racist policies and practices domestically and abroad, like every president before him.
What few Whites understood then or now is that supporting US foreign policy is the same as supporting White Supremacy, regardless of the color of the Commander-in-Chief.
To take but one example: On the Mediterranean coast of Africa, the rape and pillage of Libya in 2011 remains almost completely unacknowledged in White circles, from right to left. The only exceptions are a few Libertarians on one side and some peace activists on the other.
A middle-class, secular nation that provided free education and free healthcare to its citizens, Libya was hammered into pieces and its leader assassinated by Obama’s administration – at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s insistent urging – and then descended into a chaotic failed state whose scraps are contested by various violent factions.
It’s a travesty what the US and NATO did to Libya, and a bona fide cluster of war-crimes. It was also an act of White Supremacy. The lack of protest against it was another. Why did so few Whites protest the assault on Libya? In part because some Whites proclaimed that any criticism of Obama or his administration was racist, which is absurd. Others were Democrats who would never call any Democrat to account no matter what, which is pathetic. Most, however, simply didn’t know what was happening because the only media they consume is corporate. Corporate media is White Supremacist and played its accustomed role of obfuscating the facts and cheer-leading the aggressors, being “objective” in no way.
As my friend Angel commented, when I shared a draft of this article with him: “So many people on the ‘left’ are happy to have Trump to hold up as a shield and disguise. Turning a blind eye to the global ravages of white imperialism and then getting upset when some puss-filled sores appear in the homeland is a great hypocrisy. Allowing the first insures the later… and one cannot claim to be separate from it in doing so.”
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Hey White People: We’ve got to stop claiming we’re not racist. That’s lying. Yes I mean this collectively, but first I mean it individually. It’s a fact that each of us supports White Supremacy as a matter of course through everyday choices we make. Because it is the reigning philosophy of the US, we are supportive of White Supremacy whenever we are passive about it. We must also remember that our ability to ignore it is itself a privilege conferred by our Whiteness.
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White Supremacy is not native to human nature. To say so – as in “racism has always been around” – aids and abets racism. Why? Because once it’s rendered endemic other labels are easily applied and then it is easily excused. From “always been around” we get “normal,” “natural,” and then “inevitable” and “unstoppable.” Those are bad enough, but what a slippery slope! One small step away is “divinely ordained” and “god-given.”
But no, the normal is not natural, neither by genome nor by grace. White Supremacy is an aberration, culturally impressed upon us, not hard-wired. As shown by the vast majority of our history as a species (going back at least 200,000 years) we can live without it; in fact, live much better without it.
Each of us must cultivate awareness in ourselves so we can spot the racism inside and go about extracting it. One method is to ask questions. When we interact with other Whites, are we paying attention to how White Supremacy lurks behind so many of our learned assumptions? Are we seeing how we participate in building the edifice? What does it feel like to be involved?
As with any kind of internal trait – and indeed more broadly, as with any thought or emotion – the ability to recognize racism in yourself makes it easier to see in others. Moreover, it also makes it more difficult for others to conceal from you. As your witnessing spreads from yourself to the world, your knowledge deepens and expands. The familiar reflected unfolds into the universal.
A trait identified is now a trait operating under supervision. Shine a bright light on it to see what it is. Imagine yourself without it. This is doable.
We could call it a “process of illumination.”
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I am just scratching the surface here. We White people have a lot to look at, learn about and dispose of. It helps to expose ourselves to the voices of People of Color, for whom White Supremacy is an unavoidable, everyday reality. They have plenty for us to learn, though none of them are beholden to teach us anything.
Ultimately, only one person is responsible for my racism and that’s me. The same goes for the rest of you and your own. What that means is that nobody is off the hook.