Fellow White Dude,
It sucks to be told that you’re racist. Or misogynistic. And at times it seems totally ridiculous and feels like a personal attack. I get how it can seem like people are asking you to be guilty for something you never did, and to apologize for simply being a White man. You might also be surrounded by other White men, maybe your Dad or your grandfather, who are telling you that it used to be different for us. That our way of life is under attack. Maybe not. I’m not here to speculate about you, I’m here to tell you about my own journey and how I came to realize that I was a part of White supremacy culture.
Before we get started let me say that I am not judging you. I’ve been where you are; I’ve felt that I was under attack and that people were expecting me to feel guilty or ashamed of being White. Nobody worth paying attention to thinks that, brother. They just want us to get woke. And that’s why I’m here. Because I went through a process of awakening and I know some of the emotions that arise. I’m here to walk with you, to support you, to help you work out some of the stuff. Because we can’t ask POC to help us with this, at least not with the heavy lifting; they have their own work and education to undergo. We can meet with them further down the line. Until then, we can be really honest about how some of this stuff makes us feel.
Now, let’s deal with this term White supremacist. You probably think of this right away, no?
The problem is, too many of us who are White stop here and think that as long as we are not burning crosses we are not White supremacists. That we are not part of White supremacy culture. But we are. This is what acceptable White supremacy looks like:
You may not see it now, and I’ll be honest that it took me years of reading, studying, listening, and getting beyond my own defensiveness to see it. It appears to be a patriotic, tough-talking post that places a value on police lives and is meant to fill with dread those who would assault our public servants, right? But look at the language. Can you imagine what would happen if an African-American member of Congress told a White president to “watch out”? Examine the assumptions embedded in the language: “Real” Americans are not those who would say “Black Lives Matter.” No. Real Americans are ones who go after “thugs,”a label disproportionately applied to non-Whites, even in similar situations. And look at that threat of violence. Real America is coming. Does that mean the military is going to be unleashed on citizens? How will they know the Real Americans? Could it be skin tone?
Ever notice the difference in media coverage for a sports riot and an uprising in response to injustice? That’s White supremacy right there.
How do we get here? Look at what we’re taught from an early age: that the United States began as a way for people to escape religious persecution. We celebrate Thanksgiving Day, and from the time we are 5 we have internalized the ideas that Pilgrims and Indians were great friends, terrible lies that make us resistant to the true narrative. We learn almost nothing of the wholesale slaughter of Native persons. Few of us read A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies (click here for full text) until college, if at all. More of us got a brief unit on Native Americans, maybe with a trip to a local site, and then went home to play cowboys and Indians while we wore cardboard mockups of sacred regalia and imitated cries we do not understand. We celebrate Columbus Day, which is cast as Italian pride, despite the incredibly long list of atrocities perpetrated by a man who got lost and “discovered” America much like I “discover” pizza in my neighbor’s fridge.
God knows, most of us don’t do this with malice. Nobody’s saying we do, at least nobody worth listening to. We do it because it is what is modeled, what is accepted. Check this: We grow up being told that America is the land of opportunity, but the issue of slavery is rarely, if ever discussed seriously. The Civil War itself is being redefined in textbooks to teach us that slavery was not a central issue. And we’re told that we should care about this because our white heritage is under attack. But this is a lie: over half of the European immigrants that came over during the colonial period were indentured servants. Freedom and opportunity were for the wealthy. That is how the system was built from day one. Is this what we are supposed to be loyal to?
But lemme ask you, man. What is it that makes us “White”? Skin tone? My wife is White, but her skin is olive hued, to such an extent that she has been mistaken for Asian and Middle Eastern. Her family is from Hungary. My father’s family is from Finland. My mother’s, Ireland. Very different places. Very different customs. Very different histories. And woe unto anyone who calls me a Brit. Nothing against the British. I have good friends who are Brits, but I’m an Irishman, thank you very much. Until I’m Finnish. Until I’m American. What the hell is this “Whiteness” they are talking about?
It is a fiction, broseph. And I know this sounds like conspiracy stuff. But there are entire university departments that study the creation and impact of Whiteness. It arises around the 17th century as part of the slave trade, but it has devastating impacts on the development of American capitalism and society. The lie of White supremacy was used to manipulate and control poor Whites into accepting their place in society because at least they were better than n*****s. For centuries, the poorest White lady in the county could walk downtown and the wealthiest Black man would have to take off his hat and step off the curb. If he didn’t he would be killed. The most downtrodden White man could get drunk and hang a Black man for fun, and get away with it by telling the police that the man looked at a White woman wrong. I know, it sounds wild and conspiratorial. But money is the root of all evil, and this business of whiteness is a cash cow. Seriously, that link is a mind blower man. And this one will help you see the various ways whiteness has been studied.
This happens by defining personhood within the law. Let’s hope that the American educational system hasn’t totally failed you and you know that only landowning White men were able to vote until 1850, and that African-Americans were counted as 3/5 a person, not so that they could have rights but so taxation and legislative numbers could be figured out. Think about this: the very foundation of our Bill of Rights did not apply to anyone other than land-owning, White men. But not all White men. Not Poles. Not Italians. Not at first. Not until they started to buy into this notion of White supremacy which passed as assimilation. Americanism was code for non-ethnic Whiteness. Look at our television shows. I Love Lucy is an attempt at Leave it To Beaver with a fiery Cuban. Think about it, man: by the time most of us White men hit the age of 18, we have always assumed that we are the norm. Ads and television are geared toward us and disproportionately represent us; women are told to emulate what we like; other races and cultures are measured against us as a beauty standard, whether we want it or not. In terms of social progress and protection, we “White” men have been at the top of the list even when we weren’t. There’s never been an example in the history of the United States in which White men (again, this designate should piss us all off) have gotten a right after a woman or a non-White person. The system was built for us. Kinda. More for us than anyone else, but more for the making of money than anything else.
Here’s what sucks. We benefit from White supremacy. We do. It doesn’t matter if we have Black friends. It does not matter if we listen to rap. It does not matter if we have made love to a Black person. We can see every Spike Lee movie out there and we still are products of White supremacy culture. We are part of a system that enslaved Black bodies and built wealth based upon their uncompensated labor. We live on land that was either stolen or secured through genocide. We live in a culture that regards women’s bodies as sexual objects for our amusement, or baby-making machines that must be regulated by men. Mainly White men. How does that make us complicit? Because we haven’t dismantled the system. We may feel outraged by the odd slight to someone we know, but it is too easy for us to simply shrug our shoulders and say, “Life sucks, but everyone’s got problems.” We’re complicit because we benefit from a system that values “White” names over “ethnic” names.
The truth is, we have to make it a priority to read, study, listen, ask questions, and face some hard truths. Nobody is saying that White people don’t have hard lives; nobody is saying that things are easy for us, or that we’re all rich. What is being said, though, and we should listen, is that we are not persecuted because we are White; we are not denied opportunities because we are White. I’d add men on to this again, but I think that’s another conversation. We’ve got stuff to unpack there.
Look, I know chances are that you like everyone unless they are an asshole. Good policy. I follow that, too. But what we cannot do is say that we see everyone the same so others should adopt that philosophy as well. People of color (POC) don’t have that option. Their race and ethnicity is noticed wherever they go. Further, too often when we say we don’t see color we are saying that we see everyone else like us, and if they don’t fit then they are the problem, not us. Think about it, though. That’s kinda true, isn’t it? As a culture, we tend to remove ethnicity from celebrities, and then criticize them when they speak from their experiences of race. Look at what is happening to Jesse Williams, who is being labeled as both too Black and not Black enough.
White supremacy culture is having millions of African-Americans take to the streets, the airwaves, social media, from all corners of public and private life to speak about how racism and prejudice impact them and having their words twisted into being “racist,” which is impossible without state power; White supremacy is pointing at dead bodies and finding excuses or reasons for why they deserved to be shot and killed. White supremacy is a legal system that rarely prosecutes police for shooting citizens, and even more rarely convicts. Non-Whites are disproportionately impacted. White supremacy culture is hearing people say, “Stop killing us” and responding, “Well…”
So here are the mistakes I made: I tried to convince others that I was not racist by inserting myself into spaces that were designed to help POC process, and turned the conversation into being about me. Unconsciously, I asked them to expend energy into assuring me that I am not a racist. I made the mistake of saying I was color blind, therefore negating the experience and identity of others. I told people I didn’t know very well that I was sorry for the oppression of their people, without knowing their background or story. I asked my friends of color to be my bibliographers and teachers. In some circumstances, this was welcomed and nurtured. In others, it was wholly inappropriate. It took time and energy away from them being able to do the work they needed to do in order to affect change. I used the word nigga. Sigh. Yes. I did. I almost didn’t admit this, but what the hell. If you’re still reading you’ve been indulging me and I want to be clear that I am not judging. Really, I’m not. An honestly, others won’t if you are actively working on dismantling the White supremacy in your mind. Because POC have to do it as well; many of them have to shake off these categories and ideas and literally learn how to love themselves. That’s what Black Power really means. It is about love. Think about the contrast our people offer. White Power. That’s about hate.
Dude, I love you and I hope this helps. The links embedded within are a good starting point. This blog is as well, and for those who are interested I can put together a reading list. I recommend locating a Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) chapter around you. If you can, attend the White Privilege Conference.
In closing, let me say that I love this country. I believe in the basic tenets, that we all are created equal and are endowed with certain inalienable rights. But I want them to be true. To be put into practice. For us to be the country we claim to be, that we are on paper. I want my friends of color to no longer feel fear and unease in their country. Because it is theirs as much as it is ours. We have to be part of the solution that makes this a reality.