I know that this post will land me in some hot water, but I have put up with things for far too long, and I can no longer sit here in silence. This is a public service announcement: White supremacy not only exist, it rules almost everything we do in this country and by perpetuating the system and benefitting without speaking up on it, you are responsible for the negative repercussions.
I recently got into an argument with a classmate of mine the other day. He is a cis, hhetero-passing, white male with money. He seemed to be very offended that I labeled my university as a primarily white institution, because he said that the lump sum of people of color make up 51%, so it couldn’t possibly true. I’ve heard people say that they weren’t privileged as white people because they come from a lower economic status. I’ve gone through the god awful articles of my peers who think that the plight of Black America is simply a matter of respectability. Today, I intend to shut that down, and tell a side of the story that people choose not to hear.
Growing up, when hearing about people of color in relation to America we either hear of the helplessness of the indigenous people and Black slaves, or we hear about the barbaric nature of the Hispanic people. We don’t hear about the various ethnicities that make up these and other groups, nor do we hear about the amazing advancements they have made to modern society. This is due to cultural whitewashing, a practice that not only puts white people at the forefront of our country, but aims to place them in as best light as possible. Think of Columbus. He certainly couldn’t have truly discovered a place where people were already living. But it took a white man to validate the existence of a body of land for it to be discovered. This is a big problem that we have in society.
In order to understand white supremacy, we must first understand the concept of whiteness. Whiteness is a relatively new term, having only been used for several centuries, and is not discussed at a high rate. This is because, until recently, those who were inclined to do so either lacked the resources or faced significant danger. Whiteness has been defined as a marked racialized identity whose precise meanings derive from natural racial regimes. Whiteness is often recognized when those who have it deny it and the privileges that surround it. However, all white people have privileges that they are born with, regardless of if you agree with the racist measures in place or not. In the essay “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, she states that white fragility is “a state which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” This is the center of the previously stated privilege: you do not have to live a life of oppression, and because you are not defined as Othered, you have the privilege to not have to think about it all the time. I’ve seen this many times, and it’s very frustrating not only having to explain my experiences, but having to explain to them why it is such a big deal.
People who have been Othered do have some ability to move up in this hierarchy that is created by whiteness, though it is never permanent (even with someone who passes, they still have a family history of passing, affecting their family and themselves, though at a more subconscious level), and it always brings about question of what truly defines the different races. Biologically, race does not exist, but it is because we have made brought it into existence and made a whole history of oppressing people for centuries that it exists. This use of race has disproportionately negatively affected those who are Othered. At the same time, these measures that are put in place go to advantage those who fit into the scope of whiteness.
White supremacy affects people even today, and is just as alive and well. For those of you who disagree, let me ask you this: Did you even bat an eye at the shooting of the black church in South Carolina, a black church that is historically well known? There’s been a long history of those who fit into whiteness bombing and attacking black churches. Irish people literally initiated themselves into whiteness by doing so and much more. White supremacy rules our government, our police forces, our laws, and so forth. Our founding fathers may have been progressive in declaring independence of all citizens, but at the time, black people, indigenous people, Hispanic people, and many others weren’t even considered to be worthy of rights. The fact that we had to amend it to fit the 13th through 15th amendments only goes to prove it further. White supremacy comes in many forms, not all of them necessarily out in the open, and that makes it harder to move past these issues.
As for respectability politics, I’ll refer you to another post of mine that will hopefully help you understand better: https://educatedblackgirl.com/2015/08/01/respectability-politics-arent-okay/
Whiteness is something that nobody can escape, no matter how much you try. At primarily white institutions, like my school, whiteness is either ignored as per privilege, firmly acknowleged, or something that one tries to be in order to get ahead. It’s a sad thing to see, but that is the world that we live in. The world that we live in has gotten so used to whiteness that we openly cater to it, hoping not to upset those who fit into that scope, while closing up parts of us in the process. However, I bring up whiteness not to place blame on people, but to help people understand that we owe it to ourselves altogether to take responsibility, stop attempting to be devisive and problematic, and instead learn the history that is currently in the process of being erased, and think of ways in which we can establish a society where we can see a life without the concept of white supremacy and racism ruling it